Listen as Carlton and Tyrell share their father-and-son story of addiction and recovery, from Tyrell’s adoption at a young age to their reunion decades later.
Vic: This is a shot of hope. Tyrell was just two years old when his family split apart. Both his parents were struggling with drug addiction, which led to prison time, and Tyrell and his siblings were eventually placed in foster care and then adopted into a new family. The trauma of those early years stayed with Tyrell, and as a teenager, he felt lost, unsure who he was. Some high school experiences with drugs quickly blossomed into full-blown addiction. But while Tyrell was falling into the hole of addiction, his father, his biological father Carlton, was climbing out. And here’s the crazy part: Tyrell and his brothers reconnected with their biological dad over Facebook and learned about Carlton’s history of addiction and recovery.
Today Carlton’s celebrating 15 years, 15 years of continuous sobriety. He graduated from the spiritual recovery program at Helping Up over 15 years ago. And so when Tyrell called him one day, Carlton was thrilled to bring his son to helping up mission. Tyrell’s now 18 months clean, and not only has he reconnected with his biological father, but he’s reconnected with God as father. This weekend, as we celebrate Juneteenth and father’s day, enjoy this story of liberation from the bondage of addiction and of reunion between father and son. This is a shot of hope.
Carlton: That’s my son Tyrell Helmick. He’s 28 years old.
Tyrell: And that’s my father, Carlton Cheatham, and he’s 48 years old.
Vic: So since you’re older, we’ll start with you chronology-wise, right? Share just a little bit about your childhood growing up. And then I want us to come to him being born. Paint me a picture of what that was like.
Carlton: I grew up in East Baltimore, close to John Hopkins. I’m the youngest of eight kids. Pretty good raising.. Just my mom raised us, no father. I mean, I can lead you to how I got to addiction. I had a pretty good childhood, pretty athletic. I witnessed my oldest brother get murdered in 1983 and I was 11 years old and um, that really devastated me. I meant like, I witnessed that. It messed me up.
And I started drinking. The age of 12. I started drinking. That transitioned very fast. started smoking cigarettes, started smoking weed, and I was off to the races. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade and I continue on using.
Tyrell’s mother, we grew up somewhat in the same neighborhood and we went to school together, middle school together. Growing up as a kid, my mom allowed us to have company and play music. And we was sneaking and drinking and smoking weed and all of them things.
And I met Tyrell’s mom and we started dating, and at the age of 17, Tyrell’s brother was born. And it was on and popping from there. Like I said, it wasn’t even two years later she was pregnant with Tyrell, and we continue on dating and staying together, doing things.
Both of us was using drugs, our addiction, both was taking off and the journey then to other things like snorting heroin and drinking and partying and things of that nature. And it became a real downward spiral after that. Managed to survive five years staying with other people, as far as her mom, her stepdad. We journeyed out on our own in our twenties, and we got our first apartment and it wasn’t long before then, we had, not lost the apartment, but we had stopped paying the bills due to addiction.
And I left that house and I took the kids. We were on the run, and not literally on the run, but you can say on the run, I wasn’t staying there no more. I just decided to up and go. was a lot of things going on around there, and so my mom, got in contact with my mom. And she told me that the social worker was looking for me. And I ended up taking Tyrell and his older brother out to my mom’s house and I left them there. And CPS came in and they took the kids. They offered to try to help me again. But I was caught up in my addiction.
And I didn’t go to court. I had made a decision that… and I prayed about it and I said, even in my addiction, I prayed. And I said, God, they’d be better off being raised by another family other than me. So I ain’t go to court to fight, to try to get them back. I wasn’t ready to stop using. And that continued on for a long time afterwards. It’s, it’s been like 24 years since I’d seen them. And I had been back and forth to prison myself. I came here to to Helping Up Up Mission in 2006.
Vic: When you gave them up, how old were you, Tyrell?
Carlton: Tyrell was two.
Tyrell: Yeah, I was two. So I don’t really remember much when I was in foster care and I remember like my brother, like really taking care of us a lot. And then one day we was at a foster daycare picnic. And my adopted parents at the time seen my older brother in line, he was getting us food. And I guess from that moment on, like, God was in it.
So they ended up adopting us. And they adopted all three of us. And that’s where my journey takes off, where I moved to Cumberland. Growing up, like growing up was good. You know, I had everything that I ever wanted. I had a family. It was good. Like we had clothes and got new shoes for school and got to go on vacation.
Carlton: And so like they were adopted, and they were adopted by a white family. And so he shared with me later on that, like the kids used to tease him and, you know, he felt a little inadequate. And so he felt a little awkward, he told me. But I just knew that, it didn’t matter what race it would be, but I knew they could do a better job than what I could at the time.
Vic: So when did drugs and alcohol come into the picture for you?
Tyrell: 17. Yeah, I felt inadequate. And basically was sneaking. But a kid on my cross country team, he came over and he said, Hey man, I got some weed, man. And I tried it and you know I, I got hot, sweaty, hopped in the shower, blacked out. And I didn’t really like it, but I felt cool, you know? Like fitting in and stuff. So I tried it again and I graduated high school and I started college and really wasn’t fitting in, really wasn’t what I should be responsibility-wise, and made it through a year of school and flunked out.
So I started working. And I just resorted to drinking and smoking and that led to psychedelics drugs, stuff, that sort. And you know, I just started like living this party scene, because that’s where I fit in at. And it spiraled downhill until, you know, I was picking up that pipe to smoke crystal meth. And it didn’t start out as a big deal, you know, I was working to maintain and but it started as a party on the weekend type ordeal.
Then it started becoming like, all right, I need this in a work week, to where I just wasn’t taking care of my responsibilities. I would go out and party on the weekends instead of being home with my daughter, my baby daughter, and you know, enough was enough. So we ended up splitting up. That really fueled my addiction. And I guess the breaking point was my grandma had passed away. And you know, it just spiraled downhill.
Vic: So let’s jump back to your story. How’d you find out about this place?
Carlton: I found out this, about this place. My brother, I have a brother Troy Cheatham who was here. I don’t know how he managed make i t to Helping Up Mission, but at my end, I was sleeping in Bum Park over here on Fayette and Fallsway behind the main, by the church st. Vincent dePaul. And I was at my end, I was broken and I asked God not let me die like that. And I ended up at Bayview hospital. I sat out there on the bus stop, me and a friend. And we sat out there for two days getting high on the bus stop, and it was over for me. I couldn’t even get high. I couldn’t even get high. And we had plenty of drugs and couldn’t get high. Now I couldn’t get high not one bit. And I was frustrated. I got in March. It was cold. And he just said, we should go on and tell them we going to commit suicide and they’ll keep us. cold out here.
So that sounded like the best idea I ever heard. So we did that and they ended up sending me to detox at Bayview. When you’re in detox, you have to find a program to go to on your third day. They had this old catalog book with different programs and numbers. And I ain’t go through that. I knew where I wanted to go, cause my brother Troy was here at the Helping Up Mission. He had asked me to come here on different occasions but I wasn’t ready. And I think he stayed for 11 months. He stayed here 11 months. And I got out of detox,
I came right here and I ended up staying here for, stayed here for eight years. Graduated the program. I had a lot of wreckage in my past. And a program member told his boss about me. And after for six months, I was able to get a job. And I stayed doing that job and I did what I needed to and I ended up staying for years before I transitioned into another job. But I stayed, and I asked God, said, God, when’s my turn going to come? When I could be able to leave?
And I could remember hearing that little voice in my head say, you have a lot of wreckage in your past that you have address. And I owed back child support for Tyrell and his brothers. I think I owed $16,000. And so I really didn’t have the money to actually get an apartment. And so I stayed here at the helping up mission and they allowed me to stay, and it turned into eight years. But in 2014 I moved out I had gotten a one bedroom apartment. The guys introduced me to narcotics anonymous.
Being here at the mission, make five meetings a week. that was a great thing for me. The guys showed me where the outside meetings were started going to meetings. Um I was listening in the meetings. They stay I need to a sponsor and I prayed. And I got a sponsor and started doing step work and I’m working on blind faith with the guidance of my sponsor. And told me all I had do is be honest. I did that as a result, a Sunday, I’ll be celebrating 15 years.
But anyhow, my youngest son reached out to me. I ain’t answer the phone, but he texts me. And uh he told me his biological name. He said, my name is my biological name is Kelvin Cheatham. My adopted name is Marcus Helmick. He said I just want to know if you’re my biological father. And uh they found me on Facebook. And me and my oldest brother, and my two sisters, we drove down to West Virginia and we got opportunity to spend time with Tyrell and Marcus, which is the youngest of, my youngest son.
Vic: Well I want to hear, so I wanna hear your perspective of this.
Tyrell: My older brother asked me years back. He said if I ever found our biological parents, would you be interested in meeting them? And back then I told him, I said, you know, I don’t want to meet them. I was fueled in addiction and wasn’t thinking straight, but when my brother messaged me, and I was super emotional. I remember calling three times, and just before I could, even before I could even ring for him to answer, I was done, click, crying. I was really emotional, but I ended up eventually, eventually calling and like talking a little bit and asking him questions and…
Tyrell: Like when I was in like first or second grade, I would ask my parents, I would be like, where’s my father? I guess you know somewhere down the line, I still remembered my pop. But it really, like I really started feeling different when I would see, like, when I played sports, like track and field, you know. I’d see an African-American kid that I ran with, and his parents would come to support him, and his parents would be black and I’d be like, his parents are black and like my parents are white. Like what’s going on? You know? Like in college, that first semester college, they had us do a family tree of our ancestors and like, what ethnicity you were and stuff. And you know I told my teacher that I was adopted, and she was just like, we ended up sharing our family tree in the class.
And I told the teacher I didn’t want to share because deep down I don’t really know where I come from. You know? I can, she said well just use your adopted family. I said, but that’s really not where I come from. So I really don’t feel like the same.
Vic: Yeah I mean if you want to take the tree metaphor, you were transplanted.
Tyrell: And and I felt like I was missing that. Like I felt like different than everyone else. I really did. You know? And that really fueled my addiction too. Cause I didn’t really know who I was.
Carlton: 12 years later, God answered my prayers and I was praying and I kept saying, God, when you gonna let me see my kids? And I also used to go on Facebook and try to look. I would type in, search their names, their names and nothing would come up. And I would look at pictures. Facebook requests, friend requests to see if people looked like my sons.
Vic: Did you tell him about helping up mission?
Carlton: Yes, I did. remember them vividly in my head and he called me one day at the job, and he said, Hey, pops, I think I’m ready. I said, ready for what? He said I want you to come and get me and take me up to the program that you were in. I love my sons. I ain’t never stopped loving them. I just couldn’t do for them when I was up in my active addiction. So when you said that, I said I’ma come and get you tomorrow.
Tyrell: So I got here on July 12th of 2019. And you know once I got here, it was rough. The first, like couple of days. Well I met big John. You know I came from West Virginia and it’s like a totally different atmosphere. Yeah. The city lights and everything. I was bugging you know? Even I couldn’t leave the building.
I’m like, how did I get here? You know? And I remember that first night, messaging my adoptive mom. And I was like, I don’t know if this is gonna work. And the first couple of weeks were rough. Things started changing. I had to make meetings and I had to go to the classes. I just started listening. Like listening to other people talk and just, I never really knew of any recovery or anything like that. And I just, I started talking you know? I started talking to people. Like I started sharing with Larry and some people that was in class with me, and I made the decision to keep going.
Vic: How did your relationship start to change?
Carlton: Quite naturally I wanted to to take him and guide him and protect him and… but the relationship started building. And I could tell that even now, like with Tyrell, he tends to hold back a little bit with me. But he’s starting to open up, to understand that I do love him and I want the best for him. And I just want him to feel like, okay, that’s my pops. He got me, right? And as he started to come out, I started taking him outside meetings and introducing h toim other people and trying to help him get an understanding of recovery. And that he’s an addict. His mom and dad was both an addict. His mom used with him in active addiction. And so it’s quite natural that he would have them tend to So trying to make him aware of part of who he is as a person. And so he can feel comfortable with himself.
Just like we talk a lot, we do things a lot, we go out to eat and we talk recovery and do meetings together. I think our relationship is, it’s going good for father and son. We have some good times together. The other day we were going to a meeting and he was smoking a cigarette, right? And I looked at him and I bust out laughing. He said, what you laughing at pops? I said, boy, you look just like me. Smoking that cigarette just like me, man.
And I’m just telling you, it’s just good, because hoping we can have a family reunion. If we can make it through COVID. Everybody have the opportunity to be able to come together and be able to enjoy each other, you know what I’m saying?
Vic: You mentioned earlier, describing your days of getting high. And as a young man, as you’re connecting the dots now, like you’re thinking a factor there was not having a strong sense of identity, who Tyrell really is. Yeah. Is that an area that you’ve been able to grow in, like over the past couple of years? Who’s Tyrell today?
Tyrell: Tyrell today is… you know, he’s working on things. I guess through the midst of everything I’ve been through, I’ve always just like people please, and we’ll do anything just for attention and love.
And so I’ve been working on that today I’m okay being with m I’ve found out who I am, I guess through experiences and through relationships. Yeah. Like actually talking to my father and stuff.
I did the floors here at the mission, I would always be up in the morning dancing. And everyone would be like, man, why are you so happy? And I definitely get that from my father.
Carlton: He has a lot personality. So he loves his daughter, chats with her every day.
Tyrell: That I can.
Carlton: I mean he sends her money all the time. He left out the part that’s, being here, as a result he got a job working at John Hopkins environmental services. So he has a great personality. A lot of my traits, you know I’m a people person. I love people. And so he had that trait too. Like just got a real good personality that he’s working on developing, and addressing some of the defects and shortcomings of his past, and finding out who he really is as a person and addressing them issues. But he’s fortunate. You know he got three grandmothers, he got three mothers, he got two fathers. You know, he has a lot going for him. I tried to explain that to him. You have the best of both worlds, man.
I love my son and I want great things for him. I want great things for Tyrell. And I a want… the opportunity will come. If he stay in position, if he continue to do the right things for the right reason and constantly work on his recovery.
Vic: As we’re talking, I’m just thinking, one of the primary metaphors that the Bible uses to describe God is father, which is interesting, right? People have had all kinds of experiences, right? Of fatherhood, of their father. And if they’ve been a father. But I guess I’m just curious, how that lands with you?
Tyrell: I just feel like that he loves me and cares for me and has never left my side, you know, as a father. And I just feel like he’s continually revealing things to me, whether it’s with my biological father or just through something throughout my day. Like I know I was listening to Hillsong United and you know just praying.
And I was reminiscing about like older times, like times in my childhood. You know I thought about going to Sunday school in Cumberland and I ended up reaching out to my Sunday school teacher. And I talked to her this morning, we talked for like an hour. And I was able to still have a relationship with her and she’s, she’s helping me out. She gave me chapters of the Bible where that are easy reads and that aren’t overwhelming. And she said I don’t have to rush through the book.
Vic: That’s cool.
Vic: That’s cool. You reconnected with your old Sunday school teacher. As we wrap up, anything else that you would like to ask your son or or speak to your son?
Carlton: Yeah Yeah, I do. I just wanted let him know that I love him dearly. I’ll constantly be there for Tyrell I just want him to know that I love him and that he call me for anything. This whole process, I could see that God had put this together. I’ve been praying for a long time for this day to come, to be able to spend time with my kids and, and as well as being there for my grandkids. You know I got grandkids, I was super excited about having three granddaughters and a grandson. I want to get an opportunity to be a part of y’all And like I still don’t know who my youngest son or my oldest son, like how they grew up and how they developed their own identity as people. I’m learning that with Tyrell right now Like who he is as a person. And at time I said to him, him I told you I’ma backup. I’m allow you to make some decisions for yourself.
Cause at first I started out being selfish. Aw come on, you going with me. And he had started to meet friends here and started playing soccer, running with back on my feet. I was like being selfish. I’m wanting him to be with me all the time, cause I’m going to protect him and I’m going show him how this thing work and all of But I
Vic: You had to give him his space too.
Carlton: I had to give him his space, and that’s something that God dropped in my spirit and then…
Vic: That’s very cool.
Carlton: I shared him.
Vic: That’s very cool. How about you? Is there anything you wanted to say to your father or ask?
Tyrell: I just wanted to say thank you for, you know, bringing me to the helping up mission and really gave me a chance to get my life together and… and I really like our relationship and I’m thankful for that too. I think that like helped mend a piece of my past. A piece of who I am. Just spending time with you and stuff, and just like doing daily inventory on myself. I’m starting to like find myself, you know, as a person. And I thank you, and I love you too. I just look forward to more times, spending time with you, you know and just being thankful. Working on my relationships with family and with God, and I love you.
Carlton: Love you too. Yeah.
Tyrell: More than words.
Carlton: I tell him all the time, I love him.
Vic: Good stuff, gentlemen. Thank you. This is really special.