Charles Griffith says he lost his daughter, Joy, twice.
The first time when she got caught in her grandfather’s recliner, choking the 2-year-old and leaving her deaf, blind and unable to move or breathe on her own.
The second time was nearly a year later, when Griffith shot her twice in the chest at Miami Children’s Hospital.
“I wish I had gone to the court and got a court order to turn off the feeding tube or something,” Griffith, 54, said of the so-called June 1985 mercy-killing.
Now, he’s about to lose a tribute to his daughter, a sober house he operates to help addicts get back to a normal life.
Griffith pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge for Joy’s death and served 10 years in prison before he was released. He visited Joy’s grave on the day he got out and promised her he would live a life she would be proud of.
Griffith remarried and worked as a manager at his dad’s business, Club Madonna, a Miami Beach strip club. His life seemed back on track, but then drugs and alcohol quickly took over for the next eight years. He checked himself into Summer House Detox Center in 2003 after his second wife left him.
During his treatment, a fellow recovering addict told Griffith that she had opened a sober house, where women just out of rehab stay before they transition back to everyday life. He decided he would start one, too.
The house “was a way to help another father get his daughter back. So he doesn't lose a daughter like I lost mine,” Griffith said.
Griffith’s own dad bought him a one-story house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious backyard with a pool, sitting on an acre of land. The beige abode in North Miami became Joy’s House: A Sober House for Women in South Florida.
Seven years and nearly a hundred residents later, Joy’s House has a dim future. Without a way to pay for the mortgage, other than getting help from his father, Griffith now faces another loss.
“I didn’t want her to be forgotten,” Griffith said. “I wanted people to say, ‘Joy was a little girl who got stuck in a chair but because of her and Joy’s House, I am clean now.’ ”
Joy’s House is one of two memorials Griffith started for his daughter. He also began a blog about Joy when he was working the night shift as a technician at Summer House. The blog grew popular and turned into a 44-page magazine, It’s All in the Journey, that ran for 28 issues.
“The magazine and the house helped him stay out of trouble,” said his father, Leroy Griffith.
In 2008, the magazine folded after advertising revenue grew scarce. But Joy’s House, since it first opened in 2007, had a steady stream of women come in for help. Griffith charged $150 a week. The place felt like home, with Internet access and cable TV.
“We made sure that we are a family,” said Lafrieda Lovehill, a former resident who is now a branch manager for Burger King. Lovehill stayed at the house for about four years.
“I would not be the person I am if it weren’t for Charlie and Joy’s House,” Lovehill said.
Sober houses, which are are not regulated, are exempt from zoning laws or housing regulations under the Americans With Disability Act and Fair Housing Act. Last year, state Rep. Bill Hager authored a “sober house bill,” HB 479, that would have required the homes to register with the state and comply with a set of standards. The bill, which did not pass, also called for employee background checks on employees and operators.
“I have seen firsthand the issues caused by these facilities,” Hager said in a statement last May.
Griffith said Joy’s House had several referring treatment centers. And, he said, neighbors have not complained about residents.
“There was nothing to indicate any sign of trouble,” neighbor Joyce Futtion said. “No wild parties or noise; none whatsoever.”
While some operators take advantage of lax regulations, former residents said Griffith’s intentions behind the house were clear.
“You could tell he was not in it just for the money,” said Melissa Miller, who came to the house in 2007 and stayed for about a year. She is planning to attend Rutgers University this fall and study psychology.
Miller said she left the house over a conflict with other roommates but saw the differences between Joy’s House and other places, and returned to the house a week later.
“He wouldn’t have anything that would taint Joy’s name,” Miller said.
Griffith said he will fix up the house and put it on the market.
“If you had asked me a thousand things that I would do in my life,” he said, “owning a sober house for women was not anywhere near on the list.”
Nearly 30 years after Joy’s death, Griffith worries about how he and his daughter will be remembered.
“A father who loved his daughter” would do, Griffith said, “I hope Joy and God are proud of me.”