Memorializing One Family's Tragic Loss to Heroin: Jordan's Place

By Seth Ferranti 03/06/16

Seth Ferranti documents one mother's determination to give back to her community after her son's tragic overdose.

Jordan's Place
Sheldon and Kelli Clodfelter Kathy Pitchett

Jordan’s Place is a sanctuary for teens in Warrenton, a small town in Missouri a little over an hour outside of St. Louis. The teen center has foosball, pool and air hockey tables, a basketball hoop, PS3, and offer a variety of classes and programs for local kids. But what Jordan’s Place epitomizes is a safe and drug-free environment where teenagers can hang out.

The great thing that we've come through is that the stigma of dying from heroin makes you want to crawl up in a ball and not deal with it, or deal with it by yourself. This gives everybody a voice.

“We just have a place for them to be,” Kelli Clodselter tells The Fix. “That's the main thing, they have a place to be. We put on various workshops on each different topic in life. The kids can attend one of those or they can attend our safe meeting, which is a victim’s impact panel, for an hour. We also have some people come in and speak about losing their family to drinking and driving, and professionals that come in and talk to them, like nurses and doctors.” Because kids can get up to all kinds of trouble without adult supervision, especially with the way drugs like heroin are flooding our country.

Sheldon, Kelli, Kathy Pritchett, Jenn Rogers. Photo by Seth Ferranti.

Kelli and her husband Sheldon know about addiction, prison and recovery firsthand, but they started Jordan’s Place as a testimonial to their 17-year-old son Jordan, who died of a heroin overdose on November 15, 2014. It was a heartbreaking event for Kelli and Sheldon, who only five weeks earlier had lost their three-month-old baby to sudden infant death syndrome. 

“On October 7th we get a phone call in at work, and daycare tells us that our three-month, 17-day-old baby quit breathing at daycare,” Kelli says. “We rushed to the hospital and she passed away, later to be told to us that it was SIDS. Jordan, being a good kid he is, he rushed home to be with his family. He took it very personally, even felt like God was punishing him for making bad choices, you know. We tried very hard to reassure him it wasn’t his fault. He struggled big time.”

Kelli and Sheldon had been having problems with Jordan. Because of this, Jordan had moved out on his own. But they were still family, and when a crisis arose, the family reconciled.  

“Bottom line was, Jordan wanted to do things that were not allowed in the house. He wanted to party, he wanted to be at places that I wouldn't let him. I'm that crazy mom that goes to people’s houses and drags my kid out. So he finally figured out the ticket on how to be able to do that, and there was nothing we could do,” Kelli says. It was a homecoming of sorts, but it wouldn’t last.

Kelli on Jordan's Walk. Photo by Kathy Pitchett

Jordan was a popular kid and a little bit of a free spirit. He was experimenting. Not a full-fledged drug addict, but just trying things out. Kelli and her husband knew the dangers and temptations of drugs, and tried to impart that knowledge to their son.

“We both have 12 years clean. We both did time in the penitentiary for what we did,” Kelli tells The Fix. “Jordan grew up, I was a teenage mom, so at the time that I got in all this trouble and went to prison, Jordan and his older brother, my son Thomas, went to live with my parents. But my sons saw these things. They came to prison to visit me. Because of this, we were on top of them about everything. We knew that addiction is something that runs in families.”

Jordan was well-schooled, but he was a young man and living life. But nowadays, unfortunately, experimenting with the wrong things can lead to death. With purity levels rising, heroin is an overdose waiting to happen. You don’t have to be an addict—you can just try it once. No parent wants a dead child. Kelli is using her tragedy to make others aware.

“The phone starts ringing in the morning with numbers like 2 - 5 - 0 or something," she recalls. I remember picking it up and the lady asked me if I was Jordan's mom, and I said yes. She said something happened and she needed me to get to the hospital. She wouldn't tell me what happened. I kept asking her. Nobody would tell me what was going on. All I can tell is something happened. Police were banging on my door. First thoughts of mine were, Jordan got in a fight, got stabbed, got shot, these were my thoughts.”

Jordan’s Place. Photo by Seth Ferranti.

Never, not even in the worst case scenario, did Kelli think that her son was on heroin. Hurt, yes. Injuries, okay. Dead by OD, no.

“We were making that drive again. That was a long drive all the way to that same hospital that we drove to five weeks prior. We ran to the same hospital doors. The same nurse met me at the door. Then we walked in the room and my 17-year-old boy is laying on the bed. He’s very still. He's got tubes coming out of him and there's nothing there, and so we go through the process and I believed—I believed with everything I had—that we were going to get through this. That's where our story ends, because we lost our child,” Kelli says.

But the story didn’t end there. Because Kelli, Sheldon and other area friends were sick of the death, sick of the drugs and sick of kids falling by the wayside. Heroin has infected our communities, and they were determined to do something about it.

“I am at home one weekend after that, and I get a phone call that she lost Jordan,” Jenn Rogers, who also works at Jordan’s Place, tells The Fix. “I was like, you have to be kidding me, this family has gone through so much already. At the time, this community did not talk about heroin. I didn't know one other person who had died from that here. It was almost like once Kelli came out with guns blazing, that we had to talk about this and stop crying.”

Kelli took her personal tragedy—dual personal tragedies—and channeled her grief and anger and frustration into something positive. She was ready to bring up the topic that no one else would. She was ready to wear that stigma like a badge of honor. But she wasn’t alone in the fight. 

“When Jordan passed, that was challenging because I was helping kids in my program process what was going on,” recalls Kathy Pritchett, who runs Jordan’s Place with Kelli. “I went to both funerals, and after the funeral, I'd been wanting to open a spot next door to here. I wanted to open a teen center because the teens in my program had no where to go.”

Kelli had allies that she didn’t even know she had. These women would band together to offer a place of refuge to the teenagers in the community. 

“After Jordan’s funeral, Sheldon spoke at the cemetery. I wish I had recorded it,” Kathy tells The Fix. “It was just incredible—all the kids in the community were just gathered around and he said some pretty powerful things. I thought about it, and I wondered when the right time would be to go to a grieving mother and say, do you want to do this.”

But before there was Jordan’s Place, there was Jordan’s Walk.

Sheldon and Kelli. Photo by Seth Ferranti.

"The walk kicked it off. That’s from the beginning," Kelli remembers. "We had talked about doing a walk. We talked back and forth, but I wanted to wait for better weather. January 17th should have been freezing, snowing cold or something, but we had a 70-degree day. Over 500 people attended this walk, and we watched our communities come together in a way that I've never seen since I've been here." They came together to generate something positive out of something painful.

“At this time, Kathy and I were just acquaintances. Kathy runs a program and I counsel the kids in this program. That's how we knew each other. We really didn't have a relationship outside of that. And so Kathy comes to the walk, Jen comes to the walk, she's a part of it.” The team was coming together.

“Every day when I leave work, I would go to the cemetery and sit with the kids. I'm at the cemetery all by myself, and someone calls. It’s Kathy, and she says, ‘I want to talk to you about something.’ I'm like, ‘What do you want to talk about? I don't want to wait.’ She starts telling me that she wants to open a center, ‘I want to do it in honor of Jordan and help the kids.’ We'd been separately talking about it. We knew we wanted to do it, we just had no idea how,” Kelli says.

“The great thing that we've come through is that the stigma of dying from heroin makes you want to crawl up in a ball and not deal with it, or deal with it by yourself,” Sheldon says. “This gives everybody a voice. That's what it did for Warrenton, Troy, Wright City. It forced the surrounding counties to recognize, and that’s what made this walk so huge. They didn't have a voice or a way to get one. Everyone showed up just to get a hug from somebody that understands.”

After Jordan’s Walk brought together the community, Kelli, Kathy and Jen kept the positive momentum rolling. 

“We had no idea where to even start,” Kelli confesses. “I didn't even want to wait. We started fundraising and we opened the doors to this place on July 25th. It was go time, we didn't stop, we just kept going and doing everything that we could. The community was rallying together and everybody wanted to see something good come out of this. So that's how it went.”

Jordan’s Walk begat Jordan’s Place. 

“To me, Jordan's Place is for everyone,” Sheldon tells The Fix. “Jordan was very popular, so we knew most of the kids in town. We considered these kids ours. Any adult that has seen a kid on the street about to be hit by a car will do anything to save that kid from being hit. This is no different than what we are trying to do here. We want to save these kids at all costs, that's how I feel about it.”

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about crystal meth becoming the new crack. He also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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