After growing up with parents who struggled with addiction, Vince makes every effort in his role as a police officer to keep families together.

Vince’s* mother left when he was 11 months old, and at the time, his father’s focus was not on raising children.

“Growing up with my father … I was exposed to like, you know, the world of … bikers and biker gangs, and our house was kind of like the flophouse,” said Vince, a police officer in South Jersey.

Vince was raised in South Philadelphia, where he lived between his father’s and grandparents’ houses.

“I’m around motorcycles, I’m watching women and stuff coming in and out of the house, and the parties and the bottles of Jack, guys are getting tattooed in the middle of the kitchen stuff like that,” Vince said. “So, I was in the mix here, even though I’m three or four years old, walking around with the footie pajamas.”

“Nobody talked to me like I was a little kid. Nobody got down on the ground and played GI Joes with me and stuff like that,” he said.

Vince recalls his father relying heavily on the help of Vince’s grandmother, who managed his father’s money enough to ensure that Vince could go to a good school.

“She made sure that at least I ha[d] the tuition part taken care of, and then he [could] blow the rest of it on whatever he was doing with his biker friends,” he said.

After Vince finished elementary school, his dad remarried, which gave Vince a new stepmother and stepbrother. Like his mother, his stepmother had substance use disorders of her own.

“She was basically like a binge drinker and a pill user,” Vince said. “She would go through these binges where she was just a mess in the house.”

Vince recalls watching what he believes to be multiple overdoses throughout the years. While there were times where his stepmother would stop using and it seemed like his family was doing better, those moments never lasted very long.

“There were times where they would get their acts together,” Vince said. “They’d be working … we’d have a good Christmas, or we’d go on a vacation or something like that. And then the next year, I wouldn’t have money for new cleats. I was always nervous, waiting for the bottom to drop out again.”

As a result of his parents’ money struggles, Vince started working when he was about 10 years old. He worked for family members in the steam cleaning business, and also at an ice cream parlor.

“I guess that helped to give me a sense of having something of my own, not being reliant on other people,” Vince said.

Around the time he entered high school, Vince, his father, and his stepmother moved to New Jersey, which seemed like a fresh start. He remembers that things were going well for a while — until they weren’t.

“Towards the end of my freshman year, things started getting really bad again,” Vince said. “That’s when it was obvious that the both of them were in the throes of addiction, with the pills and stuff like that.”

“Growing up with my father … I was exposed to like, you know, the world of … bikers and biker gangs, and our house was kind of like the flophouse."

— Vince, Adult child of parents with substance use disorder

With his father and stepmom having trouble at work and the house slowly starting to go into disrepair, Vince looked to his stepbrother for guidance.

“I always looked up to him, I always considered him my brother,” Vince said. “Everybody liked him he was a good kid too. He was doing really well he was working as an optometrist for Philadelphia Eyeglass, and everybody loved him over there.”

But in November 2001, when Vince was a senior in high school, his stepbrother died by suicide.

“And that’s when I made the decision I just have to get out of here,” Vince said. “I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I was seventeen.”

As a member of the Marine Corps, Vince did a tour in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He retired from the military in 2006 and went back to New Jersey.

“I came home thinking that, ‘Okay, maybe things will be different,’ and they weren’t,” Vince said. “It was even worse than when I left, because now neither [my father and stepmother] could even get off the couch to go to work. That was a bit of a shock to me.”

Unsure of his career path and preoccupied with trying to help his parents, Vince spent his time working odd jobs, before finally deciding to enroll in community college.

“I tried to help my dad and my stepmother, but after some time I came to the realization that there’s just nothing I can do like I can’t fix that,” he said. “So I had to basically not to sound … cold but I had to separate myself and just follow my own path.”

After community college, Vince’s path led him to Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. Upon graduation, Vince took a security job at Rowan University, where he worked until he became a corrections officer for the Bureau of Prisons. Finally, in 2014, he landed his job as a police officer in South Jersey.

On the job, Vince often handles situations related to substance use disorders and sees the stereotypical rhetoric of officers treating individuals with a substance use disorder with disdain. Vince aims to treat people with respect, help them into recovery, and change the mindset of his department.

“I work with guys that have been on the job for 25 and 30 years, and they’re good guys … but it’s just an old school mentality, and it’s going to take time,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do to … make an immediate change and make people see the light other than  continue to do what I’m doing.”

At work, Vince tries to stay humble.

“When I’m dealing with these guys that are down and out that may have hit rock bottom, [I know] that it can happen to me at any time,” Vince said. “I try to always keep that mentality.”

Influenced by his childhood, he aims to help those individuals into treatment and recovery, in order to show them that they matter and that he cares. When a family is involved, he works to keep them together.

Recently at work, Vince had a case in which a couple both had substance use disorders, and their children were being removed from their household. On the scene, Vince convinced the mother and father to go into treatment. He said the couple was very concerned about the fate of their children, so he stayed to ensure they were put into kinship foster care with their aunt and would be well taken care of.

“My goal is just to see this family be a family,” he said. “When I see a family like that, my goal is to preserve that family. My experiences as …  being the child of a drug addict definitely motivates me.”

"I still have hope that my family will get it together. Maybe kids and grandkids will make them see the light."

— Vince, Adult child of parents with substance use disorder

While Vince was finding his path, his father and stepmother continued with the peaks and valleys of addiction and recovery. One night in 2017, Vince received a knock on the door from two of his fellow police officers, who informed him that his stepmother had overdosed at his father’s house.

“At that point, I hadn’t talked to her in a couple years, just because  … they had grown so toxic,” he said. “You wanna help these people and you care about them, but you let them into your life, and you see that, this addiction just has such a hold on them, and it governs everything that they do.”

While Vince may not be close to his parents because of this, he says that he still cares for them and their well-being, which is why, despite the lack of communication, he went to his father’s house that night to assist with the call.

“I knew my father wasn’t gonna be able to get it together,” he said. “I wound up going out there … to help the Sergeant get everything wrapped up. I  actually place[d] her into the body bag and remove[d] her from the house.”

A few days after his stepmother’s death, Vince and his girlfriend, Amanda, received a call saying that Vince’s father was in the hospital, and had agreed to go to treatment.

“I was like, ‘If he’s serious, Vince will be there to help for all the milestones and everything,” Amanda said. “But [Vince] doesn’t want to be there right now, because [his father’s]  not in a good place still.’”

After a short time in detox, Vince’s dad decided not to continue with treatment, and instead opted to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

“It’s been back and forth,” Vince said. “He’ll do good for a little while, then, bam relapse.”

Updates on Vince’s father come through other people, and they aren’t always positive.

“One of the challenges is that he’s going to meetings and treatments and stuff around here,” Vince said. “So I gotta deal with people on the street and guys I’m locking up that see my last name on my uniform and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know your old man.’”

As for future relationships with Vince’s dad, neither Vince nor Amanda can see one until Vince’s dad is more stable in his recovery and shows that he wants to build their relationships.

“His dad will never really tell him ‘I’m sorry,’” said Amanda. “So that’s where I think his dad needs to come to a point where he needs to really think about his recovery and say, ‘I’m sorry, and I want to repair it.’ And that’s all he wants to hear.”

As for Vince’s mom, the separation of his childhood has not changed much.

“I am in contact with her,” Vince said. “We’re friends on Facebook, I have her phone number, and we’ve just never been really close.”

Though Amanda has never met Vince’s mom, she said that unlike his father, his mother has owned up to her mistakes.

“I remember we were on the train to New York City, and his mom had texted him and pretty much said like, ‘I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you. And I think if I would have been around more you wouldn’t have grown into the man you are,’” Amanda said. “So, I do give her credit, because she does acknowledge that she wasn’t there.”

Vince’s experiences and support systems have helped to motivate the work that he does as a police officer. One of his main ambitions is to prevent children from experiencing childhoods like his own.

“I was fortunate enough to have other people that cared, and that’s really what it comes down to,” Vince said. “When I’m dealing with a family where one or both parents have addiction issues, one of my goals is to show the kids that, you know, even if I can’t be here all the time, I’m in the community, and I do care, and this doesn’t have to be your life. It’s a big world out there, and [you] don’t have to choose this.”

Even though Vince said he never got the support from his parents that he needed, he acknowledges that he had a lot of help elsewhere in his family to get him to where he is today.

“I’m lucky I’ve had people in my life that were very good to me,” he said. “My grandmother … my uncle , you know, that were a positive influence. And I give them a lot of credit as to why I didn’t follow my parents.”

In his own life, Vince holds out for a better future for his family. He finds hope in the story of his grandfather, who once had an alcohol use disorder, but was able to overcome it when Vince and his other grandchildren came into his life.

“I got a good life. It’s not without its troubles, but, you know, I’ve got a good life and good people in it,” Vince said. “I still have hope that my family will get it together. Maybe kids and grandkids will make them see the light.”

*Names marked with an asterisk are those of people who requested we use their first name only due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.