At age 21, Londaryl Perry took his mother to court.
He stood before a judge and passionately pleaded for custody of his brothers, 13-year old Clifford and 10-year old Jermey.
“I'm six months married,” Londaryl told the judge. “I have no job. My wife and I are both trying to go through school and finish. But I can't deal with this situation anymore.”
The judge listened.
Today, Londaryl Perry is a basketball coach, and a fine one. In his first season coaching a varsity squad, he led Northeast's girls to a Class 2A runner-up finish and is The Oklahoman's Little All-City Coach of the Year.
Londaryl Perry is also a history teacher. He uses the past to show his students how people have overcome failure and difficulties to achieve greatness.
But above all else, Londaryl Perry is a life-changer. He got started in that business with his two brothers.
“I'd probably be in jail somewhere,” Jermey Perry, now 25, said of where he'd be without his brother taking custody.
Londaryl Perry is wildly popular with students at Northeast. He gets hugs as he walks through school halls. Students regularly knock on his classroom door during his planning periods just to talk.
But Perry still sometimes hears a common refrain when he tries reaching out.
“You don't know what we've been through,” some kids will say. “You don't know how we grew up.”
To reach them, Perry doesn't need to go into the sordid details about the abusive world of death and drugs in which he was raised.
He doesn't have to talk of how as a teenager he fought grown men, who were in his home to smoke crack with his mother, to get them to leave.
How his mother, whose love he would have given anything for, made fun of him, calling him a “bastard” and “ugly.”
Perry moved from apartment to apartment with his mother and brothers as he grew up. He saw things many couldn't imagine during his unthinkably difficult childhood, but it prepared him for his life's work. No one knows better than Londaryl Perry how to reach troubled kids.
“As a kid, I couldn't help who my parents were,” Perry said. “But without some of the people throwing bits of love and interest here and there, I probably wouldn't have made it.
“Kids can tell if you care, and that makes a difference.”
TRAGEDY AFTER TRAGEDY
At age 11, Londaryl Perry lost his father to a heroin overdose.
He rarely saw his dad, and the relationship wasn't at all close. Still, the death was the first of three consecutive tragedies that shaped Londaryl Perry's childhood and led the boy to briefly entertain thoughts of suicide at age 13.
Shortly after his dad's death, his 3-year old brother suffered a seizure — a side effect of his mother's drug abuse while pregnant — so debilitating he had to completely start his development over again, being put back on a bottle, being potty trained again and relearning how to crawl.
Not long after that episode, Londaryl Perry was in his mother's apartment when his uncle overdosed on Phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP or angel dust.
His uncle was vomiting blood and other fluids, “green stuff,” Londaryl remembered.
The family didn't have a phone in their apartment, so Londaryl had to rush to the apartment pay phone to call an ambulance.
“I remember looking at him once they got him in the ambulance, standing over him and watching him basically die,” Londaryl said.
‘IT WAS LIKE A FAIRY TALE'
At age 16, Londaryl Perry was going to school primarily for the food.
“The best meal of my day was school lunch,” Perry said. “That's why I went to school.”
Perry was a budding high school basketball star at Putnam City West. Colleges were beginning to show interest in the 5-foot-10 guard, who averaged 20.5 points per game as a senior, when he was named to The Oklahoman's Big All-City team. He set a school record with a 44-point performance during the Putnam North Tournament that year.
At home, Perry was frequently fighting the adult men who were in his home to smoke crack with his mom.
“It got to the point where my mother's crackhead friends knew my basketball schedule as well as I did,” Perry said. “They knew my practice schedule and everything because that's when they could come to my house and get high with my mother.”
Interviews with several family members paint a portrait of Londaryl Perry's mother as a severe drug addict and absentee parent.
Perry's mother, now 53, lives in Oklahoma City with one of Londaryl's brothers. She says she's drug free and declined to be interviewed for this story.
When Perry was a younger boy, he would stay out for hours and sometimes days at a time. But when he was in high school, he always made sure to come home after school to look after his brothers.
When he went off to Seminole State College to start his college basketball career, Londaryl's girlfriend Shana, who met Londaryl in eighth grade and dated him throughout high school, took over the job of checking in on Clifford and Jermey.
Shana, now Londaryl's wife, went to parent-teacher conferences and took the boys food, clothes and other necessities.
One day during his sophomore year, Londaryl made an unannounced trip home to check in, and was appalled by what he found.
Clifford, then 12, had been inside for a week, hiding from a neighborhood 16-year old nicknamed “Man” who was carrying a gun and threatening to kill him.
Londaryl went inside and was greeted by an overwhelming white cloud of smoke. There were at least 10 adults in the house with Clifford, and no sign of his mother.
After Londaryl kicked all the adults out, his mother arrived. Then, Man showed up.
The 16-year old brazenly played with the gun as Londaryl calmly told him to stay away from his brother.
Man dropped his weapon and all his bullets fell out. When he went to his hands and knees, Londaryl attacked him.
Londaryl's mother came outside and yelled at him to stop, and while he was distracted, the boy reloaded and aimed at Londaryl, who took off running.
Man pistol-whipped Londaryl's mother before he blacked out from the beating.
It was only after an ambulance came and took Man away that Londaryl discovered the whole time Clifford was inside with the strangers, his mother was getting high with Man's mom.
Not long after that, Londaryl moved back to Oklahoma City and walked on to the Central Oklahoma basketball team. His mother called and asked him for hotel money one cold day.
He drove to where his mother and brothers stood.
“I told my brothers to get in the car and I drove off,” Londaryl said. “I left my mother where she was standing.”
That's when Londaryl Perry took her to court.
“I'd never had food in my house,” Jermey Perry said. “I never had anybody show us love like they did. It felt like it was a fairy tale.”
Both of Londaryl's brothers now have careers, wives and children.
At age 37, Londaryl Perry applied for the Northeast girls basketball head coaching position.
He'd never been a head coach before, and he'd never coached girls before.
Perry's coaching experience included seven seasons as a boys assistant — 1998-2003 at Putnam City West and 2009-11 at Guthrie. Between those stints, he was a military man; Perry went to Iraq twice, once as an Army soldier and once as a civilian contractor.
The transition from boys to girls was a difficult one at first.
“Early in the season, it was rough,” said junior Danielle Gaddis. “Coach Perry yelled a lot more than we're used to, but really he's helped us mature.”
Perry admits he probably was too tough at times.
“They've humbled me some,” Perry said. “I'm glad they have done that, because I needed it. It's helped me with my two kids.”
Three of his nine players don't have mothers. Junior Maximina Gonzalez is one of them.
“I relate to him well,” Gonzalez said. “I really look up to him as a father figure, because he helps us off the court. He's trying to make us better, not just in basketball, but in life. He wants to see us succeed.”
Perry's lessons aren't limited to his basketball team. He frequently reaches out to Northeast students who he thinks need guidance.
Shana Perry, who works with many troubled kids herself as principal at Del Crest Middle School, calls her husband a “life coach.”
“Londaryl could be successful in any setting, but I think God's purpose for him is to be in a setting like that,” said Shana Perry, who in February was named Oklahoma's Middle School Principal of the Year.
“Your future doesn't have to be determined by your past. He's a living example of that.”