Leslie Gentry has a smile that’s so infectious it can lift your spirits even on a bad day.
It hurts to think that the 50-year-old comic book store office manager could have lost a child to fentanyl. But that’s what happened—her 22-year-old son Jolly Jones died accidentally while trying to kick his addiction to the opioid.
“My son was the funniest guy I’ve ever met,” she said, from her downstairs perch in the Bronze Age Bat Cave. “He made friends everywhere he went. He was always smiling and laughing.”
In his honor, Gentry is organizing the second Jolly10K fun run, along the Los Gatos Creek Trail, July 22, starting at 8am at Balzer Field parking lot.
But since the main loop is 6.9 miles in total, and the shorter loop is four miles, where did she get the “10K” in the name from?
“Jolly10K—that was always like his screen name growing up,” she said, explaining the run is her way of holding onto her boy, while trying to help others. “When he died, I thought it would be a good way to do something fun in the community and not let my son be forgotten.”
Jones’ childhood began in the hills above Los Gatos.
“I used to carry my son in one of those baby backpacks when I would hike the Los Gatos Creek Trail,” Gentry said. “When he was older we did the trail together.”
Gentry had moved the family to Tracy, and Jones became a football player.
“He got a spinal injury in football which caused him to want painkillers which eventually was why he tried fentanyl,” she said. “His back was deteriorating.”
Doctors suggested surgery, but Jones shut down this option, given the risk he could have ended up paralyzed if something went wrong.
Eventually they stopped prescribing him pain pills, according to Gentry.
To make matters worse, when he was 16, Jones was attacked and stabbed 11 times. His mom says it was over the color of his pants: a pair of red True Religion jeans.
The assailants cracked his skull and he had to be outfitted with a metal plate in his head that caused chronic headaches.
Gentry eventually moved back to the Los Gatos area—on the border of Campbell and San Jose. Her son kept falling further into the grip of addiction and ended up on the streets of San Jose.
He was constantly getting into trouble with the police.
“They’d arrest him and let him out, arrest him and let him out,” she said, of the powerful hold fentanyl ended up having over her son’s life. “He was trying to get off of it.”
Gentry tried to coax her son home, but wasn’t having any luck.
Then, one night, he called her—strung-out, but ready to accept assistance.
“‘It’s bad,’” she remembers him saying. “‘It’s so bad mom.’”
He turned to the faith-based men’s recovery facility called Homes of a Loving Father, and they welcomed him in.
But one day he got caught smoking pot, so they kicked him out.
Another phone call.
Gentry ordered her son to go straight back to the home and ask for a second chance—to sleep on the doorstep if he had to.
Soon she heard from the manager, who confirmed they’d agreed to allow him back, telling her, “I’d be able to visit him in church on Sunday.”
But he didn’t survive that long.
“It seemed like he was getting better,” she said. “He was making jokes and finally eating something.”
He’d been surrounded by other people for the first couple days.
But on the third day, when fellow guests in the program had been allowed to leave on a weekend pass, tragedy struck.
“While detoxing or trying to get off of fentanyl you have to be under medical supervision,” she said. “There was somebody with him all the time—except that last night…He was alone.”
On the morning of July 24, she got the call that turned her world upside-down.
“It was a phone call that I’d been fearing for years,” she said. “It always happens to ‘somebody else.’ I used to think, ‘Not my son. It won’t happen to my son.’”
It was as if someone had pressed pause on her life.
“It’s kinda like being in a fog: you’re running on autopilot,” she said. “The world is rushing by and you’re just frozen.”
She believes her son didn’t overdose from a clandestine hit that last night, but from complications while going through the withdrawal process.
Recovery centers frequently urge users not to attempt to kick the habit on their own, as detoxing from opioids can be viciously painful and potentially dangerous.
“They called it an accidental death,” she said, noting the coroner found multiple drugs in his system, including fentanyl. “I knew fentanyl was something he was taking, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Now she’s trying to raise awareness—not just about the toxicity of a single hit, but also the complicated factors involved in helping someone leave the path of addiction behind.
She knows how tough it can be. She herself has been in recovery for 11 years, and has become a mentor to others trying to turn their lives around.
“I’m learning how many people are continuing to die, or lost nieces and nephews,” she said, adding these stories are what caused her to start the Jolly10K. “It’s also been very healing.”
The inaugural run was a modest affair, but it was one of the highlights of her year.
This time, they’re going to have wood-fire pizza, pastries and the Narcan overdose-reversing nasal spray at the event.
The run will start at 8am and goes until 2pm.
Speakers will include a firefighter and people who have overcome addiction; recovery nonprofit Many Paths One Destination has agreed to booth.
Participants get a T-shirt and a ticket for the raffle, which is in support of Homes of a Loving Father.
People who have lost a loved one to fentanyl can email a picture of the person (including their name and age) to [email protected] for inclusion on the website and a banner to be displayed on the day of the race.
Last year, Paul Marshall and Keoni Freitas took the top prize.
But it isn’t the $100 gift certificate they won that made the day so special, says Gentry. It was the impact—something she can’t wait to replicate this time.
“Hopefully it will open up an environment where people will feel comfortable asking questions,” she said. “If we can open their minds that it’s not just addicts, it’s everyone…maybe they’ll have the conversation—and they’ll be able to save someone.”