Roy skipped so many classes that the school threatened to hold her back a year — so she dropped out at 17-years-old and got her GED from a local community college.
After finishing school, she joined the army and was stationed in Germany, where she began binge drinking and partying.
She then deployed to Afghanistan for three months.
“We took incoming artillery three times a day, you have to take cover, it’s so surreal,” she said. “I think it’s so important to humanize the people that we’re demonizing even though I was there and know that they want to kill every single one of us.”
After returning home from her deployment, Roy started withdrawing from drugs and enrolled herself into the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Bragg. She was addicted to synthetic marijuana, known as "spice."
Spice is a hemp byproduct that has tetrahydracannabinol (THC) which is a chemical responsible for the euphoric high and also the cause of the addiction.
“Back in the prohibition, people would come and they’d pour anything and everything into a bathtub to make an alcoholic drink, but it also had a lot of poisons and people would die,” said Col. Donald Algeo, a pain medicine specialist at Fort Bragg.
He said the chemicals that are in spice are equivalent to the chemicals from bathtub gin.
The Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Bragg offers a substance abuse treatment and drug detox for addiction recovery. They treat anyone in the military that formed their addiction during the army or had one prior to the army.
“Once you’re in the program, you’re not deployable until you have proven you’re in recovery and if you fall back to using again, then usually there is an administrative arm of the army that will separate you,” he said.
Once returning back to Germany, Roy was shamed by her former unit for receiving help at another unit.
“I think what it comes down to is the army was not in an institutional position to understand the nature of addiction and there weren’t enough structural organizations to understand it as a disease,” she said. “It was just like, ‘You’re a fuck up.’”
She stopped following the army rules and failed her drug tests. The army compiled disciplinary infractions and court marshaled her to jail for one month.
Her mother, Lori Roy, said she slept peacefully during this time because she knew her daughter was safe in jail.
Still, Lori Roy once raised the amount of life insurance she had because she expected her daughter wasn’t going to make it.
“I felt like I was constantly throwing her a life raft, and she was just tossing it back at me,” she said.
Roy's army superiors told her she wouldn’t be able to get another job because of her discharge for drug abuse. Feeling hopeless, Roy moved to Florida and became a stripper.
“Initially when you are on stage, that is when you are untouchable and you kind of feel empowered that you are using your body in a way that has always been used,” she said.
Roy was sex trafficked by the uncle of her partner at the time to pay for a drug debt. She was drugged and introduced to several men. Most is a blur for Roy, but she remembers living with a man and his sister.
Lori Roy said Kelie thought she was bad person and was subconsciously making decisions that supported that belief about herself. Roy’s addiction from synthetic marijuana escalated to cocaine, xanax and molly when she became a dancer.
Then, Roy got pregnant. She was high when she heard her son’s heartbeat, surprised that he was alive.
“I heard his heartbeat, and there was this distance of not deserving the outcome of actually being pregnant,” she said.
Lori Roy said she knew the father of her child was physically abusing her daughter.
At the time, Roy didn't have enough money to eat. She had never felt more numb.
Roy then decided to quit doing drugs for her son.
“Internally I didn’t care enough to stop doing drugs, but that external force of wanting my child to have the best chance at life — I stopped doing drugs,” she said.
During her pregnancy, Roy took classes at Sandhills Community College. She said she started learning about the structural institutions that keep single mothers in dire circumstances, and wanted to use her privileges and empathy to do something about it. She eventually applied to UNC to complete her bachelor's degree.
In the United States, Student parents made up 26 percent of the total undergraduate study body, according to a study conducted by The Institute for Women’s Policy Research in 2017.
“If I hadn’t gotten into UNC, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing,” she said. “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Some days, she leaves too early in the morning and comes home too late at night to see her son, but it's worth it to give him a better life. She said Jonah, her now-three-year-old son, was the human being that saved her life.
“The human that gave me the world just wants ice cream in return,” she said.
Roy pays $600 a month in childcare without help from the state, receiving less than $300 from the father of her child a month. The state stopped financially assisting Roy after she received her Associates degree from Sandhills Community College. If she had decided to get a job after receiving her Associates degree, the state would have continued supporting her, but she wanted to further her education.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely to drop out of school because of their dependent care obligations.
Roy drives from Pinehurst to Chapel Hill every day, and said she feels lucky to have a supporting family so she can get an education while raising a child. She hopes to go to law school and use her privileges to be a voice for single mothers.
“I am doing it for him, I’m doing it for the women who don’t have the privileges that I do to not become a single mother statistic,” she said. “I think it would be a disservice to those women not to utilize them.”