TAMPA — A courtroom full of people who paid off Angel Yulee Adams' debts and found a rent-free, six-bedroom home for her and a dozen of her children waited Monday morning for a sign of gratitude, a clue of cooperation. They waited for a thank you.
They didn't get it. Angel Adams, 37, said she was glad to have the home. But she wanted them all out of her life.
"I've been railroaded since day one," she said.
The state says day one was 21 months and 28 hearings ago, when Adams first landed in the courtroom of Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan. Ever since then, Sheehan said, the state has tried to keep Adams and her children together.
But Adams lost her home after failing to pay rent to the Tampa Housing Authority, then recently was evicted from a two-bedroom rental apartment. All her things were dumped on the curb. She and 12 children wound up in a small motel room on E Busch Boulevard.
Her situation looked a lot better on Monday, thanks to the combined efforts of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the state Department of Children and Families, Hillsborough Kids Inc., the Children's Home Society and A Kid's Place — which last week gave her a temporary cottage at its shelter near Brandon.
Officials from most of those agencies packed the judge's courtroom Monday to give a status report. Nick Cox, DCF's regional director, spoke for them.
"Everyone has bent over backward," he said. "The mother has been less than gracious."
Hillsborough Kids volunteered to help cover the more than $6,000 she owes to the Tampa Housing Authority. The Children's Home Society paid the first month's rent for the six-bedroom house and found furnishings. Her rent, adjusted for income and the size of her family, will be virtually nothing, Cox said. He couldn't estimate how much the state has spent on her in the past two years.
The 12 children have been out of school for more than a week, but Cox said Adams appears to be a loving mother. She still could lose her children, he said, if she doesn't work with caseworkers and show the state she is adequately caring for them.
"From a legal standpoint, she's backing us into a corner," Cox said. He asked the judge to tell Adams to "stop complaining and start cooperating."
Judge Sheehan gave her a lecture.
Adams would not have sat through 28 hearings if her kids had been fed, got their medicines and were living in a good home, the judge said. "We know you want us out of your life," she told Adams. "We will be thrilled to close this case when you have all these things."
Adams sat at a table just below the judge's bench, looking away from Sheehan.
"A lot of people have gone way extra miles for you," Sheehan said. "Do you understand that?"
Adams replied quietly, "No comment, your honor."
"Hear what I'm saying," the judge told her. "Reach out your hand to these people instead of looking a gift horse in the mouth and asking for more, more, more."
After the hearing, Adams said she's a proud Florida native, a descendent of David Levy Yulee, a former U.S. senator and plantation owner who built the Yulee Railroad line in North Florida in the mid 1800s and was later imprisoned for aiding the Confederacy. She once worked in a linen factory. She has three other older children, besides the 12 who live with her.
She said her misfortunes began when she scuffled with a sheriff's deputy two years ago. It happened when her 9-year-old son was suspended for bringing a knife to school. She was two months pregnant. After her arrest, she said her troubles snowballed.
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office removed her children after finding neglect in the home. She got her kids back six months ago, but the father of 10 of them, Garry Brown, was sentenced to five years for a cocaine conviction. Without his help, she said, she fell into debt. Hillsborough Kids paid the rent for her last apartment.
Adams said she wasn't planning on more children, but "whatever God wants to happen is okay with me."
Outside the courtroom, across the hall, Cox said DCF believes in keeping families together. That's the agency's main mission.
"She is the ultimate test of our belief."