Urbana's Peacock awaits decision by judge
By JENN KLOC/CU-Citizen Access
URBANA – Everyone expected Charles "Tyke" Peacock to bring home a gold medal from the 1984 Olympics. No one suspected that he faked an injury to avoid the Olympic trials and hide his drug addiction.
Fast forward 27 years: On Monday Champaign County Circuit Judge Tom Difanis will decide whether Urbana-native Peacock, 50, must surrender to a six-year prison sentence for burglary or if he can finish recovering from his cocaine addiction at the Men's Substance Abuse Free Environment House, a 12-month rehabilitation program run through the Canaan Baptist Church in Urbana.
"I need rehabilitation, not incarceration," Peacock said. "I have been praying that I can remain here in the SAFE House."
The SAFE House is not the only live-in rehabilitation program in the country, but it may be one of the most successful.
In the U.S., there are more than 11,000 addiction recovery programs with an average success rate between 25 and 45 percent, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Illinois has 615 programs while Champaign County offers five substance abuse rehabilitation programs besides the SAFE House, according to the SAMHSA.
But only the SAFE House claims an 86 percent success rate among its graduates.
The Rev. B.J. Tatum, the senior pastor at Canaan Baptist Church and the SAFE House founder, credits the program's success to its all-encompassing Christian principles. He believes that the Bible and the Holy Spirit are key to overcoming an addiction.
"I think all other programs are a Band-Aid to a cancerous problem," Tatum said.
Peacock entered the SAFE House last fall, but his struggle with drug addiction started long before.
Though he showed some of his first signs of athletic achievement in high school, his substance use began there, too. "I used recreational drugs in high school, you know, pot smoking, a few beers, never knowing where that was going to lead me," he said.
When he graduated high school he joined the track team at Modesto Junior College from 1980 to 1981 in California. (According to the IHSA, his career-best jump at Urbana High School, 7 feet 2 1/4 inches, is the sixth-best all time.) He was offered a full-ride basketball scholarship at the University of Kansas for the 1982-83 season. After one season, he transferred to Fresno State University in California.
Throughout his experiences in college athletics, he earned himself a reputation as one of the top high jumpers in the world.
He won the high jump at the World Cup in Rome in 1981 and a silver medal at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
"I was blessed with this just my drive to win, so to speak, was really off the charts," Peacock said. "The talent itself was really a blessing. It was a God-given talent."
But his talent was countered by a dark secret – his drug use.
"Leading up to the Olympic year (1984), I was ranked the No. 1 high jumper in the world," he said. "But no one knew that I was using drugs, I mean, no one outside my little circle of friends."
Peacock said his drug habit started while he was at Kansas.
"That's when I got really involved in it," he said. "Before I knew it, it had me hook, line and sinker."
Sports Illustrated magazine published a story about his talent and his dreams of joining the NBA in 1984.
Peacock met the coach of the Houston Rockets in 1983 and impressed him so much that Tyke was promised a tryout in 1984. But because of his drug addiction, Peacock surrendered his NBA dreams.
"My addiction had took off. It was full blown by then," he said. "Needless to say, I never made it back that year to try out with the team."
Peacock said he doesn't want people to feel sad about his missed opportunities in the Olympics or the NBA.
"God doesn't make any mistakes at all," he said.
As his athletic talents made him more successful, the money he earned drew him deeper into his addiction. "The more money I made, the more drugs I was using," Peacock said. "If I had won my (Olympic) gold medal and still been getting high, I would have killed myself."
Last fall, Peacock entered the SAFE House to overcome his addiction.
He had behind him a long list of arrests for various charges and two stints in prison – one year in 1994, and a second stay from 1998 until 2000.
"Any time I've ever been in trouble, it was for taking something that didn't belong to me to support my drug habit," Peacock said. "I stole things to support my habit."
In October, Peacock was arrested in Los Angeles on a petty theft charge. He said he had warrants out for his arrest in Illinois, so he was extradited. Here, a judge sentenced him to six years in prison for burglary, but the judge allowed him to remain out of prison until Monday's hearing.
"He says, 'I'm going to allow you to stay out for the holidays,'" said Peacock.
Peacock said he considers the judge's decision a blessing and the work of God. Not only has Peacock been able to progress in his recovery in the SAFE House, but his sister also passed away in November. If he had been ordered to serve his prison sentence right away, he would have missed her funeral, he said.
"My sister wanted me to be there, my family needed me to be there, and I needed to be there," said Peacock. "I do not know what it would've done to my spirit if I had not been there when she passed."
Peacock has been married twice and has three biological children. His wife, Renee Peacock, also has two children from a previous marriage. Peacock had his oldest son when he was a senior in high school, and his biological daughters are 21 and 14 years old. Renee's son is 17 years old and plays basketball. Her daughter, who was 3 years old when Renee and Peacock married, is 14 years old and runs track.
Peacock met Renee at a track meet when he was a student at Modesto Junior College in California. She was his college sweetheart. Despite periods of separation and previous marriages, the couple got married in 2001.
"We both believed that we were each other's soul mates," he said. "I've put her through more than I care to remember, and I'm thankful she's still there for me."
For Renee, 10 years of marriage to a person struggling with an addiction haven't been easy, but she said she has stayed behind her husband for support.
"God doesn't put you through more than what you can handle," she said. "I do believe that in my faith, God allowed me to see the good in him."
Though she said she had struggled to keep him sober before, she was optimistic when she found out about the SAFE House.
"I knew that he needed something faith-based, because even with a 12-step program, it's more than just the 12 steps," Renee said. "Now he has his armor on, and that armor is the word of God."
She said she hopes that the judge will decide that her husband can remain in the SAFE House, "because it is something that has helped him to be the person that he is supposed to be. I don't believe that the prisons have a rehabilitation program in place, so going into that environment again only sets him up for failure again," she said.
This year for Peacock's birthday on Feb. 24, his oldest daughter, Brittany, who is studying nursing at Parkland College, wanted to show her father how proud she is of his decision to become sober. She visited him at the SAFE House and brought a bundle of balloons.
"It was just sort of my, I guess my token of appreciation, you know, thank you for stepping up and doing what you need to do to be a positive role model for me. That's how I look at it," Brittany said.
Peacock said the gesture moved him to tears. "That would have never happened a year ago when I was in my mess," he said.
Brittany said she hopes the judge will decide that her father can remain in the SAFE House. She said that since Peacock entered the SAFE House, they have grown closer and there are more positives in their relationship.
"I don't blame my father for any of his mistakes or his drug use. I don't blame him and I don't hold it against him," Brittany said. "I don't know if I've ever said that to him, but that is something I want him to know."
Peacock said he is praying that the judge will let him stay in the SAFE House. "I truly do believe and feel in my soul, if they send me to prison, that's not gonna do my soul no good," he said.
But he said he is leaving it up to God to decide. Though he is praying that the judge will suspend his sentence, Peacock said that if he ends up going to prison, then "Maybe [God] needs me to minister for someone in the DOC," he said. "Whatever he decides for me, I'm just here to serve."
Still, he would be much happier to remain in the SAFE House where he can focus on his recovery.
"I actually like me again, and I really don't believe that prison is right for me this time around," he said. "I'm not the same person, so I don't feel like I deserve the same penalty."