URBANA – Anthony and Melissa Lackey are celebrating a very different kind of Christmas this year. They're clean and sober, together, for the first time in the nine years they've been a couple.
On Monday, Anthony, 40, will be among four men graduating at the 20th class from Champaign County's drug court program. His wife, 34, graduated in June 2008.
A husband-and-wife set of graduates is a first for the program which has graduated 125 people in its 10-year history.
"When she graduated, he had charges pending. He ran me down in the parking lot (after her graduation) and said, 'I don't believe what has happened to my wife, and how do I get drug court?'" said Mike Carey, the probation officer assigned to drug-court clients.
The four male graduates range in age from 40 to 55 and have been in drug court anywhere from 15 to 23 months, according to Judge Jeff Ford, who supervises the court.
Collectively, the men have had 10 sentences to prison, nine to jail, and 36 opportunities at community-based sentences for their 20 felonies, 44 misdemeanors, 55 petty traffic tickets and one juvenile adjudication.
Anthony was in prison while his wife was working the program.
"I seen my wife displaying a strength that wasn't of her own. Whatever it was, I wanted to be a part of it," he told The News-Gazette. "The more she told me about her progress, the more faith began to build up in me. When I came home, I got on the path she had already blazed for me, and I followed her footsteps."
Married since March 2004, the couple has an 8-year-old daughter together and two teenage children from Melissa's prior marriage.
Having lost custody of them at one time or another because of their heroin addictions, they're enjoying being a real family.
"We always loved each other even in our addiction. We tried to be parents. Even when you think you're being a good parent, nine times out of 10 you're not," Melissa said.
Her teens had quite an adjustment to make with their clean and sober mother.
"They weren't used to this mom. I'm a lot more strict and have a lot more rules," she said, laughing at the suggestion that she learned how to dole out discipline from Ford.
"Judge Ford does not play," said Melissa, who was in the program longer than most because she went to California for several months. "He does have a heart. He gave me a second chance, and I'll never forget that."
Melissa, an Urbana native, said she started drinking alcohol at 12 and moved on to crack cocaine and heroin around age 28. She's been clean and sober since April 2, 2007.
Anthony, who grew up on Chicago's west side and sold and used heroin for almost 20 years, has been clean since Jan. 7, 2008. He moved to Champaign in 1999, hoping to escape his drug-based lifestyle, but said he brought his attitude and behaviors with him.
His so-called rock bottom came during his last withdrawal episode in jail. Normally, his withdrawals from heroin lasted three days.
"This one was 14 days. For seven of those days, I couldn't eat or sleep and had projectile vomiting. I thought I was dying. I remember praying to God to help me get through withdrawal and help me sustain. I heard a voice telling me it wasn't withdrawal, but it was my purification stage. There was something about that word that stuck with me," he said.
"It sound holy, sacred. I looked up the definition of holy and it means sanctified, set apart and different. I am very much different from the lifestyle I used to live," Anthony said.
The Lackeys are enthusiastic about their recovery and are taking steps to stay strong.
They're also working at a real business for a paycheck.
Melissa's brother, Eddie Mullins, and his fiancee, Terra Diskin, recently launched Delivery 4 U, an Urbana-based service that delivers food for restaurants that don't have their own delivery. Melissa is their office manager and Anthony is one of their drivers and dispatchers.
"My brother has been there through all this and knows where we've been and sees a brighter future for us and where we're going," Melissa said.
Drug-court graduation will be at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Urbana Civic Center.