Billings couple starts fresh

2014-04-24T20:21:00Z 2014-04-25T16:27:06Z Billings couple starts freshBy NICK BALATSOS nbalatsos@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

It wasn't easy, but they did it.

Billings couple Shannon and Roy St. Dennis graduated from Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court on Thursday afternoon, marking the end of one chapter of their lives and the beginning of another.

A group of about 40 people including friends and family gathered in the courtroom to celebrate the couple's achievement. The room was decorated with balloons, and a big vanilla cake lay on a table in the center next to a bowl of punch.

Judge Gregory Todd presided. 

"For those of you who don't know, we have two guests of honor today," Todd said, "Shannon Pronto and Roy St. Dennis." 

Roy interrupted: "That's Shannon St. Dennis," he said, with a big smile on his face. 

The judge smiled, and everyone chuckled. 

Shannon and Roy got married back in February at the the Center for Children and Families. It was a meaningful place to them because it was where they completed a lot of their treatment. 

Todd went on: "It's a great moment for all of us. You are examples to all individuals in this court. I hope they take it to heart and follow your example and know that it wasn't always easy." 

"You're living proof that it's worth it," he concluded.

Afterward, Shannon and Roy were given a chance to talk. 

Shannon said that it was really hard at first because she didn't know if she wanted it. 

At first, it was for her kids, her family and her friends. Eventually she had to want it for herself, she said. 

Through the program, she was able to get sober. Now, 14 months later, she said it was the best decision she's ever made. 

"Every day I wake up and it's a beautiful day," she said. 

Ron said before treatment he was a different man. He said he used to walk down the street with a scowl because he was afraid. He said what he didn't realize was that he wasn't getting "his needs met."

After the couple spoke, the audience had their turn. 

A friend Ron made through the program noted the scowl, but said he realized after having coffee with him one day that he's "just a big teddy bear."

Friends, counselors and people who are currently going through the drug treatment court called the couple an inspiration. 

Shannon said it was probably the most momentous day of her life.

She admitted to a friend beforehand that she was more nervous than on her wedding day. 

"This is more important than my wedding," she said, "because if I didn't have my sobriety, I wouldn't be married." 

The couple has witnessed so much change in their lives since beginning treatment. 

"It's been a long, long road," Shannon said.

The couple met in June 2011. At the time, they were both clean and sober after previous drug addictions.

Eventually, the couple got back into methamphetamine. When their son Michael was born about 18 months later, the infant tested positive for the drug and state child protection workers removed him from their custody.

Savannah, Shannon's other child who was living with Shannon's mother, also was taken away. 

Shannon said that was the turning point. Savannah's biological father abandoned her, and she wasn't going to do the same thing. 

The couple started treatment on Oct. 4, 2012. Since, they have regained custody of Michael and Savannah, and Shannon was able to become the head of a daycare classroom.

Graduation marks a new beginning for them, Shannon said. "It's training wheels off," she said. 

Shannon's parents, Leonard and Lisa Pronto, said they are happy and excited for their daughter. They also said they are a little nervous because with graduation comes less structure.

Shannon and Roy plan to volunteer and give back to the organizations that have helped them. Shannon said she wants to serve as a mentor to some of the people going through the drug treatment court. 

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