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Reunited couple sees better days coming
After completing the Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court program, Jenny Lira and Tom Doyle, center, were reunited with their children. From left, Dalton, 8 months; Thomas, 7; Nateric, 5; and Djo-Lee, 2, sit with Doyle's mother, Amy Van Hoozer, left.

The past two Thanksgivings, three of Tom Doyle's and Jenny Lira's children have been in foster care.

This year, the Billings family, with its newest addition, 8-month-old Dalton, is again whole, and the six of them plan to celebrate the day with friends and family.

Drugs tore apart Doyle and Lira and their family, but hard work and the support of a drug court helped put it back together.

"I'm thankful for life right now," Doyle, 38, said in an interview in the home across from South Park that he shares with Lira and their children. "I'm thankful I'm alive right now. I could be dead with some of the things I did."

"I'm definitely grateful to have my children," said Lira, 34.

A visit to their home starts with a hug from 5-year-old son Nateric. There is obvious affection between Doyle and Lira and their children, Nateric - 7-year-old Thomas, 2-year-old Djo-lee and baby Dalton.

Both attribute their turnaround to the Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court, which became part of their lives for 15 months starting in January 2007.

"We were so willing to do something different, to be different people," Lira said.

Lira and Doyle grew up in Billings. Doyle, the middle child in a family of three, attended Ponderosa Elementary and then graduated from Senior High in 1990. After that, he joined the Navy and served as a boiler technician, traveling to the other side of the world.

"I came back and moved in with my mom," he said. "And I got involved with drugs. Everything kind of spiraled downhill from 1996 to 2006."

Methamphetamine and marijuana were his drugs of choice.

Lira also was born in Billings, and she lived with her grandmother until she was 7. After that she moved around with her mom to Washington and Wyoming, with another brief stay with family in Billings, finally ending up back in town for her senior year at West High, where she graduated in 1993.

It was about that time that she started doing and dealing drugs. Lira, who has been diagnosed with a type of schizophrenia, said she used methamphetamine to self-medicate.

"It did stop everything from happening," she said. "But when I was coming down, it would get 10 times worse."

Doyle and Lira met in 1994. In June 1996, Lira took part in a casino robbery in Billings and eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of felony theft.

She ended up in the Montana Women's Prison for 2½ years. Once she was out, Doyle and Lira got together and, in 2001, they had their first son. A second son was born in 2003, and came then a daughter, three years later.

They lived with Doyle's mother, Amy Van Hoozer, did drugs and fought with each other. Van Hoozer concedes that she did nothing to stop the couple from their drug-using ways.

"I enabled them," she said. "I did not want to see what they were doing."

The couple hit bottom in August 2006.

Doyle and Van Hoozer were home when police burst into the house.

"The raid happened on Aug. 23, 2006, at 9:15 p.m.," Doyle said. "I won't forget it."

A Billings police SWAT team came in, removed the children and searched the house. Meth and drug paraphernalia were found throughout the residence, including in the bedroom where the children slept.

Lira was arrested just after Thanksgiving, and Doyle in the first week of December. He was charged with criminal endangerment and criminal possession of drugs, while Lira was charged with criminal endangerment and criminal possession of drugs with intent to sell.

Both made bail, but the court ordered them not to have contact. When Doyle and Lira were offered the opportunity to enter the drug court program, both agreed.

"They took away the last thing I ever wanted to lose - my children," Doyle said.

Lira had already permanently lost an older daughter to the Department of Family Services and didn't want to go through that again.

"I wanted to be a family again," she said. "I knew Tom was trying also."

For Lira, it would start with a change in her self-image.

"Basically, I thought of myself as a criminal and I didn't want to be a criminal anymore," she said. "I wanted to be a mom."

They attended outpatient drug treatment, parenting classes and individual and couples counseling. It was grueling, both agree, but it had positive effects.

"It teaches you to be responsible and independent," Doyle said.

"You try so hard, and you're in court every week, and every week they see you growing a little bit," Lira said.

For nine months, Lira lived in the Women and Family Shelter. She wasn't allowed to live with Doyle again until he found a home of his own, apart from his mother.

Lira and Doyle moved into their present house in September 2007. In October, they took the kids trick-or-treating and spent time with them during the holidays, including bringing them home for weekends.

In February 2008, they were allowed to bring the children home for good, and baby Dalton was born the next month.

They graduated from the drug court program in May.

"I cried when I graduated; I couldn't help it," Doyle said. "I looked out and saw my family and friends, everybody who supported me."

Both Doyle and Lira speak warmly about the people in the program.

"Now we know how to be responsible, how to be parents," Lira said. "In 15 months, I've learned how to live instead of just being alive."

Judge Susan Watters, who presides over the drug court, watched the couple's progress.

"I'm really proud of them, that they worked really hard from the beginning of drug court," Watters said. "They've made an incredible transformation, and their hard work really shows. Their got their kids back, and I think they're enjoying the fruits of their labor."

In September, Doyle received a five-year deferred sentence for a felony drug charge and a concurrent one-year suspended jail term for misdemeanor negligent endangerment.

If he does well, Doyle will have that wiped from his record.

"I'm thankful for that," he said. "I could have gone away for 20 years."

Because of her previous crime, Lira received a concurrent five-year suspended sentence for felony charges of possessing drugs for sale. She also received a concurrent six-month suspended sentence for a misdemeanor charge of negligent endangerment.

But the sentence doesn't worry her.

"As long as we do the right thing, everything will be fine."

If any of the old feelings come up, if the stress of life gets to be too much, they both know they can find support from drug court staff. And from each other - and from Doyle's mom, who is once again part of their lives.

"In the last 2½ years I've done my recovery and they've done theirs and we can walk in health together," Van Hoozer said.

Lira now is getting treatment for her schizophrenia.

Doyle works in construction, and Lira is a stay-at-home mom.

"I enjoy who I am today, and I enjoy my kids very much," she said.

Asked what they're thankful for this year, the two don't hesitate.

"We're thankful to be able to invite people for Thanksgiving we care about and love," Lira said. "We're thankful for having only sober people in our lives."

"I'm thankful to be with our kids, to be parents and get to watch our kids go to school and grow and learn," Doyle said.

"And we are on the same page," Lira said.

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