After life of addiction and crime, Rocky Meadows turns it around through faith
HUNTINGTON -- For a young man who took his first sip of alcohol at age 10, went joyriding at age 14 and was a full-blown cocaine addict by age 17, the nickname "Rocky" seems more than appropriate.
"A lot of people thought I got that name because I was tough, growing up in a rough inner city neighborhood in Baltimore," said Raymond "Rocky" Meadows III, born to Beckley native parents in Maryland's capital city. "Actually, I got the name because when I was little, I used to sit on the couch and rock back and forth, so my mom called me Rocky."
It would be the last "heartwarming" story of Meadows' life for more than three decades. What followed was a "whirlwind of madness," as Meadows described it, of gangs, drugs and prison, before making what he called the "quantum leap" of recovery. After kicking his habits, Meadows turned his life toward helping others cope with their addictions.
"I was molested when I was about five by two older female relatives, about 10 and 12 years old, and I think I carried a sense of shame about that for a long time," Meadows said. "I had my first cup of beer in a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup when I was 10 and I just loved it, and I always drank and drugged after that. I battled it for 24 years."
Meadows had his first run-in with the law at 14 when he and two buddies took three brand new Dodge Daytonas for a joyride. That same year, he began selling cocaine and hanging out in a Baltimore gang. By 17, he said, he was a full-blown addict, mourning the death of his father.
"I went to my first rehab after that, learned about Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and 12-step programs. The seeds were planted, but I never stayed clean longer than 90 days," Meadows said.
Meadows' mother moved the family to Huntington and remarried, a man Meadows called a "good man who loved me unconditionally."
"I thought I was running away from my addiction, but I brought it with me," Meadows said.
His reign of terror over the Tri-State, Meadows explained, started with $12,000 and a pistol.
"I went to Ashland on a run for Dilaudid," Meadows said. "Turns out, it was a reverse sting and they busted me."
At 21, Meadows served his first stint -- five years -- in prison in both Morgantown and Ashland.
By the time he was released, his relationship with his then-girlfriend had fallen apart. He started working as a certified fitness trainer, but the pull of his previous life was just too strong.
"I was restless and discontent and I started spiraling out of control again," said Meadows, who was by then working as a car salesman. An invitation to church seemed like divine intervention.
"I went and they had an altar call and I was holding on to the pew for dear life," Meadows said. "But, I went back the next week and responded. It was like I literally lifted up and floated down the aisle. I had never known anything so real."
This is the part of the story, Meadows likes to say, where you'd expect that he made a 180-degree change.
"The fact is, I became the worst human being ever after," he said. "I was clean, but empty."
Meadows became well-known among area law enforcement officers. He was arrested 30 times and made more than 20 trips to Western Regional Jail.
"Every police officer in town knew me and knew me well," Meadows said. "I was a shoplifter, a robber, a pimp -- all those things that come with the drug life."
In 2008, he sat in a car outside a Huntington motel while his best friend was shot and killed in a robbery attempt. Originally charged with felony murder in commission of a robbery, the charges were reduced to conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery at the direction of prosecutors.
"They (police) came looking for me after that. They kicked my door down, the same house I'm living in now," Meadows said. "I'd just had a 24-oz. can of beer and two oxy 80s right before they took me to jail."
Meadows went on to spend 25 months in jail. It was there, he said, he really sought God.
"I was reading my Bible five hours a day. I surrendered my entire life," he said. "I learned about tithing. If someone sent me $20 in jail, I gave $2 to some guy who needed it. I still do that, every dollar that comes through my hand, I tithe it."
Meadows joined a yearlong therapeutic community program in jail that he said changed his thinking and his life.
"It was the first time in my life I knew I was OK," he said.
Once released, Meadows sought employment. His rode his bicycle to a convenience store, where a local manager saw fit to give him a chance. Three weeks later, the store's corporate office learned of Meadows' past and terminated his employment.
"I thought it was a setback, but I was living by the principle that God will do what you can't do," he said.
He found employment with the help of his AA mentors and also began working with The Healing Place of Huntington. He lived a short time in a local recovery house and went back to school. When his job at the Healing Place was phased out, he was a full-time student with no money, credit or time who felt a calling to do something more.
His experiences were leading him to The Lifehouse, a sober living facility for men who contribute to monthly expenses while learning to assimilate back into society. In January 2012, Meadows -- clean and sober since November 2008 -- opened the first Lifehouse. In roughly one year, the Lifehouse has expanded to include facilities for more than 50 men, functioning solely on community donations and the required financial contributions of the men the program serves; this month, he will open the 40-acre Lifehouse Recovery Center in rural Wayne County, bringing his total bed count to nearly 70.
"I've had 21 parolees in the past year and only three have gone back. Four have graduated and left sober and 14 are still in my care," said Meadows, who has been married to his wife, Helen, for 10 years. "This experience was immediately amazing. Now I'm sitting in on parole hearings instead of attending them. I'm in the police chief's office, the sheriff's office, the mayor's office, praying for them as they go about their jobs."
When asked why Meadows' formula of personal experience and current resources is successful, his response was simple.
"I keep God first," he said. "That's why everything works."
Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.
Raymond "Rocky" Carl Meadows III
Family: Wife, Helen; children, Hayley, Colton, Jacob, Josh, Ryan and Rocky
Hobby: Working out
Favorite books: "The Shack" by William P. Young and the Bible