Maybe it's no surprise that the son of the mayor of Hot Springs, a tattooed rock and roll musician who found Jesus in a Christian rehabilitation program after he was arrested on drug charges, is now a probation officer for Hot Springs Municipal Court. Hot Springs is different that way.
But the story of Chris Carney, 30, who'll be wed this fall to Disney Channel actress Tiffany Thornton ("Sonny With a Chance," "Random") at Garvan Gardens and who just recorded with Jason Truby the song "I'm Back" to raise money to fund Hot Springs' DWI and drug courts, rises above the Spa City's already high bar of what's normal. Carney's tale includes a couple of stints with reality TV and a conversion in a Pentecostal church, where Carney approached the altar, looked to heaven, and asked, "God, if this shit is real, give it to me."
It might be told best from the beginning, as told to a reporter from Carney's office in the Hot Springs Municipal Courthouse.
Carney, whose mother is Mayor Ruth Carney and whose father, Ken Carney, is the pastor of First Church of the Nazarene, sang with the Prom Kings, a rock band that debuted in L.A. in 2005; they recorded a self-titled album and their song "Blow" was featured in the film "The Island." That led to a short-lived MTV reality show "twentyfourseven" about guys trying to make it in Hollywood and it featured Chris and his brother, Greg, who also lived in L.A. The second episode centered on Chris' arrest in Hot Springs for drunk driving and aggravated assault and featured footage from his home, a dinner with his parents, and church, where he weeps as his family kneels about him. (It was seeing those tears that sparked Thornton's interest in him, she said in an interview on "Fox and Friends" in April.)
The TV show was a flop, the band broke up, and Carney was "living from couch to couch," and hanging out with a crowd that liked to party. "I had an image to uphold," he said; it was one that didn't exactly jibe with weeping in church. Thornton, who dated him a few times, decided he wasn't for her.
But the rock star was on a spiritual search. "I was anti-Christian," Carney said. "I thought it was for weak people." So he worshipped Krishna for a while. (Ruth Carney said he once arrived at the Little Rock airport wrapped in a sheet and shaved bald. "God gave him to me to expand my acceptance" of others, she said.) He tried Wicca, too. Then Carney became a Buddhist — which he took seriously enough to have the symbol for the mantra "om" tattooed on his forehead. "That's their cross," he said of the Buddhist symbol. As a Buddhist, "I was my own God."
But this deity was also a failure, or so he thought, and he left L.A. to return to Hot Springs in 2007, skinny and "defeated" and smoking pot and was soon arrested on a charge of possession of cocaine.
The Buddhist ended up in court before a judge named Ohm.
Carney laughed. He asked Municipal Judge Ralph Ohm, "Do you know what your name means?" Carney, who disputed the charge but didn't have money for a lawyer, took the judge's name as a sign that not contesting the charge was the right thing, that "the universe said, go take this path."
As it happens, the judge had just discovered Teen Challenge, a faith-based (and confusingly-named) residential facility for men 18 and over operating a 14-month drug rehab program. Carney was given three choices: He could go to jail, he could go to the state-funded Quapaw House treatment center, or he could go to Teen Challenge. Since his father was a pastor, Carney said, he chose the faith-based option, though he considered it a "crazy cultish program."
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