Over the past two decades, Wally Eckersley says, he's had only one disciplinary write-up in prison — for smoking. He's done every treatment program available to him. He writes an occasional guest column, "Insights From Inside," for the South Platte Sentinel. He's seen the parole board three times since 2000, and each time he's been told to come back in another two years. He sees the board again this month. "My hope is to get paroled upon completion of this program," he says. "This might be my saving grace, so to speak. I'm being afforded the opportunity to help other people as well as help myself."

Eckersley serves as a voice of experience in his peer counseling classes. Not every resident is prepared to hear what he has to say, though. "Everyone thought this place was the key to reality," he says. "Then you get here, and it turns out a lot of people don't really want to be here. I think they're weeding themselves out.

"In prison, you sit in front of the TV, do your time, and you get out eventually. Over here, you do the work, and the possibility of getting out is a lot better. Having done the time I've done, it's easier for me to approach somebody and tell them what I think they're doing right or wrong."

Change is coming: Director Kevin Estep (above) brought a new approach to the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, which requires inmates like Jay Lewis and Charles Cook (right) to forsake the convict code.
Change is coming: Director Kevin Estep (above) brought a new approach to the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, which requires inmates like Jay Lewis and Charles Cook (right) to forsake the convict code.
Amok time: Parolee Douglas Bullard, who left CMRC two months ago, says the program still has problems with booze, drugs and violence.
Amok time: Parolee Douglas Bullard, who left CMRC two months ago, says the program still has problems with booze, drugs and violence.

While he's comfortable with the TC approach, Eckersley would like to see the residents show more initiative in confronting each other, having a stake in each other's progress. "It needs to go a step further," he says. "They have pull-ups and push-ups, but those are basically being done by staff in my unit. Let's do the program. The program works, if people are allowed to work the program."

As he sees it, there's a lot riding on his success. Many long-timers in prison, especially those convicted of violent crimes, have little chance of seeing parole before their mandatory release date. Consequently, they tend to devote little effort to the kinds of programs that might actually help them stay out of prison. If he can persuade the parole board he's deserving of early release, it might pave the way for others.

"There are a lot of people in my situation doing a long period of time who are hoping and praying that I succeed," Eckersley says. "Then the outlook might change for them."

Eckersley discharges his sentence in another nine to thirteen years. The decision about when he will actually taste freedom again is out of his hands, but he figures he's making the best choices he can to bring that moment closer. He's tried everything else the system has to offer. So why not a program that works if people are allowed to work it?

It's a bit like the boundless spiritual optimism of the signs around CMRC, but not quite. The signs suggest that someone with even the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. But sometimes you need to act as if you have faith before you find it.

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