"I think I began to realize that there was value in me when people started coming out of the woodwork to help me, to be in my life," she says now. "It sounds strange, but prison has been like a sanctuary for me. I've learned how to express myself, to make choices that matter — and even to be happy. To be able to believe that life is still beautiful, beyond this experience, is a blessing."

*****

Despite the name, it's unlikely that any royalty has ever stayed at the Kings Inn, one of a dwindling procession of inexpensive motels along East Colfax. Half a century ago, the motels were often the first stop of new arrivals in town. But in recent years they've adapted to a different clientele, including people in desperate need of temporary housing — people battling a downward spiral of poverty, addiction, family crises...or all three.

Diana Lombardi brought her three children — Tara Perry, her older sister Teresa and a younger brother — to the Kings Inn in the mid-1990s. In some ways, it was a step up for the family, which had spent months at a time in homeless shelters and many nights sleeping in a car.

Tara and Teresa have almost no memories of their father, a man Lombardi met at a party when she was twenty. Lombardi had a good job when they started dating, but not for long. They were both heavy drinkers, and her new partner was a mean drunk and frequently in trouble with the law. "He was beating me up so bad I couldn't go to work," she recalls.

After their father left, the girls enjoyed brief periods of stability. At one point they lived in a trailer in Palmer Lake with the man who fathered Lombardi's son. But Lombardi was often broke, unemployed, and barely scraping by. The Kings Inn was supposed to be a fresh start. They ended up staying for years, after Lombardi got a job managing the motel, which included free rent.

Tara loved going to school; it felt safe there and offered a degree of structure and routine she never found at home. Her friendships were distant, though. She was ashamed to bring classmates to the motel, afraid they might tell others about her poverty and her alcoholic mother. "It felt like I was living a double life," she says. "I had one life at school and another at the motel."

Life at home was frequently chaotic, with running drunken arguments between Lombardi and her boyfriends. As they grew older, Tara and her sister increasingly spent time away from the place, even if that meant wandering parks late at night. "We tried not to get home as much as possible," says Teresa Perry. "We found our own outlets."

One of Tara's outlets was visiting Robert Lee McCalmant, better known as Pops. A quiet man in his sixties, McCalmant lived on the fourth floor of the Kings Inn, in a two-bedroom suite that was furnished like a regular apartment. He ran a coffee shop at the Dunes Motel and always seemed to have a buck or two to slip to the needy kids who hung around his front door. He collected guns and antiques and seemed to know everybody in the neighborhood. Tara couldn't figure out why he stayed in a place like the Kings Inn and rode the bus when he clearly could afford better, but it wasn't a mystery she could solve. She was just glad to have a place to hang, where nobody asked questions.

It was through hanging around McCalmant's place that she first met Randy Miller. She was thirteen. He was twenty and a denizen of Colfax. He already had a long history of drug and assault arrests and had done time in the juvenile system, but to Perry he seemed charming and gentle, almost feminine. "Girls followed him everywhere," she says. "He paid me compliments and made me feel special."

With Miller, she didn't have to pretend to be someone else. He knew about the turmoil in her home and seemed to genuinely care. But a romantic relationship between the two didn't develop until after Miller went into the Colorado Department of Corrections in 1997 on a two-year jolt for drug charges. He wrote her a lonely letter. She wrote back. By the fall of 1998 she was writing him every day — and counting the weeks until he'd be back in town.

She celebrated her sixteenth birthday that December. No one at school suspected that she was "super-involved" with a convict pen pal. Retired Aurora Central teacher Michaud remembers Perry as "almost a shadow" in her English class — a quiet, eager-to-please waif.

"There were kids at Central who specialized in trouble, who liked the idea of the danger and the drugs," she says. "That was never her thing. It was clear that Tara was a lost soul. You could see she wasn't being taken care of, but she came to class all the time. Then all of a sudden she wasn't coming, and nobody seemed to know why."

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33 comments
chipperthomas75
chipperthomas75

I doubt Tara will ever get to read this.  But she should know that even through concrete walls and steel bars she made an impact on my life.  I talked to her and remember watching her go from a 'sadgirl' to a 'sparkle'.  I miss her and I am glad to see and read that she is doing so good for herself, that she has made the best out of a bad situation.  I have no idea how to get a hold of her anymore or even where she is, but Brandon...or her mom..or her sister if you read this tell her to write her old friend in Wisconsin.  She has not only touched people there, but here as well.  She inspired me.

Do I feel bad for Tara?  No.  i am proud of her, not proud of what she did, but what she has done and continues to do with her life and faith.  Stay strong and keep Sparkling Tara.

Brandon or anyone in her family that reads this tell her the next time you talk to her or visit her that even after 10 years I still pray for her and you all.  God Bless you all!

Her old penpal Chris from Wisconsin

mevianne
mevianne

I really feel for Tara. Randy Miller surrounded himself with people that were impressionable, and that he could control. I knew him since he was 15, and was involved with him during the time Tara was. I did not know about Tara, and seperated myself from him during the last year of his life. In hindsight, it is hard to imagine getting so caught up in a person, knowing they are on the wrong path. But like Tara, I loved him and did many things I regret. Now, I work in the criminology field, and have a better understanding of youths involved in crime and the flawed American justice system. I feel Tara should be given a second chance to make a life for herself outside a cell.

alehound
alehound

I wonder if they cut up her hotdogs? o.0

Kelly Kettle
Kelly Kettle

We are www.12stepplanet.com and www.addictstoday.com. Please join us to fight the disease of drug and alcohol addiction/abuse. Please read our short stories of how we did it. If you have a success story that would help others please send it to: my12stepplanet@yahoo.com. We interface on FaceBook. We will support you in any type of recovery.

Lynne Jenkinson
Lynne Jenkinson

Forty Years is ridiculous. Why? what is the point? She was a child at the time probably attracted by the boyfriends bad boy image (as many wowmen are unfortunately) I suspect very strongly that he groomed her . She should be released so that she can get on with her life. She is more mature now people in Britain get less for murder I think that The American justice system is unnecesarily hard. The purpose of prison should be to reform .> How willshe cope with life if she is released in 30+ years time

Dolly Dagger
Dolly Dagger

Tara's getting screwed big time. Undoubtedly each of the persons who made/support this judgment is a "Christian" Republican/teabagger. They'll be happy to legislate their "values" and claim that they do "What Jesus Would Do". Sickening waste of a decent human being while THEY satisfy their biblical blood thirst. #FreeTara

Brandon Plante
Brandon Plante

I am Tara Perrys lil brother and i know what she did was bad. But she did Not deserve 44 years. And to all the people that say something like boo hoo, or that sucks, or some dumb ass remark, go fuck your self. To the rest of you kind people that want to support her, we thank you from the bottom of our heart. FREE TARA...

Missy
Missy

WOW! What a story! Kudos to her for taking responsibility for her part in the mess and turning herself around! It's hard when you come from only negative, and then make your life even more negative with really bad choices. But it sounds like she is doing what could be seen as the impossible. She's becoming the exception to the rule! You go girl!

Kathryn Elich
Kathryn Elich

Wish her the best - making the most out of a bad situation. Freeing your mind from crisis events is a full time job. And her surroundings keep reminding her of it. That they didn't have her down in the computer yet .... and she has to reapply when the glitch is fixed. Unreal.Wish her the best.

Living in Colorado
Living in Colorado

Wow. This young lady took a horrible situation, and has worked to change it. She could sit there and blame her mom, the boyfriend, even society for her current situation, but she has stood up and accepted responsbility for her actions, attempted to make amends and face it by meeting with the victims and help others do the same. I wish some of the "non convicts" were as caring as this young lady. I say they should review the case and let her go. We have all kinds of people released due to overcrowding and yet this young lady stays. How about letting her out and keeping that drug addict/prostitute who has been arrested 20 times in jail a little longer??????

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AnyBodyButObama 2012
AnyBodyButObama 2012

Yeah, blame a man for your own choices. Not only are men responsible for their own choices, this fool is trying to convince me that men are responsible for their choices. Typical feminist. There are 2 kinds of women, feminist and feminine. REAL men want feminine, nobody wants a feminist.

Tony
Tony

im usally a hard azz normally id say lock em all up for life but in this case she was young and the dude brainwashed her id say 13 years is long enough im sure she would be a model citizen now

Eochaid
Eochaid

This is one of the saddest stories I have ever heard in my 47 years on this mudball we live in,The judge in this case clearly tried to set an example with this young lady.And sentanced her very harshley,60 years for shooting the ceiling?Reduced to 40 years?She was only 16 years old,more than likely under the influence of drugs,or alchohol, and brain washed and or coerced in some way into participating in this crime.The powers that be ought to reconsider a bit of leiniency and mercy on a child that was taken advantage of by adult carreer criminals. P.W.

AlanPrendergast
AlanPrendergast

I appreciate all the comments we've been receiving about Tara's story, online and privately. One reader asked me to post information on how to support her parole application. The earliest hearing is still a couple of years away, but letters of support could be sent to her directly if people are so inclined:

Tara Perry, #104436Denver Women’s Correctional FacilityPO Box 392005Denver, CO 80239

Citizen Jenn
Citizen Jenn

This is another fantastic story, Alan, and I always look forward to reading your features.

I understand the arguments made for victim's rights, and I've heard the criticisms made about Westword being overly-sympathetic to convicted criminals, but it does no harm to read and try to understand the reasons why these people committed crimes; how they got from point A to point B, and these stories also offer some glimpses into our criminal justice and prison systems. Cases like this help me form the opinion that allowing parole for genuinely reformed, productive, remorseful prisoners would provide society with far more advantages than paying to feed and house them when there are other convicts who need to be fed and housed, and kept behind bars.

"The greatness of America is in how it treats its weakest members: the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, the underprivileged, the unborn." ~Bill Federer

She was born and raised into a life of poverty, crime and violence, and while this is not an excuse for her behavior, these are reasons for it. It's difficult to predict how clemency will be received and acted upon in the future, but she seems like someone who would make good on a second chance at freedom.

Laura Jo Emry
Laura Jo Emry

I know Tara's story all too well... She is my baby sister.... In addition she is by far one of the most intelligent, resilient, amazing and humble people that I have ever met. The support she has received and continues to receive is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Pamela Clifton
Pamela Clifton

Thank you for this Alan. I know Tara and she is certainly no criminal. She's a lovely young lady who got mixed up with the wrong person. People make mistakes...children make bigger ones. She has paid for this many times over. If anyone deserves a second chance, it's Tara.

Perry1021
Perry1021

she is my neice ,set her free she is not a criminal ,

MMM
MMM

Dolly you are a fU#$ing BIGOT Democrat Liberal

Poindexter
Poindexter

Really?!? That's how you build up support for your sister (assuming you really are her brother)? As a reader I had some empathy for her story and situation... then you jump in here and tell anybody who doesn't to "fuck yourself." So now I question what kind of situation she's gonna return to with you in her life. I don't have any say in it (of course) but if it makes me question, it probably makes others as well. Not really the way to win hearts and minds...

Reynaloca713
Reynaloca713

Actually she blamed herself for not being able to say NO.

wyrob
wyrob

She was a MINOR. He was in his 20's. How does that figure into your dumbass ideals of what "REAL men" want?

femininevsfeminist
femininevsfeminist

Did you even read the article? How ignorant... Or maybe just illiterate. No blame was being placed on "a man". This young lady, has accepted not only her guilt, but also her punishment. P.s. the story was written by a man, guess he is a feminist.

Zuniga_natasha
Zuniga_natasha

I know Tara personally. We lives in the kind inn at three same time and went to the same school, walked home from school, my uncle was her uncle(Louis). She would have never done this if it weren't for randy. She was never that type Of person. She was a great and caring friend. She is still, to this day thought about and missed. She's not making excuses for her self or trying to blame it in a man, she's reeling her true story.

AnyBodyButObama 2012
AnyBodyButObama 2012

Yeah, blame a man for your own choices. Not only are men responsible for their own choices, this fool is trying to convince me that men are responsible for their choices. Typical feminist. There are 2 kinds of women, feminist and feminine. REAL men want feminine, nobody wants a feminist.

Perry1021
Perry1021

she is my neice and i apreciate your remarks greatly thanx Robert perry

wyrob
wyrob

yeah, I'm crying about the million it'll cost taxpayers to keep her in jail for 40 YEARS, for NOT killing or injuring anyone during crimes committed as a fucking minor!what the fuck were you crying about, nova?

Ticklemecute1
Ticklemecute1

And I suppose you never had it hard right (nova. What ever) the kid had it hard give her a break fuck nobodys perfect.. Good story my laura thanks for sharing

 
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