"From what I hear from the other inmates, they see her as a role model," says Bruce Thron-Weber, a facilitator with the nonprofit New Foundations, which oversees many of the AVP offerings within the state prison system. "They see the way she carries herself, the way she resolves conflict, and that encourages others to take the workshop."

Prisoners serving long sentences often don't qualify for or don't bother with some of the classes and training programs offered within the Department of Corrections. Pakenham says Perry "took everything that was offered and excelled in everything." She worked with at-risk youth who visited the prison. She spent years in the popular K-9 program; some day she hopes to be a professional trainer of service dogs for war veterans. She also pursued a college degree — no small feat from behind bars, since funding for higher education for inmates is almost nonexistent, and the few programs that are offered require prisoners to pay for the courses themselves or find a sponsor.

Perry had no funds for the classes. "I believe in the law of attraction," she says. "Everything we put out comes back to us. I kept putting out this intention, 'Please don't let me go to the parole board after fifteen years and not have a college education.'"

Westy Bush, who's taught art classes in Colorado prisons for thirty years, remembers hearing about a young woman who was bright and motivated but had exhausted the system's usual educational opportunities. She persuaded other members of her church, the Flame of Life Universalist Church in Pueblo, to make contributions.

"We are a tiny church," she explains. "It just happens that our group really cares about helping people contribute to society. I could see changes in prisoners when they took college classes. But Tara's sentence was so long that she wasn't eligible for any assistance."

Perry finally met Bush at the ceremony when she received her associates' degree in 2009. She's now working on her bachelor's, majoring in business administration, with the ongoing support of Bush's church. Jim Bullington, who oversaw a now-defunct program offering college courses for prisoners through Adams State College, says Perry was one of the program's standouts.

"It was very rare that someone received an AA degree — maybe less than twenty out of hundreds," he says. "But there was a group of women at the facility in Cañon City who were unbelievable, and she set the bar high for others."

Pakenham watched Perry transform herself over a period of nine years, up until that prison closed. "She was very well liked, for the most part," she says. "I'm sure there were some inmates who didn't like her, especially as she tried to become a different person. She would find a way to circumvent some of the convict codes to get help, if someone was cutting on themselves or needed to be watched. She's done everything she possibly could to show she would not be a threat to society and would be an asset to the community."

After ten years inside, Perry applied for a commutation of her sentence from the juvenile clemency board, created under then-governor Bill Ritter to consider cases of adult inmates serving time for crimes committed as juveniles. Her application included glowing letters of support from prison volunteers and staff, a nearly spotless disciplinary record, an outside network eager to aid her in finding suitable employment — her mother stopped drinking six months after Perry went to prison, and their relationship is now stronger than ever — and her own eloquent, carefully typed appeal.

"I never take what happened lightly," she wrote. "The guilt I carry in my heart every day will be a huge part of my life forever.... I have come to the understanding that I committed more than just a criminal act. I supported the criminal behavior of the others involved by going along with them instead of resisting and standing up for what was right.

"I have learned that absolute freedom is not in where I physically reside but in becoming free from emotional and mental suffering. I have strengths that I did not have prior to and leading up to my incarceration."

She described her "powerful" reconciliation with the family in Wyoming and expressed the hope that one day she would be permitted to meet with victims of the Colorado robberies, too: "I would never want to re-injure them, but rather to give to them the remorse that is in my heart."

Perry was considered a strong candidate for clemency. But after months of waiting, she discovered that her application hadn't been approved or denied. It had simply been withdrawn because of what amounts to a paperwork glitch. Although she'd entered a guilty plea and been sentenced in Wyoming, she'd never been officially processed into their corrections system; there was still a "detainer" on her record from the Cowboy State, and she wouldn't qualify for clemency consideration until it was cleared up.

She was told she could reapply to the board after the paperwork is addressed. She's also eligible to meet the parole board in 2014. Even though inmates convicted of violent crimes almost never get parole the first time around, she hopes to achieve some form of reconciliation with the other crime victims before the hearing arrives. "Requesting release would not be the same for me if they did not feel comfortable with me going back to the community," she says.

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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

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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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