Getting Motivated

Sitting in a seven-by-ten-foot cell all day, every day, for four years, Casey Holden learned how to do a whole lot of nothing. Now the world expects him to be a go-getter, a self-starter, a juggler of appointments and budgets and mounting financial obligations. And he has only a very short time to get it right.

"It's definitely harder than I thought it would be," says Holden, a 26-year-old parolee who was released from Colorado's supermax prison last month. "I got a lot of support, so I'm an exception. My parents, my grandparents, they all see I'm trying to change. But I also got people who don't want me to come back."

Holden has been locked up most of the past decade, from juvie to the Youthful Offender System to adult prison; a charge of assaulting a corrections officer kept him in solitary confinement from 2003 until his mandatory release date this year. Now he's joined the growing ranks of parolees — and he's determined to defy the odds, which dictate that most of those parolees will fail. Hoping to give readers some idea of what he's up against, he's agreed to let Westword blog along with him. See our first entry in the series here.

One of the first orders of business after hitting the streets of Grand Junction is managing cash — something Holden didn't see much of the past ten years, and which now seems to be flowing all one way. He has to pay twelve bucks every time his urine is tested for drugs, ten bucks for every visit to the parole office, thirty bucks every month for restitution (and that was before they handed him some more debts to society from an old misdemeanor charge).

With no job skills and no high school, Holden is job-hunting. He's also signed up for classes at Mesa State College, figuring it's the only way he's going to get ahead in life. He's taking algebra, an English class and a drawing class-- and none of it's a picnic. "They go so fast in college," he says. "There's quite a bit of homework."

But it isn't the college classes that are giving Holden the most problems. It's the other classes — the anger-management, drug and alcohol counseling and other rehab programs he's supposed to pay for (at $25 a pop), even though he took many similar courses at the Colorado State Penitentiary. Parolees get loaded up with the stuff, which makes it trickier to arrange job schedules, let alone a full college load as well. "It makes no sense to me," Holden says. "I think they do it to make themselves look good on paper, like they're making us do all this stuff."

For someone long conditioned to doing nothing, getting organized and keeping focused is a challenge. Holden used to think he kept himself in good shape in prison, but helping out with chores at his mom's house has showed him otherwise. "Just cleaning the garage was a hell of a lot of work for me," he says, marveling. "I was dragging ass. I used to feel like I was more motivated, you know?"

All in all, Holden figures he has to find part-time work to cover at least $300 a month in fees and expenses connected with his parole — quite apart from his own living expenses, which are minimal as long as he lives with his mother. He wonders how anybody makes it who doesn't already have a place to stay.

Holden has to the motivation to succeed, he insists. The alternative is a trip right back to the place where a person doesn't need any motivation at all. —Alan Prendergast

Next Week: The Job Search