Locked down for years, Casey Holden hardly ever talked to anyone. He lived inside his head because there was no one around but the guards, and they were, well, guards. His social skills, never elaborate to begin with, devolved into a series of grunts and cold stares.
Now Holden is 26 and on the streets, with three years of parole to complete —a journey he's agreed to let us follow in a series of blogs (previous installments can be found here ). And he's finding out that doing what the authorities expect of him and carving out a life for himself aren't entirely incompatible pursuits.
Holden's been out for more than two months now. That's longer than a lot of parolees last; the staggering failure rate of parole in Colorado is the chief force driving the prison boom, as detailed in our article "Over and Over Again." He's holding down a job, going to school, passing his drug tests, paying his restitution, showing up for his appointments with his parole officer — and getting an occasional glimpse of what his life might be down the line, once he's out of the system for good.
That last part is more important than it might sound. Holden knows that some cons find prison easier than the street, that all the hoops they make you jump through to complete parole start to look like another cage. Soon the idea of chucking it all and going on a long party binge seems inspired. "I've had those thoughts," he says. "We all do. It's like, 'Fuck this, I'm going to pack my bag and make them find me.'"
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But Holden isn't ready to bolt — and get slammed down again. He sits in class, working math problems or fixing his grammar, and begins to see how a guy whose formal education ended in the eighth grade might score a college degree by the time he's thirty. He finishes a shift at the pizza parlor and is secretly pleased when his boss begs him to take on some extra hours. He works out at the gym, and some woman starts talking to him about how he might want to consider a career in sports nutrition, whatever that is.
And Holden talks back. Put away at sixteen, he didn't know what to say to females when he first got out. But they seemed to like his awkwardness, his hardbody, even his tattoos and the wife-beater shirt, and now he can sit down and talk to women and not feel like a monster.
Bit by bit, Holden is getting a little confidence in himself. A little breathing room, enough to make the rest of what he has to do tolerable.
"I've been fighting the system all my life," he says. "And all I've been doing is digging myself a deeper hole. At some point you just have to step back and see that the only way to get out of the system is stop fighting it and do what you got to do." —Alan Prendergast