When we last checked in with Casey Holden, he was scraping by as a wage slave at a pizza joint in Grand Junction. This was a better life than being locked down in the Colorado state pen, mind you, but a bit short of Holden's dreams of getting an education, getting his own place and making some real dough — the green kind, not the stuff you plaster with tomato sauce and shove in an oven.
But things are looking up.
Holden, 26, has three years of parole to complete after spending most of the last ten years in prison — and he's letting us tag along by occasional blog (previous entries can be found here ) as he navigates the maze of financial, legal, and family issues confronted by parolees trying to make it on the street.
For a healthy young man looking for quick cash — to pay for restitution and classes, drug tests and rent — the oil-and-gas fields of the Western Slope are a powerful lure. But Holden's parole officer has told him he doesn't want him working in that high-paying industry yet, out of concerns over a possible criminal environment among roughnecks and the logistics of making it back to town for random drug tests. This seems highly ironic to Holden; oilfield workers get drug-tested all the time, and he's met plenty of sketchy characters at his low-paying pizza job. But you can't argue with the Man.
So Holden has found a job with a company that provides ancillary services to the energy companies. He works with heavy equipment, gets his hands dirty — and runs up the overtime, getting paid as much in a day or two as he used to make in two weeks at the pizza parlor. He's moved out of his mom's house into an apartment with some other guys and soon hopes to afford his own place. He's had to put his college classes on hold, but he's working hard for people who understand his situation and like him.
"They even paid for me to take time off and go take a piss test," he says, marveling.
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He's eager to have a crack at working for the drilling companies themselves, but the parole people are telling him to be patient. After he completes his required "treatment program," they'll take another look at the situation. Yet that program consists mainly of be-nice courses Holden had over and over in the joint, like the anger management class he's taking weekly now. "I've done this class four times already," he groans. "A bunch of people dropped out, and now there's three of us in the whole class."
Holden thinks the re-entry process would be smoother if the system put more emphasis on money management, job searches, credit records, and other useful stuff like that. He's supposed to take a "reintegration" course in a few months, but he'll have been out nearly a year by then — and already have made most of the crucial discoveries or mistakes he's going to make.
Right now he feels blessed. There's hefty paychecks coming in, an absolute fortune to someone who never really had a job before this year. And in the distance, the gas rigs loom.
"Once I finish my classes, I am going to start drilling," he says. —Alan Prendergast