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Casey Holden was sixteen years old when he got locked up on juvenile drug and theft charges. A series of problems while serving his time, including two assaults and cutting off his ankle bracelet when he was almost done, has kept him behind bars most of the last decade. For the past four years, he's been in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in the state supermax.

Three weeks ago Holden reached his mandatory release date. He was escorted to the parking lot of the Colorado State Penitentiary, given a check for $100 and told to report to the parole office in Grand Junction.

Holden now lives with his mom on the Western Slope. He has a new cell phone and a lot of obligations as he tries to negotiate the next three years on parole. He's got to find a job pronto so that he can pay his restitution every month, along with parole fees. He's got to pay for substance abuse and anger-management sessions and pee in a cup whenever the parole office demands. And he's starting classes at Mesa State College to learn a few things. None of it is easy.

"I don't want to be flipping burgers the rest of my life or busting my ass on an oil rig," he says. "I'm filling out job applications, but I have no job experience. I've been locked up all my life."

People like Holden are large on the legislature's radar screen these days. Colorado's parole population is skyrocketing — and so is the failure rate of parole, as detailed in last April's "Over and Over Again." One out of three inmates now entering our logjammed prison system has been revoked for violating parole. Although the Department of Corrections claims a 50 percent recidivism rate over three years, the failure rate for inmates doing a mandatory parole, like Holden, is closer to 67 percent. The result is a staggering drain on the state budget, as the DOC hits up the state for $800 million to build more prisons and more people get caught in the revolving door.

Holden doesn't want to be a statistic. He's determined to make something good happen, and he's agreed to let Westword tag along, posting regular updates on his progress, in the hope that his story can help readers understand the obstacles prisoners face trying to rejoin society. For someone who's been locked down for four years and out of circulation since he was sixteen, re-entry really is like hurtling to earth in a rocket ship, at a speed and trajectory you can't control.

"I had all these plans in there," Holden says. "But your imagination in there and the real world are two different things. I feel like an alien. I don't even want to go out of my house."

Tune in next week for more on Holden's return to the street. For additional information and links on the re-entry issue, check out Pam Clifton's excellent blog on prison issues, "Think Outside the Cage," on the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition website. —Alan Prendergast

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