Douglas Alward: The puzzle behind an inmate's escape

A 48-year-old violent inmate somehow walked away from the Sterling Correctional Facility last night, putting area law enforcement on high alert.

The last time Douglas J. Alward busted out of a Colorado prison, nearly twenty years ago, he kidnapped a citizen and shot at a police officer before being recaptured in Oregon. He's currently serving time for attempted murder, assault, burglary, kidnapping -- and, yes, escape.

Authorities aren't saying much about how Alward managed to waltz out of Sterling, one of the state's largest and highest security prisons. But beyond the logistics is a deeper mystery about the timing of Alward's move. After serving nearly twenty years of a twenty-forty rap, he was practically out the door anyway.

According to information on the Colorado Department of Corrections website, Alward hits his parole eligibility date today -- the same day he chose to run. He was six weeks away from a parole hearing. Granted, not many prisoners get parole the first time around, but the state could have held him only another three years anyway. Under the state's computations, his estimated discharge date was September 18, 2013.

That estimate is now null and void. Assuming Alward is caught alive, without hurting anyone else, he can expect another decade or so tacked onto his sentence for escape and related charges.

After all those years, why would a con in Alward's position blow the whole deal just a few months from freedom? Did the walls just begin to close in, or has most of an adult life spent inside (his convictions date back to 1979) left him institutionalized and more spooked by freedom than the prospect of more charges, like the Dustin Hoffman character in Straight Time?

It's hard to fathom the mentality of the long-timer. The DOC doesn't have an answer, just a description. If you see a fellow with a shaved head, late forties, approximately 152 pounds, six-feet-one, green shirt and green pants or gray sweat pants, looking particularly lost and dangerous, do not approach. Call 911.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast