Prisoners learn life lessons through virtual reality program available only in Colorado

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Some prisoners in Fremont County who were convicted with felonies as juveniles are being given a potential second chance at life through a new virtual reality program.

Implemented within the Juveniles Convicted as Adults Program (JCAP) at Fremont Correctional Facility in Cañon City, nine male inmates have earned the opportunity to potentially be free years before their sentence is up. The program is currently only available in Fremont County.

The main goal of this program is to put the offenders in real-life situations they could face if they earn the opportunity to be free.

However, not everyone qualifies for the program. Each of the nine inmates have a GED, positive behavior growth, no in-jail crime in at least 10 years, and each have already served 20 to 25 years in prison. Even then, there are no guarantees.

The program takes three years to complete, then there is a petition process.

The inmate can request early release to the parole board, then the victims or their families are notified. There is a 90-day period for the board to approve or deny the petition. If successful, the parole board sends its recommendation to the Governor for final approval. If all that goes in their favor, the offender can be let back into the outside world.

One of those inmates is Eric Davis. He walked into prison at the age of 17 after he shot and killed a man during an armed robbery in 1986.

“It started making me realize what I had done to some other person’s family, how I had taken a guy from his mother, and his wife, and his son for no reason, except that I was greedy, and a selfish kid,” Davis said.

Davis is just one of the few men in the JCAP program at the Fremont Correctional Facility, which is home to 1,600 inmates, but only nine of those men have earned the chance to participate in this program.

“Of course I’ve had 30 years to think about what I did,” Davis said, “What an idiot I was.”

The JCAP virtual reality program teaches inmates how to do simple things that we might take for granted — things like washing clothes in a laundry machine, using an ATM, using the self-checkout at the grocery store, or preparing for a job interview.

“The whole premise is trying to build a foundation for us just in case we get the opportunity to be free,” Davis said.

In October 2017, a company called NSENA brought its virtual reality immersion program from New York City to Colorado. Colorado is the only state in the nation with this program.

JCAP facilitator Nicole Troncoso said, “The program itself offers a unique opportunity for these offenders to be able to explore things they would never get to explore while incarcerated.”

Inmate Andrew Salas added, “Being involved in those programs, you have to conduct yourself in a particular manner. You don’t just come to prison and get involved in these programs. You have to do certain things to be in them.”

For these inmates who grew up behind these bars, it’s a possibility of a second chance, but still no guarantee.

“It’s so hard to wake up and have a hope, or see that maybe down the line there’s some kind of future,” Davis said. “There’s things that you could actually learn in prison that’ll transfer out there if you choose to do it.”

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