Prison is the beginning of an exciting future |

Prison is the beginning of an exciting future

Dale ShrullGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

RIFLE, Colorado – Inmate No. 136035 was in for a special treat on this Saturday.A family visit and a lunch fit for a sumo wrestler.Inmate No. 136035 is 26-year-old Kentson Grant Avila, who’s currently serving an 8-year sentence for a 2004 conviction for drug dealing.Avila’s criminal past was never on his parent’s radar. They never had a clue.To Tammy Spear-Avila and Russ Spear, their son was a typical young adult, struggling in his early 20s trying to find his career path.What they didn’t know was their son had already chosen a career. Kentson Grant Avila was a very successful drug dealer in the Montrose area.Life was good. Lots of money, drugs and a lifestyle filled with excitement, nice clothes and a little danger.

Today, Kentson says life is better. Which is strange to say, since he is now inmate 136035.”I needed to come to prison,” he says without a smile. “I was doing some bad things out there.” He was living the life of a drug dealer, which he embraced with gusto, greed and arrogance.Goals were like the smoke from a meth pipe, quickly vanishing, barely worth consideration.There was only one dream. Talking about his troubled past from the visitation area at the Rifle Correction Center, he smiles, an almost embarrassed smile and says, “I wanted to be the next Pablo Escobar.”Even for a small-town guy like Kentson Avila, wanting to be like the notorious Colombian drug lord, sometimes called the King of Cocaine and featured in the 2001 movie “Blow,” the dream had a romantic and powerful appeal. That appeal was based in self-indulgence, power, love of money and influence over his circle of acquaintances and customers. He provided drugs, therefore he was special. In the people who surrounded him, he had respect.Avila flaunted his drug dealing with an untouchable arrogance.”I never thought I’d get caught in a million years,” he says. “Now, I look back at how careless and open I was about it. It’s a wonder I didn’t get caught before.”I hid it well from the people I wanted to hide it from (like his parents), but for everyone else, I flaunted it.”His dark hair is cut close and his blue eyes are intense but soft depending on the mood and subject of conversation. His stocky 200-pound build is a byproduct of an intense workout regimen in prison. He’s lost close to 70 pounds since his conviction.Now, as he bides his time at the minimum security facility north of Rifle Gap Reservoir, he says with the same gusto that he displayed as a drug dealer, that prison is the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He’s counting on prison to provide the life lessons that will shape his future when he is set free.Avila has difficulty understanding the person he was just a few years ago.”I was an ugly person. I’m trying to forget about my past as much as I can. I’m just trying to work on my future. It’s an ongoing process right now. I’m trying to work on myself every day,” he says.Many prisoners turn to religion when they go to prison. Kentson keeps the focus on himself. Something he knows he should have done a lot sooner.”A lot of guys come here and find God. I’m just trying to find myself,” he says.

Russ and Tammy made the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Montrose to spend the Saturday with their son.Their son is in prison, but they never thought about turning their backs on him. They now see a bright future for inmate No. 136035.They, too, think prison is the ticket for Kentson to have a successful future.”You don’t want to see your kid in prison, but if he is, you still want to be there to help him out,” Tammy says.When Kentson talks about his former life and the torment he’s created for his parents, he often lowers his head in embarrassment. His voice drops to a whisper as he talks about his ugly past. It’s his past that embarrasses him. It’s his present that shames him. It’s the future that excites him. Russ and Tammy carry four City Market shopping bags of food into the center. Prison rules – everything must be unopened and plastic. Today’s plan is to grill kabobs, have salad, fruit and snacks.A massive feast.”Anything my boy wants, I get him,” Tammy says, smiling. “I call him on Wednesday and he tells me what he wants, and that’s what I get him. I kind of overdo it, but anything for my boy.”Kentson smiles, “When she calls, I give her a big list.”Tammy’s pride for her son is unabashed. Not what he was, but what he’s become and the man he will be after prison.”I’m very proud of him. There’s no shame at all.””I feel shame,” Kentson interrupts.”But you’re doing good now,” his mom answers.Kentson told her that he didn’t want sweets, but she brought peanut butter cookies anyway.”You brought sweets?” Kentson says.”You don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to,” she replies.”Hey, you said no sweets,” Russ says as Kentson smiles and grabs a cookie.Kentson is on a self-imposed diet. Eating healthily, taking care of himself and getting physically fit are all new things for the Montrose native.A big part of Tammy and Russ’ pride is seeing their son on the State Inmate Wildland Fire Team.Not too long go, Kentson was a rotund 269-pound drug dealer in Montrose. Now he’s a 200-pound firefighter on the inmate fire team.

In the outside visitation area at the correctional center, Kentson, Tammy and Russ are enjoying the huge lunch. Kabobs with beef, pineapple, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, there’s salad with blue cheese dressing, sautéed portobello mushrooms, yogurt, all kinds of fruit – blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, and the cookies that Kentson can’t ignore.It’s a taste of the outside for Kentson. Every three or four weeks, Russ and Tammy make the trip up to have lunch with their son.There are seven picnic sections in the grass-covered visitation area, all with grilling pits. On this day, six inmates have visitors. An inmate and his wife are smiling and laughing. Then the conversation turns serious. Even in a minimum security facility this is a serious place.A man strolls the grounds with his infant son draped over his shoulder. Three plump steaks sizzle on a grill as an inmate enjoys quality time with his family. The inmates relish the small amount of time they have with their families in this outside setting.Kentson’s healthy appetite makes sure there will be very few leftovers at the end of the day when his parents depart.All the inmate’s wear green prison uniforms. Kentson jokes that he will never wear green again once he’s on the outside.Even Kentson’s name is misspelled on his prison uniform – “Kenston.””A lot of people get it wrong,” Tammy says.The name is unique. “It’s after his father Ken, he’s Ken’s son, then we just added a T. Kentson,” Tammy says proudly.Ken died when Kentson and his sister April were very young. Russ and Tammy have been married for 22 years, and Russ has been the kids’ dad since Kentson was 4 and April 2.

Considering he is currently inmate No. 136035, Kentson is a bit surprised by the unbridled support he gets from his parents.”I’m really grateful for all the support they give me. They are more proud of me than I am of myself,” he says.”I really never thought they’d ever talk to me again when I got arrested. I feel like I shouldn’t have been doing that (drug dealing). It shouldn’t have taken me going to prison for me to figure that out.”Like many father and sons, Russ and Kentson’s relationship is low key. Kentson says there hasn’t been any heart-to-heart father-son talks about his past. There’s a simple understanding of the situation.”He’s very disappointed in me. I don’t think there’s much that needs to be said. All I have to do now is prove myself to him,” Kentson says.This is a good day for the inmates. A happy time. A reminder of what the future holds – freedom.”Most of the guys in here are good people who made a mistake,” Kentson says. “Almost every guy in here is here because of drugs. Drugs made them do something, drugs got them into trouble.”Obviously, drugs got Kentson into trouble.’We all learn from our mistakes, or at least we should,” Tammy says.For Kentson, the lessons of his past are now being provided by a prison sentence.”The one thing I learned from all this, is that my parents were always right,” Kentson says.Tammy smiles. She admits that she’s told Kentson “I told you so” a few times.

Kentson Grant Avila was a high roller in Montrose. He was the man to contact if you needed drugs.Methamphetamine was popular but he sold it all. High-grade marijuana, ecstasy, club drugs, cocaine … He used it all, too.Meth was the big drug – to sell and to use.”I just liked the way it made me feel. It’s hard to describe. From the moment I took a hit, I was in love with it, to be honest.”Kentson’s honesty is blunt and raw. He doesn’t hold back when talking about the past that now shames him. He uses those memories to fuel his motivation for the future.He worries about returning to Montrose and seeing some of his former friends. Whenever he talks about the ugliness of his past, he quickly switches to the present and the future. His tone instantly becomes more upbeat.”I needed to come to prison to dry out and clear my head. If I hadn’t come to prison, I wouldn’t be fighting fires, I wouldn’t be in the kind of physical shape I’m in now. I wouldn’t be clean or have goals. I actually have goals now, I want to do something with my life now,” he says.As that Montrose drug dealer, Kentson recalls carrying as much as $12,000 and never having less than $1,000 in his pocket.”I dealt a lot of drugs. I was dead serious about it. It was my career.” He started doing drugs at 19 and admits his drug use was progressively getting worse.”I never thought it would progress to the point it did. I always thought ‘I’m smart, I can control it. Only idiots get to that point,'” he says.Part of his lifestyle was making sure his parents didn’t find out.”My parents had no idea, I hid it really well. I was real secretive about it. As far as they knew, I was doing good, always had money, I was working. They thought I was doing construction. Whenever they’d notice that I didn’t go to work, I’d tell them I quit that job and was starting another one. I’d fake ’em out,” he says.

For Tammy, there’s guilt. She feels like she failed her son.”I feel like that all the time. We didn’t raise our kids to be that way,” she says.Tammy is a stay-at-home accountant, and Russ is a former commercial pilot who now works as a salesman for a Montrose hydraulic firm. They both say no one passes judgment on them over the situation.They both are satisfied that they raised their kids right. But there are those inevitable “where-did-we-go-wrong” thoughts that creep in on occasion.”He had a good childhood, so we’ve tried to figure out what did we do wrong,” Tammy says. “I think every kid nowadays thinks they have to have money to do everything, and the quickest way to get money is to do stuff that’s illegal,” says Russ, who’s a Delta native. Sitting in a drab, 9-foot-by-9-foot prison cell with two beds, a cellmate and a desk, Kentson never points to anyone but the person in the mirror when he evaluates where he now lives.He smiles when he talks about his childhood, his parents and his sister, April. It was a good childhood.”I was a happy kid. I loved camping, fishing, I liked to go bow hunting,” Kentson says.Kentson makes it very clear that his parents should not be blamed for his troubles.”My sister and I both had an excellent childhood growing up. We grew up in a healthy family home with positive family support,” he says, then pauses. “But somewhere along the line, I just made a wrong turn.”In seventh grade he discovered he had an artistic talent. He drew and painted a blue rhinoceros. His teacher entered it into a state contest, and Kentson won first place.Today, Kentson is dabbling in art again, and with the help of a fellow inmate, he’s back drawing, sketching and painting.He’s also teaching himself the guitar. A family friend gave Russ a guitar to give to Kentson when he gets out.Kentson has a few hobbies now, but his main focus is on the State Inmate Fire Team. That’s what motivates him. That’s why he’s in the gym lifting weights or on the running track almost every day.Kentson tries to remain positive, and it always helps to look back. It also helps to remember the support he gets from his parents.”The big thing is I’m already making my parents proud. Now I want to get out and make them more proud. And I want to make myself proud by being a standup citizen.”Today, he’s inmate 136035 at the Rifle Correctional Center and a member of the inmate firefighting team.Today, life is good for that inmate. Good because he has put his ugly past into the rear-view mirror and he’s now focused on the future. A future that could involve fighting fires but mostly, a future where he can make his parents proud.For Russ and Tammy, he’s not inmate 136035. He’s Kentson Grant Avila, a son who’s now on the right path, a son who now has his life headed in the right direction.A direction that required a prison sentence for Kentson to find.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User