CHEYENNE, WY, UNITED STATES
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – In the fall of 2007, Holly Post decided her life needed to change, or she would die.
She needed a new direction, something to provide order to the chaos she had created by poor decisions and easy outs. Drugs. Alcohol. Bad men. Each aspect an enabler in her world with only one goal: make it to the next day, alive.
That’s when Wyoming’s Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy stood tall and answered the bell.
The youth academy, with its campus located at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center, is geared toward 16- to18-year old volunteers, who are interested in a structured program to help work toward a high school diploma or other certificate. However, this program can mean much more than that. It can provide the stability missing in a young person’s life; it can provide training on life-coping skills. In Holly’s case, it provided a train ride out of the dark tunnel that owned her and into the light.
“I was coming home and puking everywhere because I was so drunk,” the 24-year old said when describing her state of life prior to attending Cowboy ChalleNGe. Her addictions became high-speed motors that drove her in one direction: satisfy the desire for more alcohol and drugs. “I tried to stop (taking drugs) a couple times, but it got so bad that I was taking my car stereo and stuff from my car to sell for drugs. I was hanging with some scary people.”
Holly’s path to Cowboy ChalleNGe started with her transition to high school and the confusion that some teens can face when growing through adolescence. When she was young, her older brother Cappy abused her physically, once hitting her and leaving a black eye. “He had a very bad anger problem. He used to abuse me when I was younger, like, hit me.”
With no other choice, Holly had to go to school with the bruises as reminders of the physical damage Cappy levied. She was a quiet girl, facing low self-image in an image conscious world. Feeling overweight and alone, she became comfortable with a group of friends who did drugs and was further influenced by Cappy, who was doing the same.
Then, progression set in on her life. Hanging with these “friends,” who she felt enjoyed her company, opened the door for drinking at 15. Alcohol led to drugs at 16. Marijuana became a gateway for methamphetamines to take control after she met a guy she liked through friends. Not willing to take meth at first, she decided it was worth trying since she watched Cappy doing it. The addictions would only worsen.
Soon school lost out to the drugs. Holly was expelled for assault and battery. Then personal possessions became casualties of the ongoing struggle, as she sold items, to include jewelry her mother gave her when she was 5, to pay for the drugs.
“A lot of times I wouldn’t remember,” she said, referring to many late nights out. “I would be so drunk I wouldn’t remember the night before and my mom would have to tell me I was acting so stupid.” She also stole prescription pills and was routinely putting down five to six shots of hard liquor each night.
With no one to help her at home in 2007, she left for Montana. “I ran away (to Montana) when I was 16, and I was kind of homeless.” While there, her world continued to crumble around her. While she continued to go to bars with a fake ID to drink, she reached a low point when she came back to Wyoming, went to a friend’s place near the Wind River Reservation, and went overboard on drugs.
“I was doing so much (meth) I went out to the reservation, I got so high and crying while talking to one of my brothers, telling him I felt like I was going to die.” Later in Montana Holly realized the people she was hanging around weren’t the type of people to inspire her to change. “Coming from a loving home going to be homeless, being around people that don’t like you and that just want to use you, that was probably the worse feeling, probably rock bottom.”
Holly’s life took an abrupt turn when she returned home, broke, alone and miserable. Her younger brother Joshua, facing some of the same challenges as Holly, had enrolled in Cowboy ChalleNGe and was on the verge of graduating with Class 4 in December 2007.
“I saw what it was doing to him,” she said. “(Joshua) became, just, wanted to change himself, wanted to go to college. At that time I was doing meth and drinking a lot. I envied what he had, that self-motivation.”
The man Holly saw was no longer the young, foolish brother she had known. Instead, Joshua was replaced with a goal-oriented, thriving young man who had put in effort to become a better person. Quickly, Holly felt envious of her baby brother. “(My family) was so proud of him and they couldn’t say that about me.”
Holly made a side trip to talk to an academy recruiter during a visit to see her brother. Her interest was piqued. Could this work for her?
When Class 5 for Cowboy ChalleNGe started in January 2008, at Camp Guernsey, Holly was there. “I signed up to get sober.” But her anger and resentment came with her. After years of isolation from her peers, and living in a dark world, she brought a duffel bag full of emotions and pain into her first few weeks of class.
Her environment was different though. Cowboy ChalleNGe had counselors there for her. For the first time in her life, she felt a group of people cared about her. Change was on her heels as she learned to cope with her anger, gained routine and structure, and was challenged every day to do better. Most importantly, she grasped ahold of Cowboy ChalleNGe’s motto: choose the harder right over the easier wrong.
“I had a bunch of people that cared about me. That believed in me. That knew that I could do better and teach you how to use techniques for your future.” After adjusting to days that were similar, where she woke up, dressed, ate breakfast, did group exercise, it helped create an environment for Holly to sober up and prosper. She greatly appreciated the work the counselors put in as a collective effort to help her get clean and succeed. “Having people there who believe you can change, is awesome, it’s a great feeling.”
Another solid foundation she built while in Cowboy ChalleNGe was through the ministry services the program offered. She attended service regularly, and became a born-again Christian. This soon coincided with an attitude change, prompted by weeks of support from her counselors. “I grew up and became a humbled, happy person. I learned how to handle situations instead of getting angry at the first minute.”
By graduation in June 2008, Holly was ready to reenter the world she had left behind when she first visited Cowboy ChalleNGe. However, the transition from the structure in the academy to the spontaneity of the real world was a challenge in itself.
“It was really hard. Everything settled in,” she said. Holly slipped. After an attempt to get into the National Guard fell through and her efforts to live an improved life offered plenty of obstacles, her life began to unravel. “I basically gave up on myself, (telling myself) I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” she said. Her work in Wyoming forced her to drop out of school, again. “I was getting mad at myself because I didn’t want to go back to where I was.” The structure she sought appeared to be a mirage on her horizon.
Stressed, she returned to familiarity. Her former “friends” were back in her life. They brought with them the drinking and drugs that Holly had escaped only eight months before. “I started hanging with my old friends, I meet a guy, and I started doing meth again for a month. I sat down and that was the lowest I had ever been.”
With Holly living in darkness again, Cowboy ChalleNGe stood tall once more. “Through the whole time, I constantly thought about the program.” Holly picked up the phone and dialed Camp Guernsey. She reached out to her former counselor Penny Wells for advice. “I called (her); I said I didn’t know what to do.” Penny asked for her to come back to Guernsey so the program could help her. Penny knew that Holly could do better. Instead, feeling embarrassed by relapsing and letting the staff down, Holly bought a bus ticket and went to Texas to live with a friend. Finding work selling magazines was a stopgap. She was fully aware her life was reverting to the old ways.
Then, after having frequent conversations with her mom, and remembering what she had learned at the program, Holly realized what she had to do. She needed to inject the Cowboy ChalleNGe motto back into her life. She needed to work harder.
Again, change became the driving factor. She left her friends who were in her old life. She reengaged her love of the church and applied for a job in the Wyoming Department of Corrections. Focusing on her education also became important, so she reapplied back to school so she could become a juvenile probation parole agent and help those who were like her in their advanced adolescence.
However, one more road block presented itself. Stuck in a bad relationship with a verbally abusive boyfriend, a co-worker named Dallas offered sound advice and convinced Holly to once again make a change. She dropped the boyfriend. Little did she know her breakup created a wonderful opportunity for her and Dallas to get to know each other. They married after a year of dating. “Things are amazing right now,” she said.
Holly’s life is better. She and her husband bought a house and now share it with 5-month old Dallas Jr. She continues to work as a correctional official, working hard to finish school so she can be qualified to be a juvenile probation parole agent. She hasn’t touched a drink in two years, and she has no intention of going down that road again. Now, with life going in a positive direction, she finds herself as a role model to others. “I run into quite a few of old friends and they tell me all the time that ‘You did awesome Holly.’ A lot of them say they wish they could do that and I tell them that they can do that.” At moments like that, she instantly refers to the motto: choose the harder right over the easier wrong.
Even with the continuing challenges of sobriety, she knows her situation is better than most. Because of her job, Holly has had an opportunity to see how poorly some of her fellow Cowboy ChalleNGe classmates have done since graduation. She intends to prevent that for future kids. “I want to help kids who were me. That was my past. I want to make sure kids don’t end up in prison. There are three kids that I went to the program with that are in prison.”
Five years removed from the Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy, Holly is in a different place. A better place. She never found the structure she was looking for; rather, she built it for herself. Through obstacles and darkness, she found the light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the counselors and staff at Cowboy ChalleNGe. She sought change and a road to recovery, and Cowboy ChalleNGe helped her get there. In retrospect, Holly is very thankful that she saw her brother Joshua prosper after he completed the program. Without that, she would never have chosen to volunteer for the academy. No academy, possibly, no life.
“I look at it now and say, thank God, I’m alive.”
||CHEYENNE, WY, US
This work, Cowboy Challenge grad shares remarkable story of redemption, by MAJ Thomas Blackburn, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.