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Ferguson's incarceration takes toll on family

Nov. 2, 2007

Although he is shackled and followed by prison guards with guns, Ryan

Ferguson saunters into the room like any other upbeat 23-year-old.

He wears a light yellow shirt and baggy, bright orange inmate pants, and prison guards follow him into the room and take places near the doors.

Nonetheless, as he comes into the visiting room of the Jefferson City Correctional Center, he slouches onto the prison visiting room chair, looks up and grins.

Ferguson has been incarcerated since he was arrested for homicide in March 2004.

He recently celebrated his 23rd birthday, his fourth since being incarcerated.

Ferguson was convicted of murdering Kent Heitholt, the sports editor of the Columbia Tribune, in October 2005 and sentenced to 40 years in

prison.

It was an unsolved murder that plagued Columbia and its police department for two years until Chuck Erickson told police that he and Ferguson, both 17 at the time, had committed the crime with the intent to steal money from Heitholt and buy alcohol.

Four years after Erickson's confession and two years after his own conviction, Ferguson said he has maintained his innocence to his

family and the public ever since his arrest.

The prosecutor, Kevin Crane, and Columbia police Chief Randy Boehm both said they are certain Ferguson is guilty.

Ferguson is allowed eight visits a month, and his parents, Bill and Leslie Ferguson, use most of those.

Bill Ferguson said he doesn't focus on the fact that his son is in prison but instead spends more time thinking about getting him released.

"I'm not to that place," he said. "I don't have time to think about that."

He compared the situation to a house on fire.

He said when a house is on fire, the owners don't have enough time to worry about lost possessions; they worry about putting out the

fire.

"I'm still squirting water," he said.

Leslie Ferguson said she thinks more about her son's time in prison.

"I'm in a perpetual state of sadness," she said. "He's missing important years of his life. Why?"

Ferguson's sister, Kelly Ferguson, lives in Washington, D.C., and said she has been seeing her brother about twice a year, although she will see him more since she got a job as a flight attendant.

Kelly Ferguson said often she thinks about her brother.

"Every decision I make, I think about Ryan," she said.

Ferguson has stringent restrictions placed on him because he is under administrative segregation, which he refers to as "the hole."

Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said Ferguson is in administrative segregation because of "dangerous contraband" found in his cell. Hauswirth said administrative segregation is a temporary place inmates are housed "for the security and good order of the prison."

Ryan Ferguson denied involvement in the issue.

He said in he is allowed one book every two weeks in "the hole," plus magazines and newspapers he subscribes

to.

He described some of his neighbors as "very sick individuals" and said his down-the-hall neighbor in a previous cell would kick the door and growl.

He called it "torture" and said sleep was impossible.

"I've seen things I've never seen before," he said.

Ryan Ferguson's family said he was a normal teenager before the arrest.

He grew up in Columbia and focused more on his social life than academics, Leslie Ferguson said.

Still, he graduated high school and was taking classes at a community college in Kansas City, Mo., when he was arrested.

Every year, Ryan Ferguson took a trip with his dad. In 2003 they went to Yosemite, Calif., and in 2002 they went to New York with stops at theme parks along the way.

But now he spends his time reading and working out in his cell.

Ryan Ferguson said he has remained the happy, easygoing young man his mom described, but his outlook on almost everything has changed.

"I don't hate people, I distrust people," he said. "I have reason to."

People who stop his parents on the street to say they support Ryan Ferguson don't visit and don't write, he said.

He and his parents said they plan to devote their time, when and if he is released, to fighting what they consider a corrupt justice system.

"I still believe the system can work," Ryan Ferguson said. "It has worked. It should work."

All three said prosecutors cannot be held accountable for anything said in court. Ryan Ferguson said he thinks governmental checks and balances are not

applied to prosecutors but should be.

He also said conditions in prisons are unacceptable, even for inmates who are guilty, and especially for those inmates who have less money or no one outside the prison to help them.

He has lost weight due to the low-quality food, he said. Every time he leaves his cell, even to shower, he is handcuffed, shackled and put on a leash.

"That's one thing I don't appreciate," he said.

Ryan Ferguson said the word "correctional" in the title of the department is untrue and that the center inhibits progress in its inmates.

"All it does is bring you down," he said.

He compared his situation to poking a dog.

He said if you poke the dog long enough, it will bite whether it's a good dog or

not.

Hauswirth said the inmates, depending on their ability, are required to work at one of several jobs in the prison.

There are several factories, including those that produce officer uniforms, license plates, furniture and recycled printer cartridges.

The offenders receive $7.50 per month for their work.

"We want them to learn job skills," Hauswirth said. "They also learn how to get up in the morning and go to a job. A lot of our offenders enjoy it."

Furthermore, he said the Department of Corrections works with offenders to help them find jobs upon their release.

The Department of Corrections won an award in August from Gov. Matt Blunt for its work with the Division of Workforce Development, specifically for the Missouri Reentry Process.

Ryan Ferguson said the hardest thing about being in prison is the lack of women.

"Cuddling, hanging out — you need that as a man," he said. "That is not something I will ever get used to."

He said his stay in prison has also caused many hardships on his parents.

"I can see the pain in their eyes," he said.

Since he has been in administrative segregation, Ryan Ferguson has been allowed contact visits only behind glass.

He has not seen his sister face-to-face in a year.

"It would be nice to give my sister a hug," he said.

Kelly Ferguson said she misses her brother and wishes she would have spent more time with him.

"He's such a cool kid," she said. "I really put him through it when we were growing up. I regret that so much now."

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Article comments

April 25, 2010 at 8:52 p.m.

nova : DEAREST, RYAN I'AM SO SORRY FOR WHAT'S HAPPEND TO YOU, I KNOW IN MY HEART YOU WILL BE FREE ONE DAY SOON!! PLEASE HANG IN THERE. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL HUMAN BEEN, ONE DAY SOON YOU WILL SMELL THE FLOWERS, ONE SOON YOU WILL FEAL THE SUN IN YOUR FACE, ONE DAY SOON YOU WILL FEAL THE BREEZE IN YOUR FACE,ONE DAY SOON YOU WILL BE TOGETHER WI YOUR BEAUTFUL FAMILY!! GOD BLESS YOU. RYAN, READ THIS TO YOURSELF EVERYDAY UNTILL YOUR A FREE MEN... THIS IS THE SCIENFIC STAMENT OF BEING " THERE IS NO LIFE, TRUTH, INTELLIGENCE, NOR SUBSTANCE IN MATTER. ALL IS INFINITE MIND AND ITS INFINITE MANIFESTATION, FOR GOD IS ALL-IN-ALL. SPIRIT IS IMMORTAL TRUTH;MATTER IS MORTAL ERRPR . SPIRIT IS THE REAL AND ETERNAL; MATTER IS THE UNREAL AND TEMPORAL. SPIRIT IS GOD, AND MAN IS HIS IMAGE AND AND LIKENESS. THEREFORE MAN IS NOT MATERIAL; HE IS SPIRITUAL. THIS WAS WRITTEN BY MARRY BAKER EDDY. THE FOUNDER OF CHRISTIAN SCIENCE!! SHE WROTE THE BOOK[ SCIENCE AND HEALTH WITH KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES THIS IS ON PAGE 468 ASK YOUR PARENTS TO LOOK IN TO IT YOU MIGHT FIND IT VERY USEFULL AND INSPIRING I'TS AN AMASING BOOK LOVINGLY NOVA FROM MASSACHUSETTS

Nov. 27, 2010 at 6:29 p.m.

kim: www.another2ndchance.webs.com

March 8, 2011 at 5:54 p.m.

mary cait: hey i am watching the episode on 48hours on identification discovery. and i thought id google your name and see what, if anything came up... i was shocked to see that a month ago there was current news... im glad your getting out... the evidence shown on 48 hours i was shaking my head "no" because I saw no evidence whatsoever that would make the jury decide on guilty.... im glad ur getting out. it will be hard, but i wish you the best

April 3, 2011 at 7:50 p.m.

Anita: Dear Ryan, I just watched the 2nd 48 Hours program about you and pray you are granted a new trial. I believe you are completely innocent and pray God gives you, your family and your attorney(s) strength to continue this fight for truth and your freedom. I cannot understand how in the name of all that is honest and right any jury could have found you guilty in the first place. I can only imagine how horriible this entire mess has effected you, your parents and sister. My heart goes out to all of you! It's tragic to realize the prosecutor in this case was more interested in getting a conviction of anyone than he was in finding the guilty person(s) and I certainly believe that is what happened in this trial. It's really frightening to know that he is now a judge! Again, I pray you are granted a new trial with an innocent verdict and you can get back to your life and can be a blessing to everyone you meet. With love in Christ Jesus, Anita (Old enough to be your grandmother and would be proud to call you grandson! )

July 25, 2011 at 12:35 p.m.

omar: Ryan, that crap is crazy my friend. I hate that situation for you! I wish it on no man! Like NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE!!!!!! NOT FUCKING GUILTY!!!

Aug. 6, 2011 at 12:26 a.m.

goose calls: I hope justice prevails in this.

June 2, 2013 at 1 a.m.

Diane newby: Hi Ryan I really really hope you get out very soon to be with your family. No evidence just shows how innocent you are all my love from London uk x

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