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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Monique Knudsen stands in her cell at Utah State Prison. She was featured in a News story in 2004 about conquering addiction but relapsed within months..

Way back in early 2000, a Utah judge asked for a thorough evaluation on a young woman who'd come before him on charges related to her drug-abusing lifestyle.

"Let's find out if the subject is truly interested in turning her life around," 3rd District Judge Stewart Hansen said at the time.

Monique Knudsen was 23 then, a mother and already three years into a life of crime and addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs. The state put her on probation, but a federal officer who supervised her after a counterfeiting money conviction said early on that he was "concerned about her success."

That federal officer was prescient, or maybe just wise to the paralyzing pattern of offenders drawn into a life of drug addiction, crime and prison, and their rocky re-immersion into society.

Nearly eight years later, an exhaustive review of court and parole documents shows the state has invested thousands of hours — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — into helping Monique Knudsen try to turn her life around. So far, there hasn't been much return.

Her record belies her pleasant appearance and articulate speech.

• She has been charged with 26 crimes over the years, including drug possession, forgery, child endangerment and fleeing a peace officer. Through plea agreements, she has nine felony and four misdemeanor convictions.

• She has had five monthslong stints in prison or jail.

• She successfully completed at least one drug treatment program but walked away from at least three others.

• She has relapsed at least eight times since 2000 — her longest stint at sobriety was 16 months, according to parole documents.

• During more than four years under parole supervision, she collected 30 parole violations.

"Ms. Knudsen has been unwilling to comply with her conditions of supervision, even though she has been afforded several opportunities to do so. She has continued to use drugs and has chosen to disregard the conditions of supervision in the past, and judging from her previous performances during supervision, it is hoped her pregnancy will slow her down for a few weeks. Otherwise, it is expected she will resort to her old habits." —Adult Probation and Parole entry, May 29, 2003

After spending four of the past eight years behind bars, Knudsen will leave the Utah State Prison in 22 days. She doesn't know whether she'll be back. She has gone through this before. Last time she made it two months before methamphetamine use again overtook her life.

And now Knudsen has doubts about walking out of Star 2, her medium-security cell block the past 21 months at the Timpanogos Unit at Point of the Mountain.

"I'm not sure I want to leave here because I'm not ready to deal with reality," she said, dressed in a white prison jumpsuit, her hair wet from a morning shower.

Part of that reality is the loss of her two youngest of her four children to the state — for good this time. She doesn't know the whereabouts of either Brandiy, 8, or Alizaye, 4.

After Knudsen walks out of prison, she will once again be under the supervision of Adult Probation and Parole, a state agency that knows her well. More than 50 parole officers have dealt with her the past eight years.

For this story, Knudsen agreed to sign a release of her AP&P offender history. It numbers 52 pages. It paints a picture of her hit-and-mostly-miss efforts to become a responsible citizen.

A Deseret Morning News cost analysis for incarceration, drug treatment, foster care, probation and parole amounts to a conservative estimate of $300,000. The figure does not include time in courtrooms on at least nine criminal charges and for 15 warrants for her arrest.

And parole documents were only obtained from the year 2000 on, so the sum does not include costs associated with at least six felonies that occurred in 1997 and 1999.

Knudsen isn't unique among the more than 4,000 parolees in Utah. The state spends thousands of dollars each year in attempts to get them on the straight and narrow.

"Most people run their careers with us just like she is," said Mike Mayer, AP&P regional administrator.

"I would say she is less than typical in that she probably didn't (cost) as much as other people. If anything, people get more (services) than that, not less."

"I knew before I even left that I would be back. Prison is not a huge deal. It's not like it's a hard place to be. Yes, you get your freedom taken away. But once you've been here, it's not that bad." — Monique Knudsen, interview from prison, December 2007

Knudsen was featured in a Deseret Morning News series called "Generation Meth" in November 2004. At the time, she was making it. She had a job and was enrolled at Salt Lake Community College, studying to be a paralegal.

In the 2004 interviews she spoke optimistically about her future and smiled easily for photos with her daughters.

Parole records from earlier that year are glowing. On one home visit, Knudsen was at a recital for Brandiy. On another field visit in early 2004, "She was at home playing a game with her older daughter. No problems noted."

"Monique started classes at Salt Lake Community College on January 20, 2004. She is enjoying the classes. However, she is a little overwhelmed by the amount of papers she has to complete. While Monique goes to school, her mother watches the girls. Monique continues in day treatment at the House of Hope." — AP&P entry, Feb. 2, 2004

Knudsen survived spring semester at SLCC and continued school through the summer and fall. She volunteered with the PTA at her daughter's elementary school. She completed drug treatment at House of Hope. Her periodic drug tests came back negative.

In early November, though, she was caught tampering with a urine sample at the AP&P office. Parole officials decided to put her in the Women in Recovery group at what is called the Day Reporting Center. She didn't last long.

"I wasn't in the state of mind that I wanted to go back to rehab," she said.

About the same time, she hooked up with an old, abusive boyfriend. She fell back into the drug life. She has been in and out of prison since.

"Monique attended one class and has not been back. She has most likely absconded." — AP&P entry, Feb. 1, 2005.

Knudsen hasn't really had a job in her life. She worked odd jobs here and there, usually only for a short time until her criminal history caught up with her.

In prison, she worked on a road crew six hours a day picking up trash along the highways. Officials, though, yanked the program after two inmates on a male crew absconded and two others got drunk on the same day.

Knudsen didn't like bagging garbage, but she liked the work ethic being instilled in her. She liked having to get up at 6 a.m. She enjoyed trying to please her boss. She felt like she was learning to be responsible.

"Not a lot of us know what it's like to have someone trust you," Knudsen said.

Once out of prison, she will again be faced with the decision to get what will likely be a menial, low-paying job or to sell drugs for a lot more money.

How the prison work experience will serve her remains to be seen.

As part of Knudsen's prison release evaluation, AP&P last month assessed her ability to succeed in treatment, the amount of supervision she'll need and whether she is a danger to herself or the community.

The assessment showed she is at a high risk level.

Knudsen will be assigned a new parole officer next year. The agent will become a friend or an antagonist.

"They can go either way," she said. "It really depends on your attitude."

"It's so hard to try sometimes because you know that you've messed up so many times that you don't even want to try anymore. You don't trust yourself." — Monique Knudsen, prison interview

Three years later, it seems incarceration has hardened Knudsen. The glint in her piercing green eyes has dimmed.

She has no illusions about making it this time.

The prison won't cut Knudsen completely loose on Jan. 8.

She will be driven to the Orange Street Community Correctional Facility on Salt Lake's west side. She will be confined there in a structured halfway house while she obtains a drug evaluation. She hopes to get into a residential treatment facility in Cedar City, far away from old friends.

She is emotional about wanting a new start, away from Salt Lake City, away from the memories of her children.

Four-year-old Alizaye and her 8-year-old sister, Brandiy, are in foster care. Both girls have spent a total of nearly two years as wards of the state due to their mother's meth habit and prison stays.

Knudsen mentally tucked away the painful loss of her daughters, which she found out about well after the fact. The girls lived with her mother until she, too, had a drug relapse. "I got a letter from a friend," she said. "My mom didn't even notify me."

Knudsen's cell is void of any photos or mementos of Brandiy and Alizaye.

"In my head, I don't want to deal with it right now. I'm good at compartmentalizing my thoughts, so I just put it in a little box and put it away," she said.

Without the possibility of reuniting with her children, Knudsen said she could just as well stay in prison.

"There's nothing out there that really matters to me."

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