It didn't take long for Shannon Parazoo to regret his decision.
He began Feb. 9 as an inmate, finishing a 20- to 30-year murder sentence at a Casper work-release program. Freedom was only months away, but that afternoon, he packed up his family into two cars and drove north.
A few hours outside of Casper, he began to have doubts.
"I thought, you know what, this is really stupid," he recalled almost a month later, in a phone interview from a Canadian jail. "I don't really think I'm doing the right thing."
Parazoo's walk-away escape prompted a search that spanned five states and two countries. He and his stepson, another work-release inmate named Alonzo Durgin, were captured after almost two weeks on the run, outside a small town in British Columbia. They're still in Canadian custody and face escape charges and the prospect of longer sentences.
"It was the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life," said Parazoo, who left with his wife, Rose, and two of her children. "I've totally ruined my future and (my wife's). We just wanted to be a family."
The decision to leave was stupid and impulsive, Rose and Shannon said.
"He just wanted to take care of his family and have a life and just be away," said Rose, in an interview from her mother's home in Rawlins. "He didn't want to hurt anybody or associate with anybody from prison. Nothing like that."
By the time of his escape, Parazoo, 43, had been incarcerated for more than half of his life.
Born and raised in southern Oregon, he came to Wyoming in 1984 to find work, after serving two years in a California prison for false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon, he said.
In 1985, Parazoo was arrested and charged with the murder of a Gillette man who'd been beaten and left unconscious near the Natrona County line. The man, Ronald Clay Tyler, died of hypothermia. Parazoo eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.
While at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, Parazoo married Rose, a neighbor of his first wife, who had died.
Rose Parazoo, 42, said there is more to her husband than his criminal past.
"Shannon is very meticulous," she said. "He is very artistic. When he does something, he is almost perfectionist about it. He's talented and he's very smart."
Parazoo started the Casper Re-Entry Center's work-release program in August. He worked as a welder, making, he said, about $18 or $19 an hour - enough money to pay Rose's rent and purchase groceries and clothing for his family.
He worked the night shift. After work, he'd stop by Rose's home, near Natrona County International Airport, then go back to the re-entry center for a few hours of sleep. He'd check out at about 9 a.m. and head back to the house to spend time with Rose and the kids.
So why did Parazoo, with a lucrative job and a sentence that was due to end in September, decide to walk away?
"The best I can come up with an emotional meltdown on my part," he said.
Rose was having a tough time with the situation and they didn't get to spend much time together, Parazoo explained. He was overloaded and stressed out, she said.
"I just think this was a whole lot of not thinking right," she said.
Parazoo said he checked out of the re-entry center on Feb. 9 with no plans to leave for good. He went to Rose's house, took a shower and put on clean clothes. He took his dog, Oreo, on a walk.
When he got back, he turned his attention to paying off a $160 bill from the Self Help Center in Casper. He returned a recently purchased welding helmet, and with the money, paid off the bill.
By 2:30 that afternoon, it was almost time to return to the re-entry center. Rose wasn't happy about him leaving, and the couple started arguing, Parazoo recalled.
"What do you want to do?" Parazoo asked his wife.
"Let's just go find a life," she responded.
"Okay," he told her.
Parazoo asked Durgin if he wanted to come along and Durgin agreed. The family packed up Rose's girls, ages 12 and 14, plus two dogs, two cats, and some food, into a white van and a Dodge Durango.
"We just headed north," Parazoo recalled. "I don't know why, but we did."
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, Rose said.
"I don't think anyone was thinking," she said. "This whole thing is just very emotional, an emotional meltdown."
It didn't take long for Parazoo to regret his decision.
"Oh God, Rose, I just really messed up," Rose remembered him saying hours after they left. "Should I call them and tell them I'm coming back?"
From Casper, the family drove to Montana, where Rose spent her youth.
"I don't think there was every really a plan," she said. "There was just driving."
The family slept at rest stops and cooked outside by campfire. It was Parazoo's first taste of total freedom in more than 20 years, but he wasn't enjoying it.
"I had worked very hard to be allowed to re-enter Wyoming society … and I had just thrown it all away," he said.
Back in Casper, the re-entry center had already notified the Natrona County Sheriff's Department that Parazoo and Durgin were missing. The search for the fugitives would eventually involve several U.S. and Canadian agencies. Authorities even used a Black Hawk helicopter for the search.
The Parazoos weren't aware that their walk-away escape would generate such a response from authorities or the media, where their story was covered in newspaper and television reports, and on the America's Most Wanted Web site.
"We knew it would be reported (to authorities), but we didn't know the whole United States was having him on TV and stuff," Rose said.
Authorities considered them armed and dangerous, but Parazoo and his wife say they were never armed, nor did they commit any other crimes during their nearly two weeks on the run.
The family spent a few days driving around northern Montana, Rose said, then crossed over into Canada. They hadn't planned to go there, she said.
"We didn't know exactly where we were going," she explained. "He was just driving."
Parazoo continued to doubt his decision, asking whether it would be better to turn around or at least call the re-entry center, Rose said. Still, the couple talked of settling down somewhere in Canada. Shannon would get a job somewhere and they would try to live as free people.
They also discussed going back to the United States and living in the Pacific Northwest.
"We were coming back to the states to try to get a job," Parazoo said.
Before that could happen, a damaged tire led to the fugitives' arrest.
On Feb. 23, Parazoo tried unsuccessfully to get a new tire for his Durango in Logan Lake, a small town northeast of Vancouver. A clerk at the tire store thought him suspicious and contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Police pulled the Parazoos' Durango over outside of Merritt, a town about 40 miles south of Logan Lake.
"You know Rose, it's over," Rose remembers Shannon telling her, with tears in his eyes.
Police took Parazoo and Durgin into custody. Rose and the children were let go.
"I was just in a daze," she said. "I was lost."
Rose and the kids drove back to Wyoming from Canada and are staying in Rawlins. Parazoo and his stepson remain in a jail in British Columbia. Rose expects her husband will be brought back to Wyoming within the next two weeks, where he and Durgin face escape charges.
Rose hopes that her husband won't be given a long sentence.
"If they keep him in prison for the next 13 or 14 years, I don't know if he can do that anymore," she said.
Parazoo says he takes responsibility for his actions and is hoping to finish his sentence at the state penitentiary, then return to the re-entry center's therapeutic community program, where he could develop the skills to make it in society.
"I am coming out of prison eventually, either in two years or 20 years," he said. "I'd like to come out and be somebody my parents could be proud of, my children could be proud of."
Reach Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at email@example.com.