SANTA ROSA, N.M. (AP) -- In 1985, O.C. Fero, a high school principal and experienced educator, snapped: He fatally shot his superintendent at a job evaluation during which he was asked to resign.
He is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.
Fero insists he doesn't remember what happened that day, but he has taken responsibility and moved on. Today, he is educating himself -- and his fellow inmates -- about God.
A deacon in the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch, Fero is one of a handful of ordained ministers in the New Mexico prison system. He has earned his master's degree in biblical studies and in divinity and is hoping one day to be ordained a priest.
At 60, he is not eligible for parole until 2015. He knows that he may never live on the outside, but that doesn't seem to trouble him.
"I will continue my mission within the prison whether it is one year or forever; it makes no difference," he says.
But he does think about what he would do if released from Guadalupe County Correctional Facility. He will continue to minister to inmates, he says, and reach out to "people who have broken their obligation in life."
Fero may be a model of the rehabilitative promise of the state Department of Corrections' faith-based programs. The department estimates that 12 percent to 15 percent of its 5,600 inmates participates in one form of the programs.
Fero first became interested in seminary studies while at Central Correctional Facility in Los Lunas. Through correspondence classes from the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies, he earned his master's degrees.
He got straight A's in courses with such titles as "Helping Angry People," "Introduction to Evangelism" and "Pastoral Counseling"
When he transferred to Guadalupe, he learned about the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch. He was ordained a deacon in August.
The goal of the statewide faith-based programs is about hope and moving on, according to Homer Gonzales, the program director.
"It is giving (inmates) hope that their creator and higher power is able to help them turn their lives around," Gonzales says. "They don't have to be locked into the lifestyle that led them to prison."
Osman Charles Fero, known then by his nickname "Chick," was principal at Tohatchi High School about a year and a half. Before moving to the Navajo Reservation 30 miles north of Gallup to live and work, he was a track coach and English teacher, and later dean of students at Farmington High School.
Fero says he was passionate about his job and he liked working with children.
He had a 2-year-old daughter, but his marriage was faltering and would soon end in divorce.
On the morning of Feb. 22, 1985, he went to Superintendent Paul Hanson's office for an employee evaluation and was asked to resign. Hanson stood and said, "No hard feelings," offering Fero his hand.
Fero shot him three times in the face with a .38-caliber revolver. When his body slumped to the floor, Fero shot him twice more, walked out of the office and calmly asked secretaries to call the police.
Fero says he's thankful he doesn't remember what happened in that room, but he knows he committed an atrocity and accepts his punishment.
"Somebody had to do the shooting in there, and there were only the two of us," he says.
Hanson was survived by his wife, Charlene, a daughter and a son. His widow has since moved to Oklahoma; she declined to be interviewed for this story.
Richard Johnson, personnel director for Gallup-McKinley County Schools, was principal at Tohatchi Elementary School and lived on the reservation with Hanson and Fero in 1985. He knew both men well.
"The man is an absolute slimeball," he says of the Fero he knew.
But even Johnson, a friend of Hanson's widow, concedes that Fero could have found religion in prison.
"I can't speak for where he is now and what he is now," he says. "I believe that all of us will and can be forgiven by God if we ask."
In 1992, Fero married Carole Royal, who was a principal in Gallup while he was at Tohatchi. She is working to free him.
"He's the kind that you rehabilitate and you know it's not going to happen again," she says.
Fero says he is aware that some inmates use religion to speed along their time and earn points for good behavior. He says that's not his goal.
"You know where I think the religious programming is going to get me? In a relationship with God. I am kind of greedy. I want that," he says.
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