"Therapy is a slow process," says Ted, who is undergoing psychological counseling. "I'm learning a lot about myself. There are little things you never notice. Character flaws. I have a terrible ego. A big ego. Too much pride."
Almost two years have passed since that fateful Christmas night, since Ernst seemingly acted out the long-suppressed rage at his fate, at his feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, and killed a man he did not even know. Ernst is only beginning to come to terms with what he did and why he did it, from all those midnight heists to the climactic act. He knows that his family and former friends would like to have what they call "some closure" to this matter, some explanation for the stealing and the killing. "That's what everybody wants," Ernst says. "That's what I want."
Fact is, he has only the most inchoate notions of why he did what he did that night. "I wasn't angry at him [Streeter]," he says. "It just came out this way. Let me put it this way. This is what I tell people when they ask me why I did it. O.K.? I was too proud to back down when he came at me. That explains me in a nutshell. [Burglary] was an escape for me, O.K.? We went there Christmas night specifically because there wouldn't be anybody there. I'm very sorry that it happened. I'm not sorry I got caught. You understand that? Because I don't know where I would have stopped if I hadn't got caught. What I might have done next."
He turned to crime, he says, for the same reasons that many other outlaws do. "I burglarized houses for the risk and the sick thrill in danger," he said at his sentencing hearing. "It was a terrible addiction that I lost control over."
He suspects he was trying to replace the highs that racing had given him. The fact that he drew Jesse into his web fills him with remorse. "I cannot explain to you the sorrow I feel every day for dragging him into this ugliness," Ted says. "I was wrong to be in that much control. I've tried to step back from his life, being conscious of unconsciously having done this to him."
He left much twisted wreckage in his wake. Streeter was a family man, the doting grandfather of two kids, and his death left those nearest him floundering in grief. "I'm trying to pick up the pieces," Serena says. "The hurt does not go away. It gets deeper. We are learning how to manage the pain, the anger, the emptiness, the loss. We have to learn how to have Christmas again. I don't know how anymore."
Ed and Debby Ernst lost two sons to prison. "It was like the whole world had just ended," says Ed.
At his arrest Ted expressed no heartfelt regret over what he had done, and at times he has expressed inappropriate humor. Kimerly was in court one day when Ernst arrived for an appearance, rolled up next to him and nudged his elbow. "Guess I won't be playing basketball next year, will I?" Ted said. That left Kimerly cold. So did sitting behind Ted's cousin Terry Olson, 14, who had been arrested for allegedly shooting to death his sleeping father, John—Debby Ernst's brother—just two days after Ted was arrested. Terry had revered Ted, and police believe the boy was inspired by Ted's killing of Streeter.
Ted is left staring into the emotional void that is his life, looking for what is missing, the beating of a human heart. "Trying to say, Hello, where are the emotions?" he says. "That was one of the first things that came to me in prison. Where, where have I been? Where have my emotions been? The first evidence that I cared about people was in jail. Telling my parents that I loved them, for the first time in my conscious life, was in jail."
Ted's physical health is less problematic. He has a nickname in prison: Speedy, for the way he zings around the grounds on his chair. The former athlete is trying to stay in shape. When he isn't working on a computer as a billing clerk for the prison or studying Hebrew or oceanography, he is training to be the chin-up champion at Deer Lodge. "I do three sets of chins every other day off the second-tier stairwell of my unit block," he says.