Behind Bars column gives a voice, insight to a hidden population

Monday , March 13, 2017 - 5:30 AM1 comment

NOLAN TAYLOR, guest commentator

Three years ago, I met a man who changed the way I look at the world. It was then that I started visiting Brian Wood in the Davis County Detention Center.

Although I knew Brian’s dad, I had only met Brian briefly one time. What drew me to make that first visit was a mix of benevolent inclinations and curiosity. Brian agreed with, I suspect, a bit of apprehension to weekly visits.

After only a few meetings, I realized Brian was keen observer of human nature and a natural storyteller.

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I approached my neighbor Andy Howell, then the editor of The Standard-Examiner, to look at a couple of pieces Brian had written. He showed them to the editorial board, and they agreed to publish them and see how they would be received.

It has been two years now, and this week the S-E is publishing Behind Bars’ 100th installment. The willingness of the Standard-Examiner to take a chance — and Brian’s commitment to this project — have given a voice to a mostly hidden population of our fellow citizens.

Getting to know Brian has transformed my attitudes about substance-abuse and the criminal justice system. He is a man, not without flaws to be sure, but still with hopes and dreams of life beyond prison.

Like most incarcerated men and women, Brian has made serious mistakes and has hurt people who trusted and loved him. His criminal record will follow him the rest of his life. His mistakes will impact his future in ways difficult to imagine.

Brian admits, that had it not been for his incarceration, he would most likely be dead. But he isn’t dead, and he’s working to find a path that will give him a new life. He has resolved to never go back to the circumstances that got him where he is, but he knows that life, by its nature, is unpredictable and capricious.

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Knowing Brian has made me a more forgiving and compassionate man, and I believe my visits over the years have been helpful to Brian as well.

Nonetheless, I have found myself changed, not only by interactions with Brian, but by my exposure to prison’s sometimes cruel bureaucracy. I now understand much more intimately what incarceration does to men and women and their families. As I visit, I invariably talk with other people visiting a loved one. They know why their family member is in prison, but they nonetheless express a deep and abiding love for them.

And then there are the numerous prisoners who never get a visit or have anyone who cares what they suffer. Even though I can’t make much of a difference with this deeply imperfect machine, I can be supportive of Brian.

I believe we are on this planet for each other. Any way we can make life more humane and compassionate for those caught up in the criminal justice system will, in the end, benefit society.

Not everyone knows someone in prison they can visit or write; however, we can soften our attitudes towards them. We should all hope that those who have made mistakes ultimately find redemption and peace.

Nolan Taylor is a consultant in Layton and a family friend of Brian Wood who visits with him weekly and helps facilitate the Behind Bars column. 

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