Behind Bars: Not everyone believes prisoners deserve a second chance

Monday , September 04, 2017 - 6:00 AM

BRIAN WOOD, Behind Bars columnist

The other day an officer stopped me to say he appreciated my honesty. Previously, we had a conversation about what events led to my incarceration. He explained he likes to play a little game. He will ask prisoners about their charges, listen to their story, and then look up their pre-sentence investigation report to see how the two differ. He claims time and again it’s not even close. He says it’s not only entertaining, it’s informative.

This officer wanted to let me know he felt I had a better chance than most (at not coming back to prison.) I thanked him for taking notice and for speaking to me like an individual. He went on to tell me he didn’t believe in parole and thought prisoners should do “all their time.” I know a number of officers who don’t believe we should be able to earn time cuts, but that wasn’t what he was talking about. I asked for a little clarification. I asked if he believed I should spend the next 20 years in prison.

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Considering our conversation and the positive sentiments he had relayed I was shocked to hear him say it would probably be the best thing. He rhetorically asked why let prisoners out when they are just going to reoffend and come back? He told me, “It’s safer here for you guys and safer for society when you’re here.”

I remembered a previous conversation with him when he told me I can never again take Tylenol or drink caffeine because I was and always will be a drug addict. I politely disagreed, but he told me if I thought otherwise, I wasn’t taking sobriety seriously and I was doomed to fail. Knowing he was a bit of a black or white type guy, I didn’t argue his other opinion that it was better for everyone if prisoners did not get released.

He wasn’t making the argument that he was angry and punishment needed to be doled out. That’s the old “cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face” mentality. This was different: this was cut off your nose to get rid of the itch. I’m thankful the decision makers do not see such drastic measures as an option. Many parolees squander their second chances and their third and fourth and so on; so I can understand why some members of society have the opinions they do. Still, it was eye opening to have someone tell me they believe it would be best for everyone if I just remained in prison for 20 years.

It’s not like I didn’t know people have different attitudes about criminal justice, but hearing someone voice that belief made me think about just how bad I’ve messed up and how I will be regarded by some. As a prisoner, I’m fortunate the old school philosophy of lock ‘em up and throw away the key is not a practical way to deal with criminals. Without considering the human element, the cost is simply too great.

There is definitely a push for prison reform in our society that I’ve seen gain momentum in the relatively short time I’ve been incarcerated. I believe the movement is taking into account the human element and is softening attitudes throughout our society. However, I think it will serve me well to take the officer’s slightly extreme view as a reminder that not everyone believes I deserve a second chance or is even rooting for me when I get it.

Brian Wood, formerly of Layton, is an inmate at the Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. He pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He could spend up to 25 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.

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