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Column: What it’s like to spend a week in “the hole”

By Brian Wood - | Aug 1, 2016

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 35 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.

As a result of getting punched in the face, I recently spent about a week in SMU (Severe Management Unit) or “the hole.” This is standard procedure while the incident is investigated. There is another option, and that is to assist the police in their investigation, which is really not an option at all.

When a prisoner is sent to SMU, they are stripped out and given different clothing, just like when they were first sent to prison or jail. In this case, prisoners exchange the “prison-whites” with an orange jump suit, flip-flops, pink socks and pink underwear. After being stripped, prisoners are given a sheet and a blanket for bedding and a bar of soap, toothpaste and toothbrush for hygiene, and that’s it.

After I was stripped out, I was taken into a section with ten cells and assigned to one of them. Usually it is somewhat quiet there, but there were two prisoners on opposite ends yelling stories detailing all the trouble they had gotten into.

I believe they were attempting to convey how tough, cool and “gangsta” they were. My cell was in between the two; I felt a headache coming on fast.

The first thing I did was take out my toothpaste cap and use the serrated edge to drill a hole into my flip-flops, producing a small cylinder of the foamy sole that remained in the toothpaste cap. I shoved the makeshift earplugs deep into my head, not worrying how I’d retrieve them later.

I learned this technique when I first arrived in prison and was glad for that because my last attempt was less successful. In Davis County Jail’s maximum security unit, I used bread for earplugs, and while they worked great to keep noise out they ended up giving me a pretty bad ear infection.

Right after I had found the audible peace I sought, I realized what had looked like long dark cracks in the cement were moving. A steady parade of ants was marching underneath a canopy of hair and dust in the edges of the room, so I used half a roll of dampened toilet paper to wipe the floor free of ants and other debris and flushed it all down the stainless steel toilet.

Turns out, this was a mistake.

Gradually more and more ants swarmed into the room, but without a scent trail to follow, they spread out looking for a food source. In about 15 minutes the room was covered in ants. When I was served my first tray of food through the opening in the door I was able to remedy the situation by placing food for the little foragers around the cell, thus ending the inch-by-inch search they were conducting.

Now that I was finally situated, all the many options of what to do next were available. Between sleeping and staring at the ceiling, my days were pretty much packed. I did still receive mail, but without pen and paper I couldn’t write back. In the middle of my stay I was assigned a “cellie” who was not technically there as a form of punishment, but rather in protective custody because he had told on another inmate and was now labeled a “rat.”

I found it ironic that the officer on duty at the time of my incident had threatened to send me to SMU in an effort to get me to identify my assailant; however, this also happens to be the place they put people who are foolish enough to talk. Instead of a week-long stay, this place and its deplorable conditions become a prisoner’s long-term residence.

I apologized to the officer, and I think he understood my position; nevertheless, he still had a job to do.

In the end, I was not officially disciplined after the officer and an outside investigator watched video of the incident, but I was kicked out of my housing unit. Other than that, I am still in Culinary Arts School and still work for the education department, and neither would be the case had I fought back.

I was told I had been absolved of all wrong-doing in the incident, so I can only assume my suspension from the privileged housing unit is punishment for my non-cooperation in the investigation. I can live with that, because it sure beats the alternative.


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