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Behind Bars: Prisoners shouldn’t be released without prep for life outside jail

By Brian Wood, Behind Bars Columnist - | Dec 19, 2016

My current celly read my article about “roommate roulette” — getting a new, random celly — and suggested that I should provide an update.

For the record, I was lucky and didn’t even have to play, meaning I was able to get someone of my choice moved in before the bed was filled randomly. Not only was my new celly able to leave an uncomfortable situation, but I really dodged a bullet.

The new prisoner, who moved in to fill another empty bed in the section, is new to prison. He is just coming to grips with the fact that he’s going to be around here a very long time, so he’s “hard-timing,” which makes things miserable for anyone he’s around.


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My new celly and I get along just fine. Our preference for sports over other TV programming goes a long way in making idle time enjoyable. Finding some common ground is helpful because our life experiences couldn’t be more different. Unlike Steve Martin in “The Jerk,” he really did grow up a poor black child. It wasn’t until he made a passing comment about me growing up wealthy that I really thought about it.

I considered challenging his observation, but first had to ask what his definition of wealthy was. It was prudent of me to do so because, by his definition, I had no doubt grown up rich.

His answer was simple but really painted a picture: “You know, food in the cupboards.”

My celly is 28 years old, has been in prison since he was 21 and has been in and out of correctional facilities since he was 13. He started doing drugs at 10 years old and a couple years later joined a gang and started selling drugs. His mother was a crack addict with six kids, so he wasn’t raised “wealthy.”

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He wasn’t complaining when he told me any of this stuff but did express concern about the tough road ahead. He’s never had a job, checking account or filed taxes.

Without touching on the prospect of an offender like this re-offending, what type of chances does he have to step into society and succeed? He has no idea how to live the proverbial normal life. Ready or not, he’ll likely be going home in less than 18 months. The prison has some programs available that address “why,” as in why one shouldn’t commit crimes, albeit with limited success.

Unfortunately the “how,” as in how to live a normal life, is relatively ignored. I can’t imagine how daunting that would be. I feel his situation is a little more unique because unlike some of the other prisoners I’ve met with similar life experience, he’s rather bright.

There are many prisoners that leave here who have almost no chance whatsoever. It feels irresponsible for the Department of Corrections to release prisoners knowing they are completely unprepared; but until our society steps up and takes prison reform seriously, these cases must be written off as an acceptable cost to the standard operating procedure.

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.


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