Column: In prison, you control what you can and not worry about the rest
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.
I was in the prison’s kitchen in my culinary arts class when three officers approached me; one told me I had a “pending disciplinary.” They escorted me out of the building.
It reminded me of a time when my employer’s security had, in my opinion, unnecessarily escorted me from the premises when my last day of work came to a close. Although I can’t remember for sure, I don’t recall there being a strip search in the coat closet on that particular instance. Even if there had been it would not have been as thorough as the one I received on this occasion.
I thought, because I had been told so, that I would not be receiving any disciplinary consequences from the incident in the yard in which I had been punched in the face. So, you could imagine my surprise when I received a “write-up” out of left field — literally left field. The disciplinary action was written by Guard Tower No. 3, which happens to be located at the end of the baseball diamond’s left field.
The write-up caused me to be removed from culinary arts. I was to be given a hearing soon, and if I were to be found guilty I would be permanently expelled from culinary arts, lose my job in education, and not be allowed into the Building Trades Program.
This would also mean I would no longer have a “program hold,” allowing me to stay in prison, and I could be sent to a county jail. It could also mean more months incarcerated compared to when I had hoped to be released, due to time cuts given for completing those programs.
Naturally, I was feeling stressed over this situation. I asked a friend about how the hearing works and what he thought my chances were of “beating my write-up”. I went to him because he has been incarcerated for quite a while and he has experience with this sort of thing.
That’s when I realized I was being quite the jerk, whining to him about my short-timer problems. This inmate was originally a 9 1/2-year “matrix” — a sentencing time guideline for a crime — but he has been here for over 20 years and will have been here for over 25 when he sees the parole board. He has no idea when or if he will ever get out.
I apologized for being so inconsiderate. He told me not to worry about it, and said his situation is a result of “his” actions and he has learned not to compare his situation with others. He was more than willing to listen and offer his knowledge as assistance, but it was his perspective I found most helpful.
I have to remember the things I can control, with my attitude being at the top of the list, and not worry about the stuff I cannot. This place is full of examples of how much worse things can be. I feel fortunate to be in that “short-timer” category.
After that little discussion, I wrote down a number of things I have going for me right now and some stuff I am thankful for. I am not going to share those things as I would feel as if I were boasting. I mention it because I think it is a worthwhile exercise for anyone. Things can always be worse, and while being incarcerated is less than ideal, I have plenty of reminders of how much worse things could be and even more things I am thankful for.
Since writing this, I had my day in court, as it were, and was found not guilty. It looks like I’ll be staying in Gunnison for the next year or so working on the Snow College courses. I’m going to be just fine, but not necessarily for those reasons. I had decided I would be OK no matter what happened and I’ve come to find that is all it boils down to.