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Column: The benefits and amenities of one prison housing unit over another

By Brian Wood - | Jul 25, 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.

I have been asked a number of times, "What's the difference between the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison and the prison in Draper?"

The one thing that struck me immediately upon arrival in Gunnison from Draper is how much cleaner it is here. Other than that I'm not really the best person to ask as I haven't spent much time in Draper, and I haven't spent my time in general population there. I have been told Gunnison is a more program-centric facility, overall has less of a prison feel than Draper. However none of that is first-hand knowledge.

What really amazes me is how different the prison experience can be from one housing unit to another inside the same facility. I spent a year in the residential substance abuse treatment housing -- prisoners are forced to be there and the whole arrangement is super uncomfortable by design, so I can't really draw a comprehensive comparison with other settings.

After living there I went to the STRIVE program, which is considered privileged housing, but have since been sent to general population, or "Pop." STRIVE had some extra amenities and is dorm living, as opposed to cells like my current housing unit, but so much more than that is the difference between STRIVE and Pop. There are pros and cons to both, and even the opinions on what is a pro versus a con varies greatly between prisoners.

Each housing and even section has its own economy that differs depending on the amount of money prisoners have. For example, in Pop, I can usually sell my tray (breakfast, lunch or dinner) for a "lope" or stamped envelope, the standard form of currency in prison.

In STRIVE, the trays had absolutely no value whatsoever, because many of the prisoners do not eat "state food," resulting in there being stacks of trays thrown away at each meal. Because most of the prisoners in STRIVE work, they can afford other/better food.

In STRIVE, prisoners are required to maintain a 40-hour productive schedule during the week. The day starts with a mandatory meeting at 6 a.m. Most of the prisoners have prison jobs. Residents are also required to take additional classes offered online in STRIVE, and there are numerous extra rules to follow.

For many prisoners this sounds like hell. I'm pretty sure the hurdles were designed to weed out those unwilling to put forth the extra effort or those who don't like a more structured environment. You know what, it works.

In Pop, prisoners are not required to do anything, they are simply being warehoused. With nothing for many of these prisoners to occupy their time, and without going into any detail whatsoever, it seems prisoners here create a bit more mischief.

There's generally more politics and more excitement. It's kind of a rule anywhere in prison that one stays, "laced-up" (wear tied-up shoes rather than flip flops) just in case "s*** pops off" (a fight breaks out), and I've noticed a much stricter adherence to this rule in Pop.

There's a lot more bravado, more quarreling, and it's quite a bit louder. I know guys who wouldn't have it any other way; they think it's more fun like this. I've heard Pop described as being the cooler place. I suppose the prisoners with that opinion are probably the same as those who consider gathering more drug connections to be a benefit in coming to prison. Unfortunately, that's quite a few.

The housing units definitely attract different personality types and therefore have a completely different feel.

If you hadn't guessed, I preferred living in STRIVE. The added amenities are nice, but I personally felt the best part was how much more positive the atmosphere seemed to be.

I guess that makes me less cool. So be it.

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