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Getting out of state prison is no celebration if you’re heading to county jail

By Brian Wood, Behind Bars - | Jun 13, 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.

Every evening after the police come through for “count” — an accounting of every prisoner, in which their ID’s are checked against their faces and bed numbers, done twice a day — the lights are turned off and there is a short window of time in which inmates names might be called for transport the next day.

Many breathe a sigh of relief when this time passes without hearing their name. Often prisoners need to be transported for medical reasons or for court, but sometimes they are just told to “roll-up”. Generally speaking, it’s never a good thing if your name is being called over the speaker to go talk to the police; however, at this particular time it is either the best news you can get or just about the worst.

If you were expecting to hear your name, it means you are going home and everyone cheers for you. If you aren’t heading home (and you are told this), it likely means you are headed to a county jail. With the eventual closing of the prison in Draper, more and more inmates are being housed in county jails all over the state. Inmates are not told where they are going but know it is “county” because they are told to get rid of their belongings.

When inmates are sent to county jails, they are only able to take a few things like soap and toothpaste with them. At an earning rate of $0.40 an hour and exorbitant commissary prices, it’s not at all a stretch to say many prisoners have taken years to acquire the things they have. Losing one’s possessions is the first punch in the gut, but definitely not the hardest.

I had a cellie who was told to “roll up” one night and he just kept saying, “I think I’m going to throw up”. He didn’t throw up that night, though he didn’t sleep either. His world had just been turned upside-down. Not only had he gotten comfortable where he was, as most of us do to a degree in here, but he had one of the best jobs in prison.

His time was about to get a lot harder. I won’t go into all the reasons time in the prison is superior to county jail time — suffice to say, the quality of life is a night and day difference. His order to move came as an extra big surprise as he thought his federal detainer was keeping him in the prison. I felt horrible for him, especially after learning his eventual fate. He was sent to Davis County Jail, which along with Weber County Jail, are indisputably considered the two worst places a state inmate can end up.

There are some jails, while not having all of the amenities of prison, inmates will claim are not so bad. Many inmates are not willing to take that chance and will try to get a “hold” put on them to prevent them from being sent elsewhere. Health holds and mental health holds are the most common. I imagine the mental health cases being treated in the prison are drastically inflated due to prisoners’ fear of being “countied-out”. There are also holds from being in the substance abuse program or enrolled in Snow College. Still, there are no guarantees one’s name isn’t going to be called on any given evening.

My friend, who is in Culinary Arts with me, was recently called out to the “bubble” (this is the shatter-proof, one-way window enclosed station the guards work in) and told to “roll up.” He was sent to Lone Peak in Draper despite having a “hold.” Fortunately, staff here worked to get him back as soon as they found out he had been moved.

Eventually he did make it back, but not without a little trouble. When he came back to Gunnison, he was sent to the other building, and needed to request to get back to his housing unit. He was then moved again to his housing unit, but to a different section. After more red tape and some paperwork he finally made it back. He lost much of his stuff, and it was really stressful; however, he is grateful to be back.

Many inmates are not so lucky.


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