Grateful for the prison’s high school, even if I thought I graduated years ago
When I first came to Gunnison, I was told I was not a high school graduate. I informed them it had to be a mistake, and I supplied the school with my Weber State transcript, which included the date when I earned my associate’s degree. Still the official statewide system showed I was short of obtaining a high school diploma. I wondered how it could be.
I was kicked out of Northridge High School, officially, for insubordination (I refused to give a teacher a water bottle I was given at the career fair), and unofficially, for missing too much school. My parents had given me special permission to check myself out of school as long as I kept my grades up, which I did.
So, although the absences were excused, my attendance was abysmal. The vice principal told me he did not like me and that I had pushed the envelope for too long. That was it; I was expelled from all Davis County Schools except one.
Mountain High in Kaysville, an alternative high school for the behaviorally challenged, was my next stop. There, it was presented to me that with my grades being what they were I could go to college early — possibly even on a scholarship — so I went that route.
Apparently, I wasn’t paying all that much attention (story of my life), because I was supposed to return to the high school upon finishing my college courses and submit them as concurrent enrollment credits, which I did not do. Consequently, I never did graduate from Mountain High as I thought I had.
Since discovering this, I have finished high school here in prison. There’s a graduation ceremony this month with caps, gowns and the whole nine. Prisoners can have their family and friends attend if they would like. I didn’t invite anyone, as I can’t say I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment with it being something I thought I had already done 15 years ago. Still, I am glad I could get it done.
I am going to attend the graduation ceremony because my friend Patrick, who also does not have friends or family attending, asked me to be there with him. Patrick was asked to speak at graduation, because he is a perfect example of what the high school here — Central Utah Academy (CUA)– is trying to accomplish.
Patrick is in his 50s and has been to prison several times for drug-related charges. CUA presented him the opportunity to get his high school diploma, and he jumped in with both feet. I watched him work and study for hours each day. I saw his confidence grow as he chipped away at his 18.5 credit deficiency, a quarter of a credit at a time.
I witnessed a change in his mood and an added bounce in his step when, with a little help, he finally started understanding math. Before, he would see numbers and just get frustrated. With his grasp of the English language also improving, he would catch himself speaking improperly and rephrase his comments. Before this opportunity, he had never attained this basic level of education, which is the story for many inmates.
The fact is there is a huge population of inmates who do not have a functioning, high school-level education. Here in Gunnison, a third of the inmates are still non-graduates. And even among those inmates who have received diplomas, half are still testing below a high school level. CUA provides these prisoners an opportunity to gain a basic education, which gives them a much better chance to reintegrate into society.
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.