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Make the most of your time inside, but don’t bite off more than you can chew

By Brian Wood, Behind Bars - | Mar 6, 2016

While trying to take advantage of every possible opportunity here, I found myself stretched a little too thin. Between culinary school, my continued work in the education department, writing, and my other classes, I had bitten off more than I could chew. When you think about possible issues and stressors in prison, I doubt not having enough time normally makes the list, but that's exactly the predicament I found myself in. I approached a friend and mentor for advice. We discussed all that was on my plate, and afterwards it was clear where I could lighten my load.

A group of inmate students here are following along with a Stanford computer course. It is a 5 credit hour course, which translates to 15 hours a week of time spent on the class. I had started this course and was struggling to keep up as I was unable to attend labs and had no time to dedicate to studying or homework.

My friend reasoned that I could likely forge ahead and climb the ladder, but asked what was next? Was this going to be a career path? He suggested that once I reached the top of the wall I would likely realize it was the wrong wall. I'm sure he's not the first one to use this analogy, but I hadn't heard it and it made a lot of sense.

I didn't want to be a quitter, but really had no strong reason to continue on. I knew I was getting a bargain on this college course. I was trying to make the most of my time here, but I had hit my limit. I think we often do things without carefully weighing the pros and cons.

With a little more counseling I decided I could better take advantage of the opportunities that mattered more to me, especially if I wasn't stressed and tired. Quality of life also played a role in my decision. I wasn't enjoying the computer course and it was unnecessarily causing me anxiety. After a careful, but short analysis I dropped the class, and I feel a weight has been lifted.

I decided to really look at the rest of the way I spend my time, because after all that is the most precious resource of all. The culinary arts schooling I am involved in certainly passes the enjoyment test, and I believe it has the potential to provide me with a richer and fuller (no pun intended) life. I've also discovered the therapeutic benefits of putting one's thoughts on paper and I'd recommend it to anyone whether or not it will published.

Moving forward, I hope to avoid getting caught up in simply moving from one task to another and not stopping to think if what I'm doing is what I want to be doing. Prison has given me a unique opportunity to be somewhat selfish, as I don't have a lot of responsibilities except for the ones I choose to take on. That's a luxury most people don't have. In real life, people often have exigent circumstances as to why they do things they don't want to do, like continue in a dead-end job to survive or spend their life in a bad relationship out of loyalty. I've found that evaluating how I have been spending my time, even in prison, has been quite thought provoking for me and a rewarding exercise.

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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