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Behind Bars: Not a lot of options for frequent flyer inmates

By Brian Wood - | May 8, 2016

There’s a saying: In the spoon by noon and back in the pen by ten.

“In the spoon” is referring to the use of drugs, intravenously. That is because the most common utensil used to mix IV drugs in with water before being drawn into a syringe is a spoon. I imagine the general public would be shocked at how often the same repeat offenders come in and out of prison.

It seems every week I am posed the question, “Guess who’s back?” I’ve been here long enough to see lots of inmates leave the facility just to be sent back, either from violating their parole, or being convicted of new charges.

“I made it two years this time” is a boast I’ve heard a prisoner make. The implication being that he was proud he made it that long before coming back. I also know an inmate who has spent 22 of the last 25 years “down” or locked up, and his longest sentence was less than 4 years. You do the math.

Sadly, the revolving door aspect of prison is not an uncommon occurrence. The majority of the prisoners here have made more than one trip to this institution alone, not counting other state’s or federal prison. “Is this your first time down?” is a frequently asked question with a not so subtle assumption, you will be back. Unfortunately statistics side with this seemingly cynical attitude, as over 80 percent of us will be released and then locked up again at some point in our lives.

I’ve heard wagers made between inmates on the length of time it will take for another inmate to return.

There are prisoners who are released and make it less than a week before they pick up new charges, and while often none of us are surprised, you might hear someone say, “Wow, that was fast!”

There are prisoners that claim they are never coming back to prison and will never participate in the actions that landed them here again. Other prisoners say they are never coming back, but plan to break the law just every so often. They believe they can use drugs casually or just smoke weed and not do the harder stuff. Another group consists of the prisoners who plan on going back to what they were doing, claiming something like, “I’m a functional addict” or “getting caught was a fluke.” Each of these groups is filled with prisoners who get out and come right back, some more than others, of course.

It’s the final group that is the most interesting to me. These criminals are just waiting for their chance to “hit the street” and go back to a life of crime, consequences be damned. They know it’s just a matter of time before they get caught, and evidently, they are OK with the situation. I know a guy who plans to run from the halfway house while on parole as soon as he gets the chance. He says he’ll head to the Florida Keys and party till his money runs out. After that he’ll come back to Utah, turn himself in, and finish his sentence.

I think the allure of drugs and a criminal lifestyle often overpowers an ex-con’s desire to “live a normal life” because that life is often sub-par and they know an easier way. Often the biggest repeat offenders have burned all their bridges in regular society and this lifestyle is all they know. I’m speaking more about drug use than other criminal activity as that is what I am more familiar with.

It’s not often you hear prisoners say, “When I get out, I’m going to get a job flipping burgers, live paycheck to paycheck in a small apartment, work hard to get off parole, and that will be good enough for me.” But that’s the reality for many, that or criminal activity. I don’t have the answers but I know those options stink.

One of my readers with whom I correspond, wrote about a young man she sponsors who was recently released from prison. He has transitioned out of the halfway house and is living in what she described as a “slum apartment”. She mentioned he “Is still bug bombing to get rid of bed bugs.” She said his positive attitude and trust in God helps him endure, but I wonder where he’d be without the love and support of someone like her. She is heavily involved in her church, its food bank, and other service activities. It’s people like her who will help these mostly-forgotten and shunned members of society to break free from this viscous cycle.


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