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Behind Bars: Work day provides a taste of freedom

By Brian Wood, Behind Bars Columnist - | Jan 1, 2017

I close my eyes letting the warm water pout over my head, drowning out all other sound. I pretend I’m showering in the privacy of my own home rather than mere feet from the prisoners in the “Dayroom.” I started doing this my first week in prison and still occasionally do so, though less and less as time goes by.

Today I needed no such fantasy.

I left the prison today. I felt elated as I walked beyond the barbed wire that has served as a boundary to my world for the last couple of years. It was exhilarating to ride in a vehicle without shackles binding my wrists and ankles. I was even able to roll down the window and feel the wind on my face. The highlight of my day was probably when I was able to sit down and take it all in as I ate an apple under a tree…. a tree.

RELATED: The more time I spend in prison, the more I appreciate what I have

Of course, I had to come back to prison when the work day was over. This was all part of a volunteer job I was fortunate enough to be selected for. At the prison in Draper there are a number of off-site jobs, prisoners are able to do, but in Gunnison this is the only one. And right now, there are only two of us and it’s only on Wednesdays. It’s perfect for me because I can still work in the education department and do the Snow College building trades program.

I’m a Sanitization Specialist at White Hills outside of Mayfield… or a trash picker at the dump if you want to be a jerk about it. The job is simple but not easy. We walk outside the dump and pick up all the debris that has blown beyond the fence line.

In the first five minutes, I came across an inflated sheep and cracked a joke to the officers about even their blow-up dolls being sheep in this rural community. The officer picked it up to investigate and I was quite surprised to see it really was the novelty item I had joked about, complete with lipstick on its face.

I’m sure I’m going to see all sorts of things. Close to the fence there’s quite a variety, but as you get further from the dump it’s really just a bunch of plastic bags, or “desert ghosts,” as pilots refer to them. The proprietor at White Hills gave us of that factoid, saying they can fly miles into the air.

The terrain is a bunch of steep hills and valleys which had a couple benefits. I could stand at the top of a hill and get a great view of the wide open space, and by the end of the day I had received a decent workout. Most bags can be found on the hillsides stuck to all sorts of thorny bushes. They have been sun baked and tangled in the thistles, so it’s a chore to extricate them as they shred easily.

The mud in the valleys made it difficult to maneuver and made our bags heavy as it had become one with the cardboard buried within it. I imagine as we work into the winter months the mud will be less of a problem, but the cold will bring other challenges.

All in all the taste of freedom was worth the blisters and back-ache. I’m sure when I’m free I won’t look forward to a day of hard labor in the great outdoors, but I imagine this whole experience will help me take less for granted.


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