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Behind Bars: Most inmates don’t dwell on the overwhelming ugliness of prison

By Brian Wood/Behind Bars Columnist - | Jan 23, 2017

The other day a prisoner, new to our section, saw me, called out my name and walked over to me. I figured he knew me from these articles, but then he gave me his name and asked if I remembered him. I didn’t.

He told me his mom used to clean my home. Last time I saw him, he looked more like a kid. I remembered and then said, “What the heck are you doing here?”

He told me his mom has cancer, and it is terminal. As a result she’s had to shut down her house-cleaning business. He said his family had been evicted from their home in Clearfield and proceeded to explain how he started selling drugs to take care of his mother and siblings. He was able to pay for first and last month’s rent for a new apartment for his family.


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He seemed proud of that, but said he was a horrible drug dealer since he wasn’t even in business two months before he got busted.

Obviously, it was the wrong choice. He doesn’t have a lot of time to do, but he’ll probably be in here just long enough to miss the rest of his mom’s life. I told some friends this story when they were visiting, and one of them said it was like a contemporary version of Les Miserables.

Many prisoners knew each other before coming to prison, but for me, I’ve only met one that I knew before coming here — and I only knew that guy from the drug scene. I’ve hear all sorts of stories in prison about the ugly side of life, but this prisoner’s story hit closer to home, probably because I knew him and his mother before. It was sad to hear.

Most stories I hear from prisoners I take with a grain of salt. Prisoners often minimize their behavior and sometimes just outright lie about it. I’ll give an example: I know a prisoner that tells everyone he is here because he, “got a girl pregnant a couple months away from her 18th birthday.” However, a few months after he told me that, he was excited to have received a letter from his “baby’s momma” because she had just turned 18, and the state could no longer prevent them from communicating.


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His story, quite literally, doesn’t add up, and not because of varying definitions of “a couple months.” When he received the letter he had already been incarcerated for almost 5 years.

I’ve been exposed to so many sad stories that I don’t think my brain fully processes all that I’ve heard. I rarely let them play on my emotions. I guess you could describe that as becoming callous.

There’s another side to it, and I think it is related. Not only do I not get emotionally invested in all the sad stories that prisoners will tell (many claiming innocence), but I also try not to imagine the harm others inmates have inflicted. It would be difficult to interact with certain people on a daily basis if I put too much thought into what they have done.

For the most part, prisoners know why others are here. I’m not saying we don’t judge each other because that would be far from the truth. We can’t dwell on all the ugliness because there’s too much to go around.

With so many examples of victims’ lives ruined by the sins of a child molester or of prisoners’ lives ruined by an overzealous prosecutor, the gloom in prison could be overwhelming if you let it.

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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