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Beyond Bars: The stigma of prison, parole

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Apr 22, 2018

So I was just leaving the Jazz game the other night and thought about the time. It was just after 9 p.m. and it was dark outside. A year before, I was locked in my cell and waiting for an officer to count me and make sure I was standing on my own two feet. I'm thankful for the opportunity to do whatever I want. I'm still on parole and am not completely out of the woods, but it has been years since I was making the decisions that earned me my timeout and feels even longer, like a lifetime ago.

However, to everyone else, my situation comes with no small bit of stigma. Just the other day when I told someone I had recently been released from prison. He said, "Well, you look like you're healthy and doing OK." It still catches me off guard, but it shouldn't.  

I know my mother was a little worried about my release from prison. She has heard the abysmal statistics. Not many people "make it" after becoming IV heroin addicts. The number is bad, like less than 5 percent. It sounds hopeless, but after spending time with hundreds of drug addicts, I realize that number does not take into account all the guys who don't want to give it up. It's not like all these people are striving for sobriety and just can't do it. Enter the case of Hollywood. 

He's a great example because it's not like he didn't know anything else or have a bunch of options. This is a guy who had all the ability in the world, but just didn't want out. He asked the parole board to give him more time and terminate his sentence rather than attempting parole, because he had no intention of obeying the guidelines of parole. Still, he was paroled and even went as far as to check in with his parole officer the first day, just to let the officer know that was the last time they were going to meet under those circumstances. He said the parole officer thanked him for the heads up and told him he'd catch him later -- which he did. Last I heard, Hollywood had been released and sent back three times during my incarceration. 

The fact is the majority of guys I talked to, at least in the prison's drug offender housing, had every intention of going back to drugs. Not all of them planned on going back to prison, but it's a good bet that's where they will end up. There or dead. Many other prisoners were just as clueless. They would claim they were not going back to that life, but their actions said otherwise. And then there's the sad cases, people who really don't know any other way or those who just can't function in society -- be it from mental illness or a lack of intellect. 

Before my release, I had heard so many stories about how hard parole was, but I'm just now realizing what was so hard for these guys. Real life was hard, not the fact that they had to go to some classes, pay fines, and follow some extra rules. I guess if you count full-time employment as a condition of parole, then parole is hard. There are so many prisoners who had never had a real job, never paid taxes, and never gone without using drugs. It's just a sad reality.

It would be sadder if these prisoners were making plans to try and be successful, but things were just falling apart, but that's rarely the case. Usually, the plan consisted of getting out, then getting high. However, sometimes it's worse. I knew a guy whose plan was to save up enough money in prison to buy a gun (he called it a burner) the day he got out. He said that was all he needed to get anything he wanted. He planned on robbing people the very first day he got out. He was terminating his sentence and was not required to complete parole. I can see how parole would seem almost impossible with a lifestyle like that.

I had heard horror stories about parole officers making life hard for their parolees. Of course, that was in prison -- a place full of the failed cases. The parolees I've spoken to outside of prison (ones obeying the rules) have not had any real problems. So far, so good.

Brian Wood, of Layton, pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He served four years in the Utah State prison system before being released on parole on Jan. 2, 2018.


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