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Beyond Bars: Incarceration isn’t the worst loss of freedom

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Aug 6, 2018

I’ve run across so many people who feel going to prison is just about the worst thing that can happen to someone. I personally don’t see it that way. Of course, I can only go off of my own experiences. In the case of drug addicts, which is a large portion of the prison population, if the time in prison only serves as time they are not out being horrible members of society, then it still can be a net positive. But it can also be an opportunity.

I’ve had numerous people ask me what can be done for a loved one who is an out of control addict. I’m talking about the extreme cases, and every situation is different, but personally I’d rather have a family member locked up for their own sake, but even more so if they are hurting other people.

I look at losing one’s freedom similar to a child getting grounded or a teen getting their cell phone taken away. They’ll live, most likely, and it just might be good for them. I was fortunate to be sent to Gunnison rather than Draper for my time. Both have programs and educational opportunities for inmates, but the culture in Gunnison is much more conducive to personal growth. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the high schools at the respective facilities.

In Utah, prisoners are tested in reading, math and English. The average scores show education among inmates at a fifth-grade level. In Gunnison, students are encouraged to earn their high school diploma and be able to test at a high school level. In Draper, not so much. I worked in the education department and was able to see prisoners’ lives changing for the better as a result of them being pushed to receive an education. I watched an old man’s confidence radiate into all aspects of his life as he shed the embarrassment of not being able to read.

Basic education is life changing. I don’t imagine most prisoners would voluntarily trade their time for an education, but if they are going to be locked up either way, I can’t think of a better way to use that time. Thanks to a dedicated staff (many of whom are prisoners) and especially one very inspiring principal, the Central Utah Correctional Facility High School has helped raise the average test scores in Gunnison above an eighth-grade level.

It’s really quite an accomplishment. After spending some time on social media and reading thousands of comments, I’m convinced the fifth-grade level of education can’t be much below the general public’s. I figure the makers of the TV show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” must have done some research when deciding on what grade to use.

Now, I’m not suggesting the world would be a better place if we forced the general public to get an education. Though, I do think we should lock up those individuals who don’t know the difference between your and you’re. You know, just until they have learned to use them correctly; we wouldn’t even require them to identify and name the different parts of speech involved. I’m kidding … mostly.

Seriously though, there are much worse things that happen to people than going to prison. Addiction is one of those things. I’d pick the loss of freedom from being in prison over the loss of freedom due to being addicted in a heartbeat.


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