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Behind Bars: On the eve of release, here’s the lessons Brian learned from prison

By Brian Wood, Behind Bars Columnist - | Jan 1, 2018

If you could take a break from life would you be interested? How many of us could use some time without responsibilities, time to be selfish and work on improving oneself? I’m not sure people would sign up to go to prison to accomplish this, with all the negative aspects involved, especially for four years. Nonetheless, I’m convinced this was a good experience for me.

RELATED: Behind Bars: Enjoying the last bit of time in prison before release

I spoke with another prisoner who has been down about the same time as me. He said the last four years hadn’t been so bad because of the numerous opportunities he’s had to use drugs inside the prison. I figure his chances of successfully completing parole are slim to none. In a way that’s enlightening. When I compare myself to him or others like him, it makes Utah’s discouraging recidivism rate (about 75 percent for parolees) seem not so hard to understand.

I found myself wondering what causes two people in a similar situation to move in opposite directions. It’s a generally accepted notion that serving time in prison often does more harm to an individual than good. It makes sense when you figure one’s peers and influences are the worse society has to offer. I don’t know what might have been had I not had the positive influence of my mentor Nolan in my life. He kept me connected to the outside world by visiting me every two weeks without fail. He’s been such a great example.

It was Nolan’s idea for me to start writing. He went to school for journalism and realized I had an opportunity based on my “inside” perspective to write about my observations. That peek into an unknown world is what, I suspect, readers find interesting. I’m aware that unique perspective is what landed me this job, not my writing experience, of which I had none. I didn’t think there would be enough material to produce a long term weekly column, but Nolan had me sold on the idea that sharing my story might help others; however, I think he had an alternate motive. He knew this commitment would benefit me in ways I could not comprehend.

With a little guidance, some observations, a lot of introspection, and plenty of time to put it all together I have learned some valuable truths. Many people learn these things at a very young age, but for whatever reason this wasn’t the case with me. Here’s what I learned – the hard way: Honesty is the only way, discipline is worth the rewards, and attitude is everything. There’s been other lessons, but this is the primary message I want to share with my readers.

I intend to continue writing while on parole about my experience transitioning back into the real world and about the correctional system. I figure I will have a little more freedom without some constraints I’ve had to navigate. I’ve had to walk a fine line between different audiences. There’s plenty I’ve been reticent to share about the system and this experience for fear of retaliation from the prison or other prisoners. I don’t know how much material there will be, but we’ll see.

Hopefully if all goes according to plan, when this article is published it will be my last day in prison. Whether I am able to continue writing or not, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has supported me and followed me on this journey. I want to give a special thanks to Nolan, for EVERYTHING!

Even though I have made a lot of progress I know I still have a long way to go. There is a friend of mine who likes to joke and say, “You need to work on your personality if you ever want people to like you.” I know he’s joking, at least I hope he’s joking; but either way, I know I have lots more I can work on. Hopefully, I can maintain this mindset throughout the rest of my life, because I can no longer afford the hard way.

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 25 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.


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