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Beyond Bars: Doing everything I can to stay on track while on parole

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Jan 29, 2018

The Saturday before I left prison, an officer pulled me aside and shared a little sentiment. He told me he expects to see 99 percent of the prisoners who get released back again. I told him I think that number is a little high. He paused for a second and then simply said, “Nope, it’s not.”

He told me I was the other 1 percent, and that he would be shocked to see me in prison again. He went on to say I was the type of inmate who makes him proud to call himself a corrections officer.

I am confident I will not break any rules that have the potential to get me sent back to prison. Unfortunately, that’s not the only way to get sent back. I bring this up now, not to be cynical, but because a parolee I know failed a drug test, and he failed without having taken any drugs. I know this can happen. I have experienced it firsthand. I would not be a felon now nor would I have ever gone to prison had it not been for what’s called a “false positive.” It’s an ugly reality in our imperfect system.

When I would get tested in prison, I would be sick for days after I gave a sample. I would jump at the sound of any radio. I imagine I have some sort of PTSD as a result of that experience.

Sometimes these “false positives” are caused by ingesting other substances and sometimes they are not. To protect oneself from the former, a parolee should do his/her homework in finding out anything and everything that could possibly trigger these occurrences. There are many other foods, medications, and chemicals that can cause one to fail a drug test. Apparently this friend of mine did not see the Seinfeld episode that explained how poppy seeds can give a false positive for opiates, because he did have a poppy seed bagel and he did fail for opiates.

Before anyone rolls their eyes, I want to tell you about this parolee. He was a drinker, not a drug user before prison. In prison, he wasn’t just a model inmate, he went above and beyond. He worked with Zero Fatalities to promote awareness about drunk driving, and he would talk to youth panels visiting the prison. I observed his high character and made a point to befriend him, partly because I had been tasked with recommending a parolee for a pilot program to assist in their transition with housing and work. The program wasn’t for everyone; its goal was to help the “good people” I had talked about in previous columns — those who I believed were most deserving of a second chance based on the real changes they had made. He ended up being the first of only two candidates. I would bet my own freedom on the fact he’s telling the truth.

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A friend of mine asked me how it feels to be free and I responded, “Parole feels pretty awesome.” The knowledge I am at the mercy of an imperfect system triggered this answer and that same knowledge keeps me on my toes. I will make sure to watch everything I come in contact with — though in some instances, that isn’t enough. It’s the cost of doing business. It’s what happens when you break the law and put your freedom in someone else’s hands. I don’t mean to sound like a downer, it still feels pretty spectacular to be on parole!

I wrote this before finding out the results. It turns out the lab results came back clean. The parolee in question is in the clear, for now.

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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