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Beyond Bars: A friend makes a choice and goes back to prison

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Jul 30, 2018

I just received some crappy news. A guy I would call a friend, for this we’ll call him “Tim,” just went back to prison. Tim’s wife called me quite distraught and wanted to know what she should do. I suggested she get advice from a lawyer. There was no way to sugar coat the situation. He’s likely going to be doing a number of years.

Tim was on parole after doing almost two years for felony DUI and he just got another one. He is the perfect example of someone who made a choice, knowing full well the consequences. We had a conversation where he told me if he went back to pills, he knew it would be all over for him. It wasn’t lip service, he’s a smart guy. I’m pissed at him, but I’m sure not as pissed as he is at himself.

The worst part is this guy had everything going for him. I’m not even talking about his wife, kids, home, or his brand new dream truck he wanted to show off when he took me bobsledding in Park City. I’m talking about his ability. He’s a natural leader, articulate, bright, and completely capable of success. Bottom line, he was selfish. I can’t feel bad for him, but I do feel terrible for his wife.

The call from Tim’s wife was bad news, but not a complete shock. Tim had season tickets to the Jazz games and took me and a couple other guys from prison a couple times. I had spoken to the other two and we all knew something was up because he hadn’t been answering his calls or texts. I just don’t get it, but we all feel the same; he chose this.

Many people ask and more assume my experience must have made me more sympathetic for the plight of criminals. In some ways, I am and in some ways, I’m not. Tim’s a likable guy and just lost so much, and yet sympathy is not one of the things I’m feeling.

However, I do feel sympathy for another parolee who just went back to prison. We’ll call him “Bart.”

I spent quite a bit of time around Bart in prison. He was in my Building Trades class and we worked together picking up trash outside of the facility. Bart asked me several times to write about his “success story.” Bart had spent all but a few months in prison out of the last 13 years and wanted me to write about his success before he was even released. He told me that he found God and knew this time he was going to get out and stay out. Bart’s a really optimistic person, but unfortunately that isn’t enough.

Sure Bart selfishly chose to use drugs just as Tim did, but here’s where it’s different. He doesn’t have near the ability Tim does. That’s why I feel bad for Bart. I never had the heart to tell him, but he’s one of those guys I figure is doomed to a life in prison even if he has to do it on the installment plan. I like the guy, but this is the harsh reality. He is barely literate and he has never known anything different. That’s not a recipe for success, but I think his emotional intelligence hinders him even more.

When I talk about the guys that aren’t capable it’s most often a lack of emotional intelligence. They are unable to use emotional information to guide their thinking and behavior. All people are not created equal. The prison system is full of people who are destined to have a hard life in or out of prison because they are not fully equipped to make good decisions. You know the type, they can’t seem to hold a job or maintain a relationship.

In prison some of these guys were simply unlikeable, because of their social handicaps. But that’s exactly what it is, a handicap. I find myself more sympathetic for those who will never get it and am thankful that’s not my lot in life.

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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