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Beyond Bars: For some former prisoners, getting high outweighs desire to succeed

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Jun 25, 2018

What do prisoners dream about doing when they are released? Last week, I wrote about my vacation and scratching some things off my freedom list. These things are often a topic of discussion in prison. You’d expect prisoners to romanticize about food and women, and they do, but neither come close to the most vocally fantasized aspect of freedom: drugs. It would always amaze me at just how many prisoners’s number one expressed desire was to get high.

I can’t really provide a catch-all explanation of why some choose to quit and others never will. In my experience thus far, you know before the inmate gets out whether they are going back to drugs or not. I’m yet to be surprised by a parolee either way. That’s good news for the guys who have really decided not to use anymore. Unfortunately, the number of guys who make that choice are pretty low, and the reasons why others don’t quit run the spectrum.

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One life-long meth user gave me a simple explanation as to why he never plans to quit: “I love it.” He had a positive outlook on his situation, but his judgement was probably a bit off. I suspect that was due to the meth. He explained each time he went to prison, it gave his body a much needed rest and healing period. He boasted that prison helped him stay looking good and young — of which, he looked neither. I also suspect that was due to the meth. He went on to explain nothing in the world is better than that first time you get high after not having it for years, another benefit to incarceration.

I could somewhat understand the position of a guy who felt the positives of getting high outweighed the negatives. I respected that more than the guys who claimed they would “try” to stay off drugs. Those guys often found themselves high the first day as well, but the difference was the guy who hadn’t lied to himself had waited until after he met with the parole officer. I’ve seen plenty of both.

Then there’s the group I feel bad for and there’s plenty of them in prison. They might express good intentions at some time, but they really aren’t capable. Most of these guys have some sort of mental illness issue or other cognitive disadvantage. Many have never known any other life. Disabilities are a reality and just like someone’s inability to walk, some have an inability to reason affecting their judgment and decision making. We are not created equal.

There’s a number of prisoners who are just more comfortable in prison and prefer it there. I watched a guy who received an unexpected time cut fall into an immediate depressed state. He told me he didn’t want to drink, but knew he would end up doing it. He figured, “Might as well be the first day, why fight it?” He had given up on the idea of being a functional member of society a long time ago. He didn’t even want to tell his family he was getting out. He figured he could be back in before they even knew it.

A lot of prisoners have anxiety when they are getting close to leaving. Many feel the hopes of success their friends and families have for them are a burden. They don’t want to let everyone down again and they stress out knowing they will. Unfortunately, it seems the desire to get high often outweighs their desire to succeed.

People do drugs because it feels amazing! At least it does in the beginning. Eventually the “high” turns into getting back to feeling normal, or just not being sick. But definitely at first, I did drugs because it felt wonderful. I don’t believe people stay addicted to a drug after being away from drugs for years. I think what they have is a perfect knowledge of how it will feel to do the drug, and in a lot of instances that is enough to make people dismiss the consequences, even with a perfect knowledge of the consequences.

So why do some prisoners dream of healthy activities and some dream of drugs? I know I can never reach a physical euphoria equal to what could be achieved with chemicals, and I’m content knowing that. I believe the consequences I garnered were enough. Each situation is unique. Some just love drugs too much, some don’t have a hope of a better life, and others just haven’t experienced enough consequences… yet.

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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