In prison, inmates are repeatedly asked by their peers what they were sent to prison for. I heard numerous accounts that just didn’t add up. When I got out and gained access to the internet, I looked up a couple dozen such cases just to confirm my gut instincts. Low and behold, only one prisoner had given me a story even remotely consistent to Google’s version of events.
In other words, he was the only one of the lot who had not been convicted of sexual related charges. It’s usually only sex offenders who fabricate completely different charges, but many other prisoners give excuses for their behavior and play up their role as victims.
My first cellie in prison was a great example of what not to say. When he told me his story, I was utterly repulsed by his complete lack of accountability. This guy had gotten drunk, stolen a car, and wrecked it — killing his fiancé. The way he explained it to me is it could not have been his fault, because he was an excellent drunk driver. He was sure she had done something to cause the wreck, but couldn’t say what because he was blackout drunk. And to top it off, he shared with me how unfair it was that he had to be in prison and not her — because she was dead. In my head I was screaming, “Do you even hear yourself?” However, I said nothing then, nor did I ever engage him in a full conversation again.
I had another cellie who had similar denial issues. He was a nightmare to live with, but I sometimes felt bad for him because, mentally, he was quite slow. He had an excuse for everything, like how his previous record, an assault on his mother, was an accident. He said he slammed a grocery bag full of licorice on a table and the bag broke and the licorice flew out and broke her nose. The first mitigating circumstance he wanted me to understand was that his mother was always telling him “no,” and since he was 40 years old, he should not be told what to do. (He lived at home and was unemployed.)
But, back to the assault — I mean, accident: His mother had hid his PlayStation cord and told him he had to do his chores, so naturally he got really angry. The other thing he wanted me to know was the licorice would have never hit her in the face except she was in a wheelchair and her face was an even height as the table.
It got worse from there as he tried to make me understand how it was her fault he ended up pushing his mother out of her wheelchair and hiding her cell phone. He was just getting his stolen property and making sure she didn’t call the police for something she started. You just can’t make this stuff up. In an effort to help the dummy, I gave him some advice. I looked him straight in the eyes and told him, “Never tell another living soul that story.”
So many prisoners’s stories were also filled with excuses. My dad taught me a trick in math, that can be applied here and with many things in life. When you take things to the extreme, it makes things more obvious. I can thank these old cellies for helping me see what a turn off it is to blame outside forces for one’s actions. Their examples helped me take responsibility for what led me to prison.
Prison was a unique experience, full of people displaying negative personality traits to an extreme level. As I reflect on the prisoners who exhibited the worst traits, I am thankful for all they could teach me. But probably I’m even more thankful I no longer have to be around them.
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.