I'm officially off parole. Not being able to travel outside the state of Utah without asking permission or not being allowed to set foot in an establishment whose chief item of sale is alcohol was inconvenient, but not really a big deal. The best part about being off parole is no longer having 20 more years of prison hanging over my head.

In Utah, prisoners are sentenced to an indeterminate amount of time. I was sentenced to one to 25 years. That was the number we arrived at when my judge ran a couple of my zero to five year third-degree felony sentences consecutively with my one to 15 year second-degree felony sentences. In prison, this is referred to as "ran bowlegged." This not only changes when one's charges are set to expire but affects the "matrix" or formula for the recommended time an offender should spend in prison.

For example, a prisoner's recommended time to serve will fall someplace on a table based on history (a point system based on age, previous charges and incarceration history), type of crime (people, property, sexual, death) and severity (first-, second-, third-degree felony). After that number is found for the most serious crime, each subsequent crime has a recommended amount of time at either 10% or 40%—based on whether or not it is to be run concurrent or consecutive, respectively.

When my nine felonies were tallied along with my history, the recommendation was five years with my last charge due to expire in 2039. I ended up doing about a week shy of four years after time cuts and finished parole in 15 months.

My best friend in high school has been in and out of prison since 2007. He will parole for the fourth time on his original one to 15 year sentence next month. After seeing him serve most of his 15 years despite being paroled after the first 3 1/2, I knew parole was not the same as freedom. At any time during parole, it can all be taken away.

I finally feel free — free of this nightmare I put myself through. I started taking prescription opioids nearly 13 years ago. I was an addict for less than half of those years but have been dealing with the consequences for the rest. All of that stuff is in the past now. I feel like a new chapter in my life is just starting.

The other day I decided to drive down to St. George for some work opportunities. I stopped for gas at sunset in the middle of nowhere. As I was filling up I looked at my car with the mountains, pink sky and blue clouds in the background and this great sense of exhilaration washed over me. I was not yet off parole, but here I was watching a beautiful sunset, all by myself.

A few people knew I was headed south, but I relished the idea that nobody else quite knew where I was. It's hard to explain, but after years of being counted twice daily and cameras recording my every move, there are times where I am overwhelmed with appreciation for my freedom. I took a picture to capture the moment and I look forward to many more now that I am officially free.

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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