Beyond Bars: Brian Wood

Brian Wood

Beyond Bars

I know it’s not politically correct, but I have an unpopular opinion about something, and I am going to share despite all the people who will probably get offended. I see a lot of stuff about police officers being heroes. And maybe by definition of risking one’s life in the service of the public, they would qualify; however, there are plenty of people with more dangerous jobs who get no recognition. I just can’t get on board with this blanket statement because of some of my personal experiences. In my opinion, it takes the action of an individual to become a hero.

I knew a guy who was a drug addict/alcoholic and was abusive to women. He was probably one of the most dishonest people I’d ever met. When he signed up for the police academy he explained to me how it would be the perfect job for him. He was a friend and comfortably shared his real motives with me. He figured he would have access to drugs, opportunity to cheat others, and would be able to exploit his power all while avoiding the law.

He actually got busted with one of his illicit endeavors before finishing the academy, but I don’t believe this was a case of an extreme outlier. Criminal behavior among officers — of which I think there is more than people want to admit — aside, this line of work doesn’t always attract the highest character individuals.

There’s a stereotype that exists that officers are all a bunch of angry people who were picked on in high school. They are looked at that way even more so in corrections. I don’t know what the cause, but there is a bully mentality among officers. The type of person who is drawn to the work in corrections is often the exact opposite of the type of person who would be most effective in helping the prison population.

This is the point I never hear brought up when discussing programs and ideas on how to fix corrections. The culture that exists among the staff that would have to buy-in and carry out any changes is not conducive to correction, growth and learning. There are all sorts of good-intentioned individuals in politics and society that have great ideas about how to fix corrections, but before the culture is addressed, the best ideas will continue to be wasted. Too many officers believe their job is to punish inmates.

I heard the Captain of Programming at the time say, “If it were up to me, every one of you guys would be locked down for 23 hours per day for the duration of your sentence.” This is the problem. If you believe that the job of corrections is to punish, then you are part of the problem. If you wish harm on any other human being, you are not a good person, I think by definition. Many officers were open about their disdain for prisoners.

I’m not suggesting we take justice out of the equation. I played scrabble with a convicted child molester, but that doesn’t mean I want to see him released from prison; however, there is nothing positive that comes from hating other people.

I know some police officers that are great people; I also know some prisoners that are great people. There was one corrections officer in particular who saw the good things I was doing in prison and contacted my family encouraging them to visit. This man’s whole reason for being a corrections officer was to make a positive difference. He believed in the idea of correction and because of this, he was always at odds with his co-workers and the system. He would be the first to tell you that his career has been a battle. He created a program that had a ton of promise, but as it gained traction and really started to help inmates, it drew more opposition and was utterly sabotaged.

I was very proud to be part of the solution and found great fulfillment in the work I did in the prison with the uPrep Program. I don’t have any data to back up my claims, but I said it before and I’ll say it again, that educational program was the best thing the prison had going for it in the way of correction and helping the prison population. Sadly, the uPrep program that I and many others dedicated years of full-time work to is all but dismantled. The principal down in Gunnison and the volunteers and workers under him are still fighting the good fight, but my point is, there shouldn’t be a fight.

The Us vs. Them culture in the system is probably the biggest obstacle. There are guys on both sides who blindly hate the other group. That same officer who continues to fight and try to make a difference explained to me that while I am the enemy to many of his fellow officers, he was considered a traitor. Because of his efforts to help inmates and his desire to see them succeed, he was even more hated. Well, he was a hero to me and many others — him and the principal. So forgive me, but I just don’t see how I can call some people heroes — the people who directly opposed him, and what I considered to be the common good, just because of their job title.

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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