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Beyond Bars: Adapting to the pace of life outside of prison

Monday , February 12, 2018 - 5:15 AM2 comments

BRIAN WOOD, Beyond Bars columnist

Have you ever seen footage of wildebeest crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River in Africa? Thousands have to cross while the crocodiles just lie in wait. It’s the same thing for the seals who have to swim across Coffin Bay, where the highest concentration of great white sharks in the world can be found.

I recall watching these nature shows and thinking that sure is a raw deal for the animals who are just trying to get somewhere; however, when I drove on the freeway for the first time after four years of prison, I figured we don’t have it any different. We have better odds, but it’s still just a numbers game.

Beyond Bars: Hitting the ground running with a job after prison

I remember hearing the traffic report on the morning of my first day of work and the news was reporting six accidents. Vehicle travel is dangerous. It took me a couple weeks to adjust and not think about how hazardous it is all the time. There’s been other things I hadn’t realized would take some adjustment. Like, I keep forgetting to zip up my pants. In prison pants don’t have zippers, and no matter how much I try to remember, I catch myself at least once a day with my fly down.

Having a cell phone has been a major adjustment and technology in general. I can’t imagine what it will be like for guys I know in prison who have never even seen a cell phone, except for on TV. I was only away from all of it for four years and I feel pretty far behind. I am not used to having so many people contact me in so many different ways. I am doing a poor job of keeping track of it all. I was having trouble explaining how I was feeling to a friend. I think I described myself as scatterbrained all the time and consistently frustrated. I think I’ve identified it now: it’s called stress.

Prisoners often credit “clean living” as to why serving time seems to preserve one’s health. I have a different theory: for most of the prison population, incarceration is a low-stress experience. This is because, for the most part, your needs are met, you have little responsibility, and your time is your own. It’s that way by design — probably cuts down on violence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take freedom any day, but with that said, I am still trying to adapt to the pace of life on the outside.

The other day I spent an hour in Target picking out hair product and razor blade refills. I figured a grocery store would be a culture shock, and it was. I can walk into a store and pick anything I want, and then again, I can’t. The sheer number of choices are a bit overwhelming and then you factor in my new appreciation for the value of a dollar, and before you know it I’ve wasted my most precious resource, time. But time is what it’s going to take to feel normal again.

There’s one more bit of culture shock I’ve experienced. Since leaving prison I have had countless people reach out to let me know they are rooting for me. It’s really quite prodigious how supportive and incredibly nice everyone has been. The acts of kindness and the well wishes of strangers have given me a new faith in humanity – a faith I had not realized was lost. I want to say to all those people, “Thank you!”

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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