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Beyond Bars: First few weeks out of prison have been a 'surreal tornado'

Monday , January 22, 2018 - 12:00 AM7 comments

BRIAN WOOD, Beyond Bars Columnist

While in prison, I told myself it’s going to be nice to get a fresh start. A fresh start would be nice, but that’s not quite what I get.

You see, I made a pretty big mess of my life. I think I had almost forgotten about that mess. I forgot a lot of things, including my e-mail and Facebook passwords, so I did get a fresh start there, everywhere else though it was a different story.

Now that I’m back, I can no longer ignore the mess. I really am grateful to my mother for saving my more important mail for me; however, when I looked through the large folder she handed me, I came face to face with reality.

Beyond Bars: Post-prison reunion with son something to cherish forever

Beyond Bars: Brian Wood recounts his final moments as a state prisoner

I had no idea I owed so many people money! I knew I owed thousands for the child support that had been accruing during my incarceration, but I still have no idea why I owe the IRS. I have letter after letter from collections agencies — some I can figure out what they’re for and others I can’t. My credit has got to be horrible, especially with two foreclosures on my record. Oh, and the bank says I owe about $100,000 for those.

Well, baby steps.

First, I needed clothes and it just so happens the LDS church provides any prisoners with some things they might need when they leave prison. They had given me a voucher to take to Deseret Industries where I was afforded a small wardrobe. Next, I needed to take care of transportation. This is where my experience is atypical of many parolees.

I am fortunate to have parents who were willing and able to loan me a car. They are also letting me live at their house right now while I get on my feet, so before I talk about some of the other challenges I’ve run in to, I have to say I know I am blessed to have all the help I do and I do not take it for granted.

After spending a small fortune (to me) on reinstating my license, getting registration, and insurance, I was able to drive. Next, I tried getting a bank account. I needed a debit card, because that’s the only way I could pay for gas for the car. Turns out I owed my old bank and credit union money too, so I went to a new credit union, but they didn’t want my business either. I ended up getting a prepaid Visa card to get gas.

I also tried to get a cell phone. I went to my old provider, thinking they might want to work with me to get the money I owed them, but they weren’t interested in doing business with me — not a big surprise. A friend told me he had a prepaid phone laying around that I could use. When I went to pick it up, he handed a new phone to me along with a couple months worth of prepaid cards and a brand new memory chip. Obviously it had been purchased for me, but I didn’t call him out; I just accepted the charity.

A friend of mine described his first few weeks out of prison as a surreal tornado and I thought that description was much in line with what I have been experiencing.

I haven’t been to a restaurant, watched any TV, or contacted all the people I would like – of course, I couldn’t do that last one anyway since the prison temporarily lost my property, including my address book with names and contact info of people who had written me over the years. Thankfully it’s been located, sent to Draper, and is now ready to be picked up. There’s been other things, but the sum of it is I had not anticipated how busy I would be picking up the pieces and trying to put them together.

I can hardly imagine how difficult it is for parolees who do not have the same advantages I’ve had. Many are funneled through the halfway houses and that’s a tough road, but there are prisoners who are released without a place to live, without any money, and without any support, and to navigate that path successfully seems just about impossible.

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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