Behind Bars: Going to jail the 'best thing for me' after being homeless

Monday , September 11, 2017 - 6:00 AM

BRIAN WOOD, Behind Bars columnist

I’ve seen a lot of stuff on TV about Operation Rio Grande. Apparently there is some controversy on the subject. Well, I’ve been homeless and have some thoughts on the matter. Even though I never stayed in that particular area I have a pretty good idea of what was going on there. When I was homeless I was addicted to drugs, and while I didn’t think so at the time, going to jail was the best thing for me.

In my experience, quitting drugs for an “addict” takes two things: time away from the drug and a desire to quit greater than the desire to want to use. I say time away, because while you are addicted to drugs your brain is hijacked. This is not the case with all drugs, but this is how it works with heroin, which is the drug I was addicted to and the big problem in that area.

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I’ve explained this in detail before, but I’ll give a short comparison. If you were in the ocean and hit by a big wave that knocked the wind out of you and pushed you underwater, you don’t make a decision whether or not your next move is to try and get oxygen into your lungs. It’s the same thing for someone who is addicted to drugs. There’s no decision being made, just reaction to a survival instinct.

Over time without the drug, the brain rights itself and the physical dependence ceases to exist. At this point the challenge becomes whether or not a person really wants to quit drugs, but at least there is opportunity for a decision to be made. Some time in jail, away from the drug, can give a person this opportunity – to weigh the pros and cons.

The first few times I went to jail I didn’t get the time away because I had the ability to bail out, which I usually did within hours of my arrival. On one of my arrests the judge set my bail at $55,000, and it took six weeks for some associates of mine to come up with the requisite $5,500 bond. At that point I had already gone through withdrawals and was no longer hopelessly addicted; however, I was still homeless and jobless and my reality without drugs did not appeal to me more than with drugs, so I started using again.

Drugs definitely have an appeal to those who have used them. When the craving to use outweighs the reasons not to use, relapse occurs. It’s simple. This appeal or desire to use diminishes with time away, but the harsh truth is some people will never make it to a point in life where the benefits of not using drugs will be greater than the appeal to use them.

I’m thankful the prosecuting attorney made the argument to save me from myself by revoking my bail. I don’t know how many more charges I would have racked up. Perhaps I would be dead. I spent a few months in jail then was released into drug court. It wasn’t until I was halfway through drug court and starting to get back on my feet when I really thought I might prefer a life without drugs.

I’ve heard many of the people arrested during Operation Rio Grande are being sent to drug court. Drug court uses the threat of incarceration to encourage people to make the decision not to use drugs. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative, or at least it was for me.

I’m aware not everyone who is homeless is using drugs, but I believe it’s likely a majority. It’s my understanding only the people who are breaking the law (possessing drugs) are being arrested. Others are being encouraged to go to treatment, while some are being identified with mental health issues with other care needs. No solution is perfect and I don’t know anything about the costs of such an endeavor, but I’m for helping others. If you’re at a point in your life where you don’t have a roof over your head, you could probably use some help whether you want it or not.

Brian Wood, formerly of Layton, is an inmate at the Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. He pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He could spend up to 25 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.

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