BOUNTIFUL — Randy was arrested for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and aggravated robbery. He is an inmate at the Utah State Prison, and said a lot of things led up to the bad choices he made, including being a heroin addict. His worst mistake was not listening to his parents, his wife, his sisters, and his friends. He is now ashamed of what he has done and the people he has hurt.
Four inmates from the Utah State Prison participating in the Choices program spoke to the St. Olaf youth group Oct. 18, about the choices they made and the crimes they committed, the consequences they faced, and what life in prison is like. The inmates spoke of the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol, getting a good education, listening to their parents, and not giving in to peer pressure. Choices is a program within the Department of Corrections in which minimum security inmates speak to youth groups, mostly at-risk youth in detention facilities, to warn them of the consequences of their bad choices.
"I got involved in white supremacy, gangs, drugs, extortion, racketeering, and violent behavior in Arizona," said Randy. "I entered prison when I was 17 years old. When I transferred to the Utah prison, I started another white supremacy group. I spent 11 years in maximum security, which is a 23-hour-a-day lock down. The prison system is flooded with gangs and breeds hatred, violence, and volatile behavior.
"Once you start making bad choices, it spirals and you can’t stop. It starts small, so learn early in life from your mistakes," said Randy. "Six years ago, I finally started listening to the people who care about me. I went before the parole board after 20 years, and I will be released in 14 months. I am scared to death."
"We like to come out and talk to youth groups because 90 percent of the inmates at the prison do not have a high school education," said Keith Lefler, the correctional officer who transported the inmates to St. Olaf Church. "Inmates start getting into trouble as young as 8 years old and end up in juvenile detention. From there, their lives of crime begin."
Lefler said of the approximately 1,000 inmates at the prison, 320 of them have earned their way into minimum security by proving they do not pose a threat. They are housed at Lone Peak, which is a work facility. The inmates must be less than three years from being released, but most of them are less than one year from being released. They are the only inmates allowed to leave the facility to go to work, but they must be in the presence of an officer at all times.
St. Olaf Youth Minister Jim Redmond is a corrections officer and a production manager of a construction program that operates through the Department of Corrections. He trains inmates from Lone Peak in the skills of construction, roofing, and asbestos abatement. The inmates build low-income houses inside the prison fences, then move the houses to residential areas where minimum security inmates finish constructing the homes. He said this gives inmates a skill they can use once they are mainstreamed back into society. Studies show the return rate of inmates without a skill when they leave prison is 76 percent. The return rate for prisoners with a skill is 25 percent.
Steve, 40, was convicted of aggravated assault and forgery and has been in prison for three years. He started smoking cigarettes at 8 years old, and marijuana at 10. At 12 years old he started drinking and using LSD (which induces psychotic symptoms), and stealing cars and everything else.
"I was sent to a boys ranch for a year when I was 14," said Steve. "I was put in detention more than 30 times. When I was 18, I started getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. I began shooting dope in my arm and dealing drugs to support my habit. My drug of choice is methamphetamine. The last three years in prison is the first time I have had a clear head since I was 10 years old."
Dave, 37, has been in prison for 16 years. He was convicted of second degree criminal homicide. Once a week he is allowed to leave the facility for 12 hours to go home with a sponsor, which is usually a parent, spouse, or family member. He must stay at home near a phone, because he could be called at any time.
Dave said he was a heavy drinker but did not use drugs. He started out committing petty crimes like breaking into cars, and did not think about how his behavior would effect his parents. He said the worst mistake he made was agreeing to drive his friend to the restaurant he wanted to rob. Dave wanted his friend to like him. He explained the situation and how his friend stabbed and killed a cook with a kitchen knife.
"Being in prison has been harder on my family than me," said Dave. "My parents are not well, and although I get to see them on the weekends, they are not the same people they were when I went to prison, and I cannot get back my youth."
"Make the wrong choice and your life can change in five minutes," said Jose, who is 40. "This is my second time in prison. I grew up in Miami, Fla., and started dealing drugs in high school. The biggest mistake I made was dropping out of school. Four years later I thought I had everything, when I was arrested for selling cocaine."
Jose said prison is like going to college for criminals because you hear about the crimes other inmates have committed and you learn their strategies. When he got out of prison, he again started using and selling cocaine. He moved to Nevada and lost all his money gambling. He started committing identity theft because the drug scene had changed. He was arrested in Utah, a state he said is very hard on those who commit identify theft.
"It is easier not to use drugs than it is to never use them again," said Jose. "If your friends are using drugs, talk to them and tell them they are doing the wrong thing."