In one horrifying minute of uncontrolled rage, Brad Maddox became a murderer.
The high school senior eventually found himself in prison, facing the stark personal and social realities of his act.Today, Maddox (not his real name) is a contributing member of society, a responsible employee of a respected voluntary health care agency and a family man.
One of several factors that created change in his life was the education he received while in the Utah State Prison.
"The first thing I did in prison was complete my high school requirements with a GED (general equivalency diploma)," he said. Then he took college classes through the University of Utah's Division of Continuing Education.
Throughout seven years at the Point of the Mountain and an additional year in a halfway house, he continued to study. When his sentence was finished, he had to attend the university only a short time to complete requirements for a bachelor of arts degree in English. He subsequently earned a master's degree.
He chose English partly, he said, because of the insight into the human condition he found in great literature. "Les Miserables," the story of a man whose brush with the French penal system changed his life, is a favorite.
"Literature teaches us how to live life," he said. "We can grasp reality through the experiences depicted by writers. They address questions of history, the meaning of life and of struggles and trials. Literature became the thing that impacted me the most. I benefited from having to do my own thinking and writing."
Maddox found the enforced idleness of eight years in prison an opportunity for introspection, for delving into the "why" of his own situation and for contemplating the future.
"My offense was murder. I had shown that I had the ability to become out of control. I had time to do quite a bit of thinking. I had this pervasive feeling of failure. Absolute, total failure. I wasn't proud of what I had done. I was surrounded by the reality of it. There were bars constantly clanging shut and the necessity of asking permission for everything I wanted to do."
Education, coupled with self-realization and a desire to better his life, helped Maddox make his prison time as worthwhile as such an experience can be.
"It was the ultimate turning point. It had great impact in helping me come to grips with the real world. I had been living in a fantasy world. I had unrealistic expectations. When I committed my crime, I was acting out my own suicide as much as anything. I was bitter because the world was not what I wanted it to be."
Ironically, Maddox recalls his incarceration as a time that "I felt truly a free person, truly in control of myself." He does not now regret the time he spent at the Point, although he continues to struggle with the frustration of not being able to undo his crime or assuage the pain he brought to others.
Some outstanding teachers who took a personal interest in his effort made a lasting contribution. As with other teachers he'd had before he committed a crime, how they felt about him had as much impact as what they taught, he said.
People such as Jeff Galli, now the prison warden, "became my mentors. They helped me see that education could be a positive experience, that I could use it to get through (the prison experience) emotionally and physically."
Prisoners turn to education for different reasons, Maddox said. For some, it is merely an escape from the routine. Some attend classes to impress the parole board. If the board is unimpressed, they drop out again. Others, like Maddox, come to appreciate it as a vehicle to something productive.
How effective is education in preventing a felon's return to prison? Experts don't agree, but felons involved in college programs have a lower rate of recidivism.
Maddox can only wonder if he'd have been as successful if he had not chosen to use his prison time for education. "Maybe it could have happened without the education. That `maybe' scares me a lot."