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My Story

All My Friends Are Felons

My name is Mark Hugentobler and I am often asked why on earth I am active in this space; why I even care.  I would like to tell you about that and the realization I came to some 12 years ago (2011) that completely changed my path.


For 50 years I lived a typical, traditional Central Utah life.  I was raised by loving parents in a community full of great people.  I had great friends and mentors all around me. Though I was often into mischief, for the most part, neither my friends nor myself got into any real trouble.  We loved high school sports, the outdoors and hanging out with each other.


Almost in spite of myself my life rolled out as planned.  I spent two years in Southern France as a missionary.  After that, I fell in love with and married a wonderful girl who really didn’t have any idea what she was signing up for and went to college to become a high school basketball coach.


We followed that path for 23 years in two different communities where we raised our 5 children having an array of experiences, most of them good to great.  


Things were going along as predicted, I had served as a high school assistant principal for 3 years when the bomb shell came.  I was “sentenced” to prison.  Not by a judge, but by several distempered members of the local school board and my principal who saw the world from the opposite perspective as me.

Running the school inside the local prison was not at all on my radar.  Like most people, I viewed those incarcerated at the Central Utah Correctional Facility and any prison for that matter as the dregs of society; horrible people who were incorrigible.  After all, if they did have any good in them, the stellar correctional system was surely doing everything in their power to help them change, right?.  


Boy was I wrong.  Over time, I came to realize that I had it absolutely backwards.  The correctional system was not doing all they could to help them change.  In fact they were making the problems worse.  The men incarcerated, though they were criminals who had hurt others in terrible ways, truly wanted to change their stars.  They didn’t want to stay “idiots” (their word).


Most inmates are surviving in a hopeless world.  In the book, “All My Friends Are Felons” we describe how most inmates will readily accept direction and mentors and opportunity to change from their current selves that they really don’t like to someone that they and others can be proud of.  We proved that theory by creating a secondary and post secondary education system in which nearly 70% of the prison population at CUCF readily and willingly were involved in our programs.  During that 8 years of growth we were constantly fighting against the system that was supposed to be supporting our positive efforts.  Though many of the officers supported and helped us, the system was constantly in our way.  Proof of that is the fact that within 2 years of my retirement, the program is completely decimated.  That same school of over 1100 students is down to less than 200.


Though these men and women can’t take away the pain and suffering they have caused, most inmates hope to atone for those wrongs and make a better life for themselves.   The problem is, not only does the Department of Corrections not help in the matter, they currently are a hindrance.

Statistics you probably didn’t know:


95% of incarcerated people will be released from prison.

Our current recidivism rate is 72% (Those returning to prison within 5 years)

79% of all individuals going into prison are returning (recidivating)

From 2004-2007 the recidivism rate was 53.7%. (We are getting worse)

33% have a diagnosable emotional/mental illness

78% have substance addictions

55% have children under 18 years of age

Source UDOC ASCENT symposium July 2016

I want to emphasize at the start that I am not justifying the inmates incarcerated in the prison system. They have hurt people and deserve to be incarcerated. They have lost their right to be in society. The things they have done are reprehensible. I do not condone any of them. I cannot imagine how I would feel if someone I loved was victimized by one of these men. It would be incredibly difficult to resolve at a personal level. 


We are not out to address a felon’s debt to society nor the intense personal damage they have done to so many people. That is not for me to decide and I don’t want to minimize that or eliminate it. In fact, I believe that one of the purposes of prisons is and should be to separate those who violate the rules of society at such a level to warrant their separation.  


Their victims are vast and varied; their immediate victims, as well as the family and loved ones of those immediate victims.  But other, often forgotten victims are the perpetrators' loved ones. It is easy to forget that most of these felons have family; people who love them whose lives are also permanently altered by their actions.  Finally, it is also important that a third category of victim is society in general, the average person whose lives are also impacted by crime; all of us.  


However since 95% of incarcerated individuals will eventually be released from prison, doing nothing to help them improve their lives, decision making ability and outcomes is …. Stupid at worst and foolish at best.  


How then are all of these situations appeased in the simplest, most efficient fashion?


  1. Use the current judicial system as it is to identify, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerated felons.  Use an indeterminate sentencing system to outline a minimum and maximum sentence based on judicial norms.

  2. Once incarcerated, as the individual “comes to himself”, meaning he comes to realize that he wants to change his direction and correct what ails him, he is set on a path of rehabilitation.  See Chapter 29 of “All My Friends are Felons”available on this website.  That process will require years of self-improvement and more work than is imaginable.  True change takes time.

  3. Upon spending his “minimum” sentence time anxiously engaged in the ASCENT Tiered path and achieving required levels of behavior and self-improvement, he becomes worthy of parole and is therefore eligible for parole.

  4. No one is released early without having changed and proven that change over an extended period of time.  (years)


The solutions to this problem are not that complicated nor difficult to implement.  The current Prison System if changed to a Corrections System is the perfect place to address the needed change.  Programs like The Other Side Academy and Captain Your Story, led by private individuals have all the tools necessary to effect change in this space.  Many of the CURRENT powers that be in Utah have a strong desire to effect that change; from the governor to the state legislature to the new Executive Director of the UDOC.   They need our support to knock down the long established system that stands in their way.  



"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning."

- Albert Einstein

"Let penitentiaries be turned into seminaries of learning.  Rigor and seclusion never do as much to reform the propensities of men as [would] reason and friendship."

- Joseph Smith

"Why does society allow any of us back into their world before we have truly changed?"

- Charles Gordon Inmate and Co-Author of “All My Friends Are Felons”

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