Guest speaker Mark “Coach” Hugentobler is a well-esteemed educator having served as a high school teacher, basketball, and cross country coach for over 25 years. He recently retired in 2019 after cultivating an adult male inmate education program for 8 years as Principal of the Central Utah Academy (CUA) at the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) in Gunnison, Utah. Mr. Hugentobler has written a book that serves as an account of how a group of teachers, inmates and corrections staff overcame adversity and effected real change inside the Gunnison prison. Mr. Hugentobler will share some of his experiences and lessons learned from his time teaching, and hopefully inspire others to strive to impact positive change in our system. Mr. Hugentobler was the UPAN guest speaker at the May 2018 monthly meeting and a summary can be found in the May 2018 UPAN Newsletter.
Mark Hugentobler graduated Magna Cum Laude from Weber State College in 1984 with a BS in Mathematics, Physical Science and Computer Technology and later graduated Cum Laude with a Master’s from Utah State University in Gifted and Talented Education. Shortly after that, he received his Administrative Endorsement from Utah State University. For over 25 years he worked as a high school teacher and coach. During that time, he served as an algebra teacher and coached at various times, Cross Country and Basketball. Coaching Cross Country for 11 years, his Cross Country teams won the state championships in 1988 and 1993. Coaching basketball, Mark’s basketball teams earned State Titles in 1996, 2003 and 2008 as well as multiple regional titles. Mark’s work in the classroom has also been recognized. He was considered a master teacher through most of his tenure. In 2010 he received the KSL Teacher Feature award and then in 2017 was honored by the Utah Education Network (UEN), UAACCE as the Outstanding Adult Educator. Mark has always appreciated the many young (and more recently older) people he has worked with over the years and credits them for his successes. Mark is very active in his church. He and his wife Angie live in Central Utah and are the parents of 5 children.
Though I truly loved my job in the prison, in the spring of 2019 I made the decision to retire. I had spent 34 years in the education system, the last eight working at the Central Utah Academy (CUA), inside Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) in Gunnison, Utah.
My wife and I were on our way to Cedar City, Utah, to attend the annual Adult Education Directors Meeting and were reminiscing on my previous eight years. I had so many stories and experiences and names. It was enjoyable. As I thought through the many events of those eight years I suggested to my wife that it seemed that all my friends are felons. Along the conversation, Angie mused that I ought to write a book. We both laughed while contemplating the possibility.
Our trip to southern Utah included a visit to the Washington County Correctional Facility, Purgatory. Several years prior, inside CUCF, we started a computer coding program for the inmates that we later shared with several county jails throughout the state. Purgatory was one of those facilities. I wanted to go and support their new computer coding venture.
We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.
As I entered the jail and made my way through security, the director and I walked into the large classroom. At the desk in the corner sat the inmate tutor. I immediately recognized him as a previous student from CUCF. He greeted me warmly and we visited about his life since CUCF. A short time later, the classroom began to fill with student/inmates, about 25 or so. Among them I recognized a half dozen, knowing four by name. When they saw me, they all approached and expressed their appreciation that I had come to visit. After that exchange, I turned to the director and with a wry look on my face said, “All my friends are felons.” His response was immediate, “That sounds like the perfect title for a book.”
Several hours later as I climbed back in the car, I told my wife of that exchange and well, here we are. I determined to write a book.
Imagine your perspective if you are the one who is incarcerated: You have done something terrible to others and fully deserve it. You may have grown up “on the streets” or may have had a good life that you threw away because of some terrible choices. You are now stuck behind bars. You want to change but everything around you prevents it. Everywhere you look there is rampant corruption. You feel like you are living in a cesspool. Every day you worry that you will anger the wrong person, inmate or guard. Every day you wonder if this will be the day that you are beat up or thrown in Special Management Unit (SMU, a secure holding cell), sent to a county jail or worse. Every time you dare think you can change and make the attempt to do so, the reality of where you are, and all the obstacles, including the “system” are staring you down.
Imagine you are a guard: getting up every day with no hope. Imagine going to work every day knowing full well that the environment where you are going is hopeless and meaningless. In the beginning you had hope. You are charged to guard inmates. You imagined you could make a difference. You thought that you could help. After a short time, however, you realized that the system and the environment are too overwhelming to do anything positive. Every time you try, you run into a roadblock within the system. You are criticized for trying to create meaningful change. You are told that it won’t make a difference. You are told that those you wanted to help don’t deserve it. You are considered a traitor because of the “us vs them” attitude that prevails at your work place. You are stuck in a job that provides little in the way of positive outcome for you or for the people you are supposed to be serving. You spend your day in boredom.
Now imagine my perspective as an educator and seeing 1,500 students who need help, lots of help. Many of these students made grave mistakes. Most have done serious damage to someone or something. Many were remorseful but saw no clear path to correcting their behavior. In fact, they are living in a world that encourages and develops criminal behavior. Imagine being there with your “students” and having your hands tied. Your responsibility to help is real. However, because of a broken system, you are not allowed to do anything positive. You come every day to work with 200 students who are mostly passive. You know full well that there are many, many more out there who need your help, though they may not want it. Your predecessors told you that you would have nothing to do, that you would spend your days reading the paper and standing in the hall during “movement” of prisoners between classes. They advised you to keep your door closed so as to not invite the “students” in.
Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality…
Imagine, through either providence or sheer dumb luck, that, you as an educator, find your way to help all these parties see a better path. In your daily interaction with these “students” and their jailors, as well as your faculty and staff – eliciting the help of all – you are able to see the many flaws in the current system and develop a program that, in a small way, opens the path and opportunity of growth for many of them. Imagine a grown man, 58 years old, standing in the doorway of your office pitching a fit because he had to come to school. Then imagine him two and a half years later as he stands in the same doorway, this time in tears, thanking you and your staff for the opportunity of learning. For the first time in his life he felt he has hope for the future. Imagine an officer, who at the beginning of your tenure, was critical and mocking as you started to try to make change. Now he comes to see you before you retire, thanking you for the positive effect the changes have had on those with whom he worked, as well as on himself. He was dreading the “next 15 years” but now comes to work with hope and a vision.
This is an account of how our group of teachers, inmates and some Corrections staff, over the course of eight years, effected real change inside the Gunnison prison (CUCF).