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'You can't ... be who you are'

August 05, 2007|By KAREN HANNA

Intense and energetic at 47, Bolen Wells said he's adapted his style to the restrictions of prison.

"You can't necessarily be what you are, who you are, you have to be reserved," said Wells, who swears he's gone straight.

During an interview in May at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, Wells said he had served more than two years of a seven-year sentence for robbery. Maryland court records document a long history of petty crimes, including theft, drugs and bad checks.

Wells has been serving his time in one of the prison's prefabricated huts, a crowded military barracks-style unit, where men sleep on bunks lined in rows.

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Wells blamed his troubles on drugs and said his addictions ruined his lucrative business as a self-employed dental-equipment repairman.

Wells, who talks with a staccato rhythm and is quick with a laugh and a smile, said few inmates understand that their criminal histories will close doors to them after the prison frees them.

Wells said he was eager to restart his business, but was skeptical about whether others would transcend the troubled worlds they left.

Street violence, gang warfare and clashes over turf and drugs are as prevalent in prison as outside, said Wells, who said he tries not to get involved.

"You're going to have inmates, they're going to slick their way through," Wells said. "They're going to break the law, which is just their human nature."

Wells said he's trying to look at his time away from his four children as if he were attending college. He said he's focusing on a business plan, and has told family members in Washington, D.C., and Prince George's County, Md., not to visit, for the same reason he said he doesn't dwell much on the crimes that landed him in prison.

He couldn't bear it.

"If I do that to myself, I'm a dead man," Wells said.

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