My nightmare began on a summer school morning. It was August 8th, 2002. I was a normal 21-year-old college student who woke up and stumbled to class with a drug hangover.
On the way home, I called a friend who had partied with me the night before. His roommate answered the phone. Everything sounded strange and all I heard was…
“He’s dead, he’s dead! You gotta get out of there!”
I dropped the phone. His next sentence spun me around like I was shot by a bullet. He yelled at me –“The police are here, and they’re looking for you!”
I scanned my apartment. Drug evidence from the last night’s party was everywhere. I wanted this to be a joke. But as I stood there stunned, I realized this nightmare was really happening to me. I ran out my apartment. I didn’t know what to do. The police were already standing in the hallway looking for me. I fit the description of the man they were looking for. They stopped me as I tried to walk past them.
“But he was Ok when he left…” I said; in shock. “He was my friend.”
I felt their handcuffs go on my wrists. “You’re in a lot of trouble kid.” They said.
They locked me inside their squad car. I remember looking out the window in stunned disbelief as the cops drove me to jail. As we passed the college campus I had just lived on, I stared out the window and watched as the last moments of my free, easy, youthful college life flickered in the sun until it all faded away and I entered my first jail cell.
I have been fascinated with drugs ever since I was old enough to know what they were. During my teenage years I started to believe that God must have created these powerful substances to help us supercharge our imaginations so we could find deeper meanings to life. The first time I took hard drugs, I loved it. I would hallucinate and I thought I was seeing visions from God in these super-natural highs. How could these powerful experiences not be from God, I’d think? I saw things, and had unique thoughts, that normal people didn’t experience. I began to see my mind as a power-plant and the drugs I’d take were the fuel that could propel me into becoming a genius.
But I was very aware that drugs were illegal, and that I’d get into trouble if I got caught using them. So I made the decision to split my life into two personalities so people wouldn’t notice me getting high in my suburban surroundings.
I created a “Public Bill,” and a “Drug Bill.” “Public Bill” was an eagle scout, a dean’s list business student, and a coach on a kid’s ski team. I made this life look like I was the perfect young man, and a lot of people believed in me. But this was really just camouflage to hide who I really was becoming.
My other side, the “Drug Bill,” wanted to get as high as I possibly could, and party as hard as I could along the way. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong or bad. I was doing what everyone wanted me to do in my public life (go to school, get a job, etc), so I thought that gave me the right to do whatever I wanted in my secret life. I just wanted to live my life on my own terms, and I thought I was smart enough to pull this grandiose experiment off. I was young, cocky, and thought I could be happy and high forever.
I was 20 years old the first time I walked onto a college campus and I was amazed. It was so incredibly awesome. It was like I’d been dropped into another world where everyone was just like me: young, ambitious, smart, and pursuing their unique dreams. The freedom to finally be myself overwhelmed me. My two different lives took off in different directions to push the limits and find out who I really was.
I mingled professionally with my professors after my college classes, and I became a leader in the late-night party circles. I was high all the time on success and drugs, and I loved it. I was a natural at balancing all the chaos in my life. My ego boomed as I changed shape and slid between my two lives like a chameleon, and I thought I was becoming a hybrid student who could redefine what the new-age intellectual could be.
I made the dean’s list my first semester at college. Making the dean’s list was a thrill, and the success felt like its own drug. I wanted more. I decided I should slow down on the partying so I could devote more of my time into building an exciting future for myself. But my “drug side” lunged out of the shadows in my soul and tackled me. My evil side hissed in my ear as I contemplated my next move. “Why work so hard,” It said, “When you can experience the highs in life so much easier by just going to another party?”
I didn’t have an answer. So I had a drink, and returned to my favorite bad habits and got high at a party that night.
By the time second semester began, I had changed. I was older, braver, and looking for new highs. One night a friend called me and asked if I could get some ecstasy pills for a party coming up.
“Sure,” I replied. After years of living in the party scene, I had connections all over the place. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. She gave me her money and instantly I felt a new adventure come alive in me. The adrenaline rush of an entrepreneur making his first profit hit me, and this new form of excitement blasted open wild sensations in my brain.
That was the first time I’d ever sold drugs and I found it was almost like its own high. I didn’t need the money. I just loved the way it made the party I was living free. Once I sort of accidentally made that first deal, more friends started asking me to hook them up. We were all having a good time together, and the money and drugs just kept flowing. As my deals got bigger, my network expanded, and I found I was an expert navigating the drug world. I didn’t pay much attention to the risks I was taking because it was so much fun taking them. We as humans enjoy the activities we’re good at, and I was really good at this.
I was 21-years-old the first time I attended a major summer music festival. I was invited there by some friends and I felt the same way as I felt the first time I walked onto a college campus. But there were no rules here. The camping area was a giant party that stretched on for miles. Thousands of people were there to party, and I noticed that that they brought a lot of cash to accomplish this goal. I started to see these three-day festivals as business opportunities, my personality fit perfectly into this orgy of music, money, and drugs.
I found there was no better high than networking with drug-dealers and users in the camp grounds all day, and then ingesting some of my profit and joining the dancing mob in front of the stage as the sun would set and the headlining band came on. The experience felt magical. It was like a supernatural climax of euphoria that would last all night long.
I didn’t do it because I needed the money. I did it because it was a rush, and it made me feel great. It was another way to push my limits, and exercise my talents, and get even higher. The college campus became my base camp, and these festivals were the adventures that kept spinning me higher and higher. I thought this lifestyle was my purpose in life. I thought I was finding God by using hard drugs, and I was inspiring other people find the deepest version of themselves. But in reality, I was drifting further and further away from the reality. I was getting so high I was losing track of what was normal. I started to forget that normal people don’t live this way — that this lifestyle was ultimately illegal — and I could get in a lot of trouble if something bad happened or I got caught. I thought I knew what I was doing and the direction I was going, but the truth is, I had no idea what I was becoming, and I started losing track of who I was and what I wanted to become. I didn’t realize that while I was having all of this “fun,” I was really partying with the devil every night, and whatever goes up, will come down.
As I was entering my senior year in college, an old drug-friend called me. He said he just got a new drug in called ‘fentanyl.‘ He described the drug as a “super-pharmaceutical painkiller stolen out of military hospital wards.” He asked if I wanted to try some. The exotic story fascinated me. I thought as long as it wasn’t crack, heroin, or needles, because good college kids don’t do those “bad” drugs, I wanted to try it.
That night I bought a bag from him and went to a party to try it. In a back room, I sat on a couch and snorted the tiny bump of powder. I waited. But after ten minutes, nothing happened. I called my friend, “Man, this stuff sucks,” I said. The drug must’ve heard me, because it hit me hard like a bullet out of a sniper’s gun. I suddenly couldn’t stand up. I slumped deeper into the chair, and a horrible itching sensation spread across my skin as I felt an uncontrollable urge to vomit. I’d done a lot of drugs, but I’d never felt like this. I prepared for the worst: an overdose. I held onto the chair-arms and mentally tried to fight off the feelings of sickness to try to stay alive. I was terrified, but after thirty minutes struggling with the drug in my system, it’s harsh effects began to mellow. The sickness left me, and it felt like warm waves from a distant ocean flooded into the room around me, and began carrying me away to another world that was like being awake in a dream.
A three-dimensional landscape rose around me. I couldn’t tell what parts were a fantasy, and what parts were a reality. It was like being in a movie that told the ultimate meaning in life, and I was the star actor. That night was so bizarre. The experience was so powerful and deep that I forget how sick and close to death I felt.
The next morning, I woke up feeling like I was going to vomit and decided the drug was almost too powerful. But I was so curious to return to that place in my mind and see if it was real. I wanted to explore that place. I wanted to understand it. Even though I knew I shouldn’t do it, I felt compelled to try it one more time. So I bought another bag to show my friends back home.
A few months passed, and I started using the drug more and more. At first I told myself I could only do it on the weekends, but then I lost my ability to say no whenever I thought about the drug. My grades dropped from A’s to B’s. For the first time in my life, I was unable to control my drug use and maintain the two lives I was living. I started to get caught in little lies. I started to need the drug, rather than just want it. I started to realize that this new drug was actually a pure form of heroin. This was in 2002, before opiates had really become the epidemic they are today in America. I look back on that time and I think we were probably some of the first suburban college kids to experiment with heroin and get hooked on it. The big drug-dealers called it “fentanyl,” because they knew college kids generally weren’t interested in doing heroin. But we’d try prescription pills, which is how they introduced heroin into our world. By the time I found out that this “fentanyl” was really the same thing as heroin, the shock of the name was gone, and I was already in love with it.
Since we weren’t using needles, I told myself we were still ‘being safe,’ and just ‘experimenting.’ The drug was hard to get, so I started splitting the bags with my friends. We were all buying, selling, and trading drugs together, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. We didn’t realize that the party we were living had gotten out of control. We always thought – “As long as we don’t use needles, everything will be Ok… We’re good kids in college. We’re not drug addicts or junkies. We’ll grow out of this eventually.”
That naive and invincible attitude made the risks seem insignificant. I figured there was always a chance something could go wrong, and we could get caught, but I always thought that since we were good kids from good families, we could talk our way out of it. But on that August morning, when they found my friend’s overdosed body after dying in his sleep, I knew we’d miscalculated the risks we were taking, and I was the only one left alive to answer for it all.
The local newspaper reported that I had been charged with 11 felonies and was facing 187 years in prison. Wow. It still shocks me today how fast my life turned on me. One moment everything was so exciting and fun, and the next minute it was living a nightmare. I entered the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs, and shackles. I stumbled between the aisles with chains between my feet. I watched my friend’s family crying on the victim’s side, and I saw my family crying on the other side. The judge glared down at me. As I sat at the defendant’s table, I hoped the judge could see who I really was and all the potential I had, but I realized I had created too ugly of a scene for the courts to contemplate my “potential.”
After the arraignment court hearing, I was brought to the county jail and walked into my first cell block with twenty other men. As the cell doors slammed shut behind me, I buried my head in a pillow so the other men couldn’t hear me crying. It took a few days before I could think clearly again.
The first step I took back to sanity was buying a notebook and pen from the jail store. Something deep in my soul told me to start writing. I felt an urge to document my feelings as I navigated this nightmare. I began writing down my first feelings in that jail cell, and I saw that the artistic expression of writing allowed me to explore who I really was for the first time in my life. I opened myself up like a surgeon with my words and documented my feelings in my notebooks. As I read the words that flowed out of soul, it was the first time I realized how sick I had become.
In jail, there is nothing to do but think. I started writing more, and the nightmare environment of jail, began to transform into a new adventure of self-exploration. The journals I was writing became my new college classroom, and this quest to find out who I really was, and wanted to be, was more powerful than any college class I had ever been in.
It took months before I could really face the hard truth, but I finally admitted I was a spoiled, ungrateful, lying, jerk, and I no longer wanted to be that person.
Damn, I thought. The truth set me free, because at least now I knew what I wanted to fix about myself. I wanted to learn how to become grateful, honest, genuine, and create an awesome life, rather than hiding in the lies I told. Finding the new person I wanted to be became my new addiction.
That first year in jail flew by as we prepared to go to trial over the death of my friend. It became the most important year of my life. All of life’s distractions had been taken away from me. I didn’t have to think about a job, or money, or really anything. Discovering who I really was, and who I wanted to be, was really the only thing that mattered to me.
My mission everyday when I woke up in my cell was: Look in the mirror, be honest with yourself, and find out who you want to become. Then, I’d spend the rest of the day reading books, exploring thoughts, and writing stories to help me become this new person I wanted to be.
My filled-up journal notebooks grew so large that I had to build a bookcase to hold them in my cell. Filling up that bookcase became my new purpose in life, and I found a new identity I could be proud of as I wrote those journals. I was a writer now, and I didn’t have to be ashamed for who I was. I embraced my new identity, and I became supremely motivated to kill my old drug life that had put me in this nightmare.
After I’d been in jail for a year preparing for a reckless-homicide-by-delivery-of-drugs trial in the State of Wisconsin for the death of my friend, I woke up one night and my old “drug self” was sitting on top of me hissing in my face.
“Those partying days were a blast weren’t they?” It said.
I pushed the demons away: “Get out of here. Can’t you see where you put me?”
But the demon hissed in my ear, “Don’t worry, I have a party waiting for when you get back into the outside world. We’ll have our fun again.”
I got up out of bed, and I looked myself in the mirror, “What’s wrong with me?” I thought, “Am I insane?”
The new personality I had been building fought back, “Nothing’s wrong with you… But don’t expect a simple little fight to get out of this mess you caused.”
I didn’t know what to say − I stared in the mirror. Multiple personalities were fighting inside of me to become my future.
I whispered back at my face in the mirror, “But I was an Eagle Scout. I was a successful college student. I shouldn’t be here −”
My new personality screamed back at me: “You stupid fool! You should be dead! Those accolades you used to use to deceive people with are useless now. You’ve been so lost in lies and drugs for so long, that you’re going to have to go to war with your old self before you can get out of this nightmare.”
“Why, what’s happening to me?”
“You’re on your way to a new life. We will all be watching you closely to see if you can make your second chance be something special.”
“But I want my old life back —” I said.
My new personality looked back at me in the mirror. “Your old life has been destroyed. If you return to it, you’ll be destroyed too.”
I stood up straight and stared myself down in the jail cell mirror. “So this is my gateway moment between my old life and my new life?” I asked.
My reflection spoke back to me. “This is your life. Your mission. It begins now: You’re going to have all the time you need to figure yourself out, prioritize your goals, and develop strategies for you to become who you’re supposed to be. You can be the hero in your own story now, or you can be the failure in your story . Your success is going to be totally up to you. Ask yourself right now, what are you going to do? Are you going to stand up and fight for your life? Or are you going to give up and become a worthless bum in jail. How you respond to the upcoming challenges will determine how far you get into your life, which I promise, has the potential to be incredible if you make it happen.”
“Is the worst of this nightmare over?” I asked afraid.
“Not even close.”
I was ultimately advised by my attorney to take a plea bargain for the death of my friend. They had a massive pile of evidence that we were all using drugs together that night, and the only thing the defense had to prove was that I had provided a portion of the drugs at the party that led to his death. I took responsibility for my actions, because I was a part of the tragedy that happened that night.
My sentencing hearing in court was three hours long as I awaited my fate in the courtroom. It was my first time in any serious trouble, and I was ultimately sentenced to ten years in prison in the state of Wisconsin for the death of my friend. It was a shock at first. But I realized the only way I’d ever get out of there, was by going through it and surviving it, so I tried to have the best attitude that I could and I slowly adapted to my new life as the bus picked me up from jail and took me to prison.
Two years into my prison sentence, I was walking the prison yard with an older man who had a life sentence. He had just completed his twenty-fifth year incarcerated.
I asked him, “How do you get through it?”
He glanced at me with a very strong smile. “The secret to living life is that it doesn’t matter what happens to you. It only matters how you respond to it. The world may forget that you’re alive, and your family may die and disappear, but as long as you know you’re alive, and still pursuing a goal for your life, you’re existence and purpose is just as important as everyone else’s. Everyday, no matter who you are, or where you are, you have to wake up and forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made, and you just have to keep going forward toward the life you’re supposed to live no matter where you are or what’s happened to you.”
Prison time can cripple a man. I saw it on the thousands of men’s faces I passed every day. But adversity can also empower a man to become stronger than he ever thought he could be. This is the journey I chose to take. Men who embrace this attitude in prison are rare, but I met a few. They’d teach me all they knew about life in the little time we were together, and then they’d vanish back into the rotating the prison system doors, and I’d move on more prepared to conquer the challenges in my way.
Looking back on it now, prison was the most peacefully blissful place I’d ever been, and the most hellishly frustrating place I’d ever experienced at the same time.
I can remember what it was like now… I’d wake up each morning and watch the sun rise over razor wire from my cell window every morning. It was a brilliant moment where I could almost hear the voice of God speaking to me, telling me one day I will get a second chance at life. But then minutes later, I’d hear my cell neighbors pounding on the walls and yelling through the vents to each other like two caged animals. This is what a typical day in prison was like: the good moments flowed right along with the bad, and as you tried to make sense of your own life, the human waste was scattered all around.
Prison is just a landscape they throw you into. I always tell people that life in prison is like a choose your own adventure story, because you are in complete charge of what you make of it. If you want it to be a scary place full of gangs, violence, and menacing characters like you see in the movies, you can turn it into that. Or if you want to turn it into a place where you can use every day to learn, grow, and prepare for your second chance at life, it can be one of the most powerful training grounds for success you could imagine.
The biggest change that occurred in me is I no longer live two lives. There’s only one me now – the writer of this article. That was probably the most liberating personal transformation I’ve ever been through, because I no longer feel like i have to hide parts of myself anymore. I am honest, and direct, and real, and that feeling is better than any drug I have ever taken.
On August 21, 2012, after 10 years to the day of going to jail, (Because Wisconsin refuses to give any good time or early release provisions) I was released from Prison. This is what I looked like the day I stepped out of prison, and got in the car with my family, to finally go home to Minnesota:
I immediately went to work executing all of the plans I made while in prison. I started my senior year in college six days after getting released. I remember walking into my first class and was amazed that everyone had computers and there weren’t any wires connected to them. I didn’t even remember how to use email!
I graduated college in my first year with straight A’s, and I got my first job delivering magazines to big box stores for $9 an hour. The best part of that job was that the hours were flexible, so I was free to interview for better, higher-paying jobs. On one of the interviews, a company recommended that I had enough personality and energy to start my own business, so that’s what I did.
I went door to door, building relationships with local businesses, and I started getting sales. I now do about 300K in sales a year with that business, but my dream always has been to be a writer and help people overcome the challenges in their lives, because if I was able to overcome my nightmare story, anyone can overcome theirs.We are all living in our own prisons, weather it be financial, spiritual, peer pressure, or self-esteem. We all have the power to break free and escape into a new life if we want it bad enough.
I saved every penny I made as I got my feet back underneath me and adjusted to my new life, and I am now worth about $250,000. I don’t use the money I have to show off, brag with, or buy stupid stuff. Instead, I use it to fund my journey to find my purpose in life. I now blog at a blog called Wealth Well Done, where I blog about finding yourself, saving your money, and using your money, to go on the adventure to find your purpose in life. I’d be honored if you’d click the picture below and follow me to see what I am doing with my life now:
Click here to see where I am now.