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 was the “Drug Bill.” This side 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 a new form of excitement blasted open brain cells I had never used before.
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. Everyone was young and free, and 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 a dancing mob as the sun would set and the headlining band came on. The experience felt magical. It was like a supernatural climax that would last all night long.
I didn’t do it because I needed the money, or a drug addict. 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 versions of themselves.
But in reality, I was drifting further and further away from sanity. 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 playing 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 called ‘fentanyl.‘ He described the drug as a “super-pharmaceutical painkiller stolen out of military hospital wards.” 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 “dirty” drugs), I wanted to try it.
That night I bought a bag 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 as I tried 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 was like warm waves from a distant ocean flooded into the room around me, and began carrying me away to another world that was warm, soft, and awesome like a beautiful 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 had 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 I quickly lost my ability to say no to myself about using 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 crave the drug, rather than just occasionally want it.
I started to realize that this 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. The big drug-dealers called it “fentanyl,” because they knew college kids generally weren’t interested “dirty drugs” like crack and heroin. But we’d try prescription pills. This is how they introduced heroin into our world. They called it by a prescription drug name because they knew we’d try prescription drugs. 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.
I told myself we were still ‘being safe,’ and just ‘experimenting’ since we never used needles. 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, 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. As I began to write down my first feelings in that jail cell, I felt 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. The more I wrote, the more the nightmare environment of jail transformed into a new adventure of self-exploration. My journals became my new college classroom. My quest to find out who I really was, and who I wanted to become, was more powerful than any college class I had ever been in.
It took months before I could face my hardest truths. But I finally admitted that I was a spoiled, ungrateful, lying, jerk, and I no longer wanted to be that person. Damn, I thought. But the truth set me free, because now I at least knew what I didn’t want to be, and what I needed to fix about myself. Finding and creating the new person I wanted to be became my new addiction.
That first year in jail flew by. 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 school, a career, money, or really anything. Discovering who I really was, and who I wanted to be, was the only thing that mattered to me.
My journal notebooks filled-up and 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 started creating a new identity that I could be proud of as I wrote those journals. I no longer struggled living two different lives. I was a writer now, and there was only one me. I didn’t have to feel ashamed for who I used to be. I embraced my new identity, and I became motivated to kill the old drug-life that had put me in there.
After I’d been in jail for a year, I woke up one night and my old “drug self” was on top of me hissing in my face.
“Those partying days were a blast weren’t they?” It said.
I pushed the demon 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 looked at myself in the mirror, “What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “Am I insane?”
The new personality I had been building fought back against my drug side. “Nothing’s wrong with you… But don’t expect a simple little fight to get out of this mess.”
I didn’t know what to say − I stared in the mirror. It felt like multiple personalities were fighting for 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, 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 second chance at life. But it’s up to you if you’re going to turn your new life into 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.”
“Is the worst of this nightmare over?” I asked afraid.
“Not even close.”
I was ultimately took a plea bargain for the death of my friend. They had a massive pile of evidence against me. We were all using drugs together that night. The only thing the police had to prove was that I had provided a portion of the drugs at the party that had led to my friend’s death. I had done that, and I was part of what caused the tragedy that night.
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. I tried to have the best attitude that I could as the bus picked me up from jail and took me to prison for the first time in my life.
Two years into my prison sentence, I was walking the prison yard with an older friend who had a life sentence. He had just completed his twenty-fifth year incarcerated.
I asked him, “How did you get through all those years and stay sane?”
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 your goals 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 have to wake up, you just have to keep going toward the life you want no matter where you end up 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 ahead in my future.
Looking back on it now, prison was the most peacefully blissful places I’ve ever been, and the most hellishly frustrating place at the same time. I can remember what it was like now… I’d wake up and watch the sun rise over the guard towers and razor-wire fences from my cell window every morning. It was a brilliant moment that allowed me to reflect on my past and see powerful visions of what I wanted to do in my future. But then minutes later, my cell neighbors would start 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.
I always tell people that life in prison is like a choose-your-own-adventure-story. You are always in complete control of what you make of it. If you want it to be a scary landscape full of gangs and violence like you see in the movies, then you can choose to 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. It’s just like the time we all have in the free world. It’s up to each person to decide what they want to turn their life and time into.
On August 21, 2012, after 10 years to the day of going to jail, I was released from Prison. 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 graduated college in my first year. 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, an entrepreneur recommended that I start my own business, so that’s what I did.
I went door to door, building relationships with local businesses, and selling them branded clothing. 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 all the challenges in my life, I can show people how to overcome theirs. Ultimately, 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. I don’t use the money I saved to show off, brag with, or buy stupid stuff with. Instead, I use it every day to buy the resources and experiences I will need to achieve my purpose in life. I now blog at a website called, Wealth Well Done, where I blog about saving and investing your money to find your purpose and yourself. 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.