“Making a Murderer” has been smeared all over my Facebook and Twitter feed recently. The title of the movie, and the images I’ve seen, have inspired flashbacks of the rural Wisconsin courtroom I sat trial in for murder, the prison system that incarcerated me for much of my adult life, and the journey I took to redefine my purpose of life.
I will let the readers of this article decide if my odyssey through the Wisconsin justice system was fair or not. I’ve learned in life, that if you focus on questioning what is fair, or what you deserve in life, the questioning of fairness will ultimately make you go mad, and destroy you from the inside out. Life just happens to all of us as a result of the decisions we make. It often doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not. Life comes at you like a crazy river rapids, and if you stop or give up at it’s most intense moments, you will lose yourself in the depths of it.
The Wisconsin murder investigation I was a part of began late in the summer of 2002. I was a college student that hadn’t been in trouble before. I had been partying with friends and experimenting with drugs like a lot of american college kids do. One of my friends walked home from my apartment that night, went to sleep, and ultimately never woke up. The next morning the police were in the hallway looking for me when I returned from a summer school class. It was my senior year in college. I wouldn’t finish that stage of my life until 12 years later, when I was 32 years old and finally graduated.
On September 12th 2003, I plead guilty to 1st Degree Reckless Homicide by delivery of drugs in the state of Wisconsin. After reviewing all of the evidence against me, I didn’t have many other options. Other kids had testified against me as they didn’t want to get in trouble, and the way the Wisconsin law read, I just had to have contributed to his death by providing some of the drugs he took. One of the hardest parts of the entire criminal trial was admitting that I had, “used utter disregard to end human life” by providing drugs. I was not proud of who I’d become, but I also knew I wasn’t a monster. I was a good kid who had made mistakes like a lot of kids do on their way to growing up to eventually become better men. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I thought I was just having fun. The entire experience was an absolute nightmare to live through it.
The night before my sentencing date, was the first time I ran across Steven Avery’s name. I was watching the nightly news from my jail cellblock, as the news of his wrongful conviction and release from incarceration after 18 years unfolded. I saw video of him as he was released from prison into the warm august sunshine 18 years after being wrongfully convicted. I was in awe of his experience – watching him walk out of the prison gates, as I was about to walk into the prison gates the next morning. I wondered if I would look like that when life had finally passed me by? I wondered if I would feel the same? I wondered if I’d be able to find a happy life again after being locked away for so many years? At that time I didn’t know. I just knew there was a terrible journey no person should ever have to face ahead of me.
The next morning I was escorted out of the county jail, and walked into the rural Wisconsin courtroom where I was given the prison sentence that I had been facing for the past year. It was my first time in trouble, and I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for my friend’s accidental death. The state classified it as a homicide because I provided some of the drugs. It was just nightmare for everyone involved. Nobody won in my situation.
(You can read the entire story of my journey into and out of prison by clicking HERE.)
The Steven Avery story continued to follow and haunt me throughout my ten years inside the razor-wire and concrete walls, and my memories of it bring me back to the places I was incarcerated whenever I’d see his face on the news again. In 2005, when he was arrested again for Teresa Halbach’s murder, I was locked in a 1000-inmate prison called Red Granite about 100 miles southwest of Green Bay. We got the Green Bay news on our TV, so I closely followed the search for her body unfold each night of her disappearance. I then I sat in horror like the rest of Green Bay as the infamous news conference unfolded which described in great detail her torture and final moments alive. I remember sitting in my prison cell stunned and horrified, thinking, “How could anyone have committed such a depraved act?”
Looking back on it, It was a strange way to think when juxtaposed against my living environment at the time. There I was, in the center of an overcrowded prison, with some of the worst men in Wisconsin’s criminal history, yet I was just a man who made a mistake. I never meant to harm anybody. I had to remind myself I wasn’t the criminally-insane monster that people imagine when they see criminals on TV.
When I crossed the border heading into Wisconsin in 2001 to go to college for the first time, I had no idea that I would not see my home in Minnesota for another 10 long years. I had no idea I’d be a much different man when I would finally make it home. I didn’t know it was humanly possible to go through so much adversity, and come out stronger, smarter, and just better on the other side.
But I survived it, and I’m now a successful man out in the free world on my own again. I was released from that horrible experience more than 3 years ago, and I’ve come a long way from those haunting memories I made while in Wisconsin. I’m married now, own my own home, and have a successful career managing a sales business.
I’ve never met Steven Avery, and I probably never will. The only way I am connected to him is that we both have experienced the journey through the Wisconsin justice system. In my case, I was guilty of experimenting with drugs when I was a young man ready to explore the world and find myself. Unfortunately, some of the risks I took were illegal. Drugs are a horrible, horrible thing and overall experience, and I wish I never would have tried them. Because of the poor decisions I made in trying to “find” myself, I watched a great young man die way too young, and I lost 10 great years of my life to the cement holding up the walls of the Wisconsin prison system.
As I said in the beginning of this article, I am not the judge of what is fair or not in life. I don’t want to live a sad, negative, hopeless, or insane life, and if you focus on how life has treated you unfairly, these are the adjectives you’ll eventually become.
I am now happy, healthy, and peaceful, and I write about how to take healthy, legal risks to find yourself and live the life you dreams of. I hope you can find your purpose of life here.