Category Archives: Dentistry

needs and NEEDS

In real time, last weekend I spoke at a synagogue about my son’s incarceration and its aftermath.  There were about 20 people in attendance and I was nervous.  I rarely speak in front of groups, and this was a sensitive subject.  But it went fine.  Unfortunately, I know my stuff when it comes to being a prison mom, and authenticity carried the day.

They specifically wanted to know about challenges of re-entry into society. I described them in detail: housing (few landlords wants to rent to an ex con), employment (ditto, although some employers are known for be open minded), social support (many ex-offenders have been written off by family and friends), mental health and sobriety (it’s hard to stay on a healthy path when your housing is precarious and you can’t afford food, etc), medical and dental care (thank you, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, for discount care!) and finances (prisoners net about 25 cents an hour in their jobs; Vince had amassed $300 after working full time for a year).

Supervision makes all of the above more difficult. A revolving door of agents can shop up at the ex-offender’s job or house anytime, day or night, and demand a urine sample.  Vince lived with me, and I had to have a landline installed because the Department of Corrections is not operating in the 21st Century yet.

The agents strictly enforce rules one day and let things slide the next; the capriciousness of the system is enough to drive anyone mad.

“What about voting rights?” someone asked.  It is thought that most ex-offenders would vote Democratic if allowed to vote.

“To be honest, that’s the least of their concerns, for sure when they are first released,” I replied.

Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Ex-offenders are struggling at the bottom.

A few days later I was at a friend’s house.  She and a neighbor agreed they want a Democratic presidential candidate who will bring about drastic—not incremental—change. Free college education.  Reparations for slavery.  Medicare for all.  Green New Deal.

I think about my coworkers at the YMCA.  They’re a racially diverse group of mostly blue collar young people who will probably vote Democratic—if they vote.

In nine months since I’ve worked there, none of them has ever talked about climate change, institutional racism, voting rights, or gender-neutral bathrooms.

Their concerns are: Where can I get the best deal on snow tires?  Should I make tacos or spaghetti for dinner tonight?  Should I color my hair red or get highlights or keep it black?

My coworkers aren’t at the very basic level of needs, but I worry.  If the Dems choose a candidate that Trump can paint as “extreme,” I don’t think ex-prisoners or my coworkers will vote at all.

It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding higher-level issues.  It’s that they have more basic needs demanding their attention and they’re not going to get fired up about a candidate who lectures from a flip chart about emissions trading.

In Nara, I deployed my secret weapon, a stash of five pills leftover from one of my Restless Legs Syndrome prescriptions.  I slept well for the first time in 16 nights and was giddy with energy when I awoke.  Lynn was still asleep so I hung out in the huge bathroom and made coffee with this …

… while I talked to Vince on Facebook.

“I think it must have taken five mechanical engineers to design this,” I said as I demonstrated it to my son.

Vince laughed at the thing.  “Bring me one, will you?” he requested, “so I can show it to my coworkers in the kitchen?”

“Will do,” I replied.  The connection failed so I took selfies of myself in the Nara Hotel yukata.  I never take selfies, so you know I was feeling good.

“Why don’t you just take medication every night?” Lynn asked later.  Fair question.

“Because it works, and then it stops working, and then I need to take more and more, and then it starts to actually make the symptoms worse, and then I have to go through an excruciating withdrawal process,” I explained.

“But for today, I feel human again!”

It’s Been A Good Run


For personal reasons, I have made the decision to move on from this blog and start out on my own.  I have no idea where or when I will start back up, but I do promise to make it soon.  I just need to figure out how to start a blog, and then start it.  I think first I will write in my journal for a while, then begin again independently.  Obviously I will keep everybody posted (pun intended) on when and where you can find my new blog. And in the mean time, you can follow me on Facebook.  Vincent Maertz is my name if you don’t already know.

Thank you for all of your support over the last 17 months. It has meant a lot to me that people actually like reading what I write.  Your comments have not gone unnoticed.  You can look forward to reading more about the next phase of my life as soon as I find a new format, and build up a little material.  Until then, be good.

Vincent Maertz

Two Hundred and Thirty-Seven


This marks the two hundredth post that my mother and I have written. It’s been quite a journey. Almost daily I look back through the blog and see such a wide variety of emotion, struggles, triumphs, and memories. Today also marks another important number, 37. For the second time in a year, it’s my 37th birthday, only this time it is actually real. You may have read recently about my miscalculation with my date of birth. Well, it was nice feeling young again when I realized 11 and a half months in that I was only 36. So, my two weeks is over and I’m old again. Boo-hoo.


A year ago today, I was sitting alone in a cold cell in St. Cloud prison where nobody cared about me or my birthday. I remember trying to make a big deal out of it with the other swampers (house cleaning crew) but nobody was interested. One person gave me a cup of Folgers instant coffee, and that was the highlight of the day. I sat. I read. I wrote. And I pondered where I would be a year from that day. I had no clue what was in store for me with boot camp. I actually received my acceptance letter a few days later which was dated Oct. 24th. I was so excited. I showed it to the swampers, the offenders, the guards. Again, nobody cared. I knew there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be in prison for my next birthday if I put everything I had into this boot camp thing. And did I ever.


It was shortly after that I was moved to Moose Lake into segregation, the single worst experience of my incarceration. Well, enough reflection, I’ve already lived it, written it, and read it. What’s new?


In my last post I talked about my new tooth falling out. I didn’t really mention why. My student dentist had actually forgotten to put on the bonding agent which would have secured the plastic onto the broken tooth itself. Oops. She did try to contact me, but we didn’t actually talk until a few days later at which point she explained the mistake she made and we set up a time to get it fixed. She said she felt like an idiot and she was so sorry, and couldn’t believe she could have forgotten…. I interrupted her and explained that it was okay. I learned a lot at C.I.P. And I explained that everybody makes mistakes no matter what. And when you do, you fix it, and move on. I have made some terrible decisions and made some huge mistakes in my life, and people still love me. So, I bet after she fixes my tooth, she will never forget to put the stuff on again. And that’s how we learn. Right?

I cooked vegan fajitas with my cousin tonight. Her mother was in from California, and I hadn’t seen her in roughly a decade, just like everybody else. We had a good talk, a good dinner, and we played with kittens. My cousin is a vegan and I love to cook, but I had never really given anything that wasn’t meat-based a shot. I didn’t turn into a zombie, and the desserts she brought were actually pretty good, too. I’m not saying that I will be a vegetarian tomorrow (or ever), but I did realize how much I actually enjoy veggies. Tomorrow I will realize how much I enjoy meaty, cheesy pizza for my birthday celebration. Win-win?


I’m really excited to see my dog Willie on Sunday. My friend Seth is talking to me on the phone right now confirming that he is actually coming. So, I’m done for now. I will write about the reunion in a couple days. Goodbye for now.



I Can’t Believe It’s Not Crack


Saturday night after leaving my A.A. meeting, I was driving down University Avenue when my brand new tooth popped out of its new home in my mouth.  Only two days in, and my new smile was gone.  I had waited so long to be confident with my appearance, and just like that, it was over.

I pulled up to a stop light and spat the jagged plastic remnant out of my mouth and looked it over and had the thought that just maybe, super glue might do the trick.  At that moment I saw a car pull up to the light next to me.  I looked over and noticed it was a St. Paul police officer and I immediately looked back in my hand and mentally said to myself, “Oh, fuck! This looks like crack!”, and quickly lowered my hand out of sight.  The officer paid me no attention, and we both went on about our respective ways.  It’s been a long time since I have had or done any drugs, but the paranoia still exists in me.  Incidentally, all of your teeth look like crack.  So, now you know that.

On another note… While I was in prison, my only goal every day was to get through the day as quickly as possible: one day closer to the door.  For the first five weeks of freedom, I have carried that attitude with me until I had the realization the other day that I really want to enjoy life.  I think we as Americans tend to live by this same philosophy: work, work, work, then it’s the weekend.  Work, work, work, then you retire.  I have wasted so much of my life doing useless things and it seems like everything I talk about now isn’t just 10 years ago anymore, it’s twenty.  How do you stop the time from passing so quickly?  How am I going to enjoy my life while working the American way, 40 hours a week?  Well, I’m going to have as much fun as I can while I’m doing everything that I do.  I have found that in sobriety, laughter has depth.  Conversations have meaning.  And friendships blossom quickly.  I am going to enjoy every minute of every day because it’s all going to go by quickly, and I’m never going to get out alive.  Twenty years from now, I’m going to be talking about things that happened twenty years ago, again.

I say all of that to remind myself that there’s no more time for me to waste.  I think of all of the people I have left behind in prison, some of them never getting out.  If I go back to my old ways of selling/using meth and I get caught with, for example, the same amount I had last time, I would likely get 96 months without the possibility of an early release through boot camp.  I would have to sit for over five years before being eligible for parole.  Then what?  Move back in with Mom, again at 43?  I think not.

I am restricted to three A.A. meetings per week while I am on I.S.R.  If I had my way, I would have done 90 in 90 as soon as I got out.  I am not planning a relapse, but these meetings give me so much more than just maintaining sobriety.  It’s a place I go to get things off my chest and I don’t feel embarrassed about saying anything.  Sort of what I do with this blog, but I get to hear other people and their stories that I can relate to.

So, I apologize for not writing for a few days.  I needed a break.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  And with that, I pass.

My Day With a Dentist and Thoughts About A Lawyer (Almost)



I have been waiting for this day for about five years. I was working in a Mexican restaurant, eating a delicious burrito when I crunched down on something very hard. It was a fork. I felt kind of like an idiot because I’d been eating food by myself for roughly 30 years at that point and thought myself quite capable of using a wide variety of utensils without any trouble. Well at that time I felt my teeth with my tongue and discovered that my number nine top left front tooth had broken off. Shit. I was already self conscious about my smile although my teeth aren’t too terribly bad, and this just made things worse. I had no insurance and all of my money at that point went to drinking, smoking weed, and gambling, and nothing would change that for quite some time as you may have read.


Flash forward to the future! A.K.A. now. Ugh. This computer keeps freezing up. Anyhow, I took the morning train to Minneapolis to the U of M School of Dentistry where I laid back in the hydraulic chair and let my student dentist practice making a plastic tooth in my mouth for about two hours. I felt pretty cool because she let me be in control of the suction wand thing but I still ended up drooling on myself quite a bit, not uncommon to any other day, right? I asked, I believe more than once, if we could make teeth other places like on my forehead or in my armpits. We laughed at that and a few other ideas I had like sticking the suction wand in my nose. Actually, that may have been in my head. In the end, she did a great job and I give her complete credit for my new smile which I plan to show as much as possible. I love to laugh and smile but for five years, I simply wouldn’t open my mouth to do either. I was embarrassed, and I thought about my appearance constantly. I’m happy. Thank you, Lauren. Someday when you’re a REAL dentist, you can help me put gold teeth on cats. Gangster kittens!


I had discussed my blog and my history with her on previous visits and again today and I decided to let her read one of my posts, Camp Heartland. It is, in my mind, a very moving post, and I could see her reacting to it as she read. The first time I had seen that first hand. As far as reacting to me telling her about my history with drugs and alcohol, she acted as professionally as I could have hoped for. She was inquisitive and sympathetic. It was a good day at the dentist.


I also told her about Chelsie Toaster, who I will now call by her real name, Mollie. If you haven’t read the post The Toaster Situation, Mollie is the girl I met and have been doing my best under my restrictions to see as much as possible. We have been limited to seeing each other on our way to and from and at meetings because all of my visitors need to be approved and that takes some time. Well today at work my agent, whom I had asked on every visit previous about the status of her approval, walked in and said, “Mollie is approved, Dude!” I threw my arms up in victory.


Mollie is sweet. As I’ve said before, she is the first female that spoke to me at a meeting, and I hoped she would talk to me every time after, and she did. She’s smart. She’s a graduate of Wm. Mitchell School of Law and takes her Bar exam in February. We joke about me needing legal advice in the future. I hope I don’t… She’s from Tennessee, and you can tell because of her ridiculous accent. And, she is beautiful. I haven’t been in a relationship for years. Too many years. I don’t want to push things or move too quickly, but I know that I like her, and I will do what it takes to keep her in my life.


Also, she’s a ginger.