Tag Archives: writing

YourPillow

VINCE

I remember the first time I saw a commercial for MyPillow.  Toward the end of the ad the announcer guy stated that they were proudly made right here in the U.S.A., with no outsourcing.  I can tell you that that is very true because I saw them being made in Moose Lake Prison in the same building that I worked in sewing men’s briefs.  Why ship jobs overseas when you can exploit prisoners right here?

I will tell you right now that I don’t have all of the facts pertaining to the MinnCorr industry in Moose Lake penitentiary but I can write about my own experience and what I heard from some of the offenders that worked on the MyPillow line.  They were paid minimum wage which I believe is still at 7.25 per hour, much better than the 50 cents per hour that I made less than 200 feet away.  The catch is, the prison takes half of the pay right off the top for the cost of confinement.  There can be other deductions from F.I.C.A., MN income tax, and federal income tax.  The workers are left with just over two dollars per hour, a pretty good amount for prison wages.  Our saying on the brief line was that we earned our pay within the first five minutes of work every day.  I say that because they sell our briefs back to the inmates at a cost of $3.25.  I could sew together 200 pair per day.  Not all of them were sold to us.  They have big contracts with other facilities like jails and institutions that buy them cheaper in bulk, but, there’s huge profit to be made with cheap labor.

I’m not saying all of this because I’m mad at the prison for what they paid me.  I’m actually in shock from looking at the MyPillow website and seeing what they charge for pillows made by people (prisoner or not) that work hard and will never get a raise, a bonus, stock options, or even a free fucking pillow.  Just for kicks, and because the website is not at all up front with the pricing, I placed a mock-order that finally took me to the checkout page.  It said that for two queen size pillows, my order came to $199.94!!  That’s before tax and does not include shipping.  It also does not include the pillow cases which can be purchased for…… only ……. $49.97.  What a steal!  Or maybe rip-off.  Now I should mention that they did have some buy-one-get one deals but I would have had to enter a promo code which they had no further information on.  I’m sure I could have found it if I was actually interested in buying one.  Even so, those are some expensive pillows.

Is there a point I’m trying to make here?  Meh.  I don’t know.  I enjoyed having a job while I was incarcerated.  It paid the bills so to speak.  And I certainly hope that my work lessened the burden to the taxpayers.  But how come the MyPillow commercial shows workers in a factory all happy and smiling when that is not even where they are made?  Made in America?  Yes.  Made proudly in America?  No.  Actually made most likely by child molesters and murderers.  I guess that wouldn’t have been a good advertising slogan.

In other news…  Today I learned that I am only 36 years old.  For the past 11 and a half months, I thought I was 37.  Somehow I just decided to skip a year.  Now I only get to be 36 for two weeks, then I actually turn 37, which sounds way older.  But not as old as 38 which I thought I would be very soon.  Sometimes I think I’m losing my mind.  Really, I do.  I will stop dead in a sentence and not have a clue what word I was about to say.  It sounds like 38 year old problems, not young 37 (or 36).  That’s all I have for tonight.

Coming up on the next post:  A look back at some of the stranger things I saw in prison.  Things that I can’t un-see.

Scattered thoughts of a recovering addict

VINCE

I’m staring at the screen and nothing is coming to my mind.  I’ve started a few paragraphs and then erased them.  It’s almost 10pm and I’m very tired.  get up at 6:30 to get ready for the day by drinking coffee and making my lunch for work, then head out at 7:30 to catch the bus then the train for my ride in.

Yesterday the first thing I did at work was smash my foot under a very heavy (we guessed 3 maybe 4 hundred pounds) spring loaded loading dock ramp because the truck I  was going to unload supplies from was filled to capacity and when I pulled up the ramp from the floor and it went where it was supposed to but I couldn’t move.  I tried to move my other foot as it smashed down but there wasn’t room so I actually had to step on the ramp itself adding my weight to the pressure.  I have not experienced that much pain for as long as I can remember.  At that point I thought for sure that I had broken it.  I felt the urge to throw up from the pain, something I have never experienced. I got my foot from under the foot-wrecker and took a few limps around the production floor.  It was the seeing spots kind of pain.  I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I went back to work trying to hide the limp as best I could.  I told my friend about it and he was quite sympathetic to my injury.  Fortunately for me the pain dissipated within a few hours and when I got home and pulled off my socks I still had all five little piggies.  There was blood around my big toe and the one next to it (does that toe have a name?) and a little purple bruising but that was it. That’s the whole story.

Starting to build any kind of relationship while on I.S.R., especially the one I’d like to have with Ms. Toaster, is difficult.  My life is so restricted right now that the times I do get to go anywhere it’s for a specific reason.  I get to see her at meetings, and if I go out for shopping or during my exercise time.  Tomorrow I’m going to run with her, I think that’s a very healthy way to be alone with her, but again, it’s only for an hour and she’s not yet allowed to be a visitor at home.  On the flip side, I think it’s a good thing to not be together every waking moment in the beginning of a relationship.  Not that I would get sick of her, but it adds the elements of anticipation and excitement in seeing each other, if only briefly, every other day or so.  The other day she came to meet me after work just to walk me to the bus stop.  I thought that was nice.  I mean, she walked from her place and back just to see me for maybe 20 minutes.  It made me feel good.  Somebody desires my company, something I haven’t thought in years.  Thank you, Ms. Toaster.  I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.

Alright folks, that’s all for tonight.  I’m tired and I’m going to bed.  Thank you to all of my followers and readers for your feedback and comments.  If I don’t reply, it’s because I don’t know how.  I will figure that out someday.  Goodnight everybody.

Camp Heartland

VINCE

Three weeks before  I left prison I went out on my last Restorative Justice program.  R.J. is generally the only time we left the compound.  Once per week, nine of the 17 in my squad got excited about going out into the community to help those in need.  We’ve done everything from cleaning windows in a nursing home, to removing concrete by hand, to shoveling shit after a county fair.  So naturally when It was my turn to leave, I was looking forward to a good day.  Well I got what I asked for.  We packed all of our gear and headed out to Camp Heartland in Willow River.

It is a very beautiful campground.  I didn’t know anything about the place until I got there.  We piled out of the van and lined up and stood at attention and received our orders for the day.  It’s almost always some sort of cleaning detail and that is exactly what the plan was for that day.  Then an employee told us who goes there, and why.  Originally it was set up as a retreat for children with H.I.V.  Now it’s for any child with a life threatening  illness.   We were given a brief tour in which he pointed out the cabins we would be cleaning.  They were small but functional and full of dead and living creepy crawly insects.  Nearly all of the beds had a ‘waterproof’ sheet which startled me a little because there’s really only one thing you need that for.  Enough said.  At that point we gathered our supplies and got to work.

After a couple cabins, the officer in charge came and got me and said there was a project inside I could do, so I followed him in and I ended up cleaning a huge sort of room with a stage, costumes everywhere, and lots of muddy footprints.  To back up a little, on the way down to the basement, covering the walls from top to bottom were drawings and kids’ names and dates when they were there.  There were thousands of them, and later I would find even more outside.  I kept looking at the walls as I cleaned, and I started to notice other things about them.  And that’s when shit got real.  Next to or on the paintings themselves were little white crosses and dates.  I realized what it meant, and I couldn’t believe how many there were.  I decided to take a little break and wander around and I just kept seeing more names, more dates.  I felt emotion for the first time in a while.  I couldn’t believe that all of those kids had been here and left not knowing if they would ever make it back.

It was then that I really felt guilty about how much of my life I had wasted when these kids were dying off left and right.  How could it possibly be fair that I was out dealing drugs and being completely irresponsible in every situation and never got killed along the way while these kids were literally fighting for their lives?  I took some time to read a lot of the writings on the wall.  Every one of them was positive about their situation; little kids who truly appreciated whatever time they were with us in this world.  It is even making me a little misty-eyed as I type this.  I don’t ever pray, and I don’t believe in God, but right there, right then, I said my version of a prayer in my head the words of which only myself and they will ever hear.  I continued to clean.

For over five months I had been eating only prison food which sounds and tastes exactly like prison food.  That day, the employees that were there (there were no kids there when we went) cooked up a feast for us.  All things we hadn’t seen since our sentencing.  We sat around a table and for the first time in years I sat at a table with people and ate.  I ate three brownies for dessert after eating as many fresh vegetables, slices of garlic bread, and I’m drawing a blank on the rest of it but it was amazing, and we all felt like humans that day.

As we were leaving, I saw even more names.  These ones engraved in the sidewalk that circled a water fountain.  All of the had two dates, and I had to walk away after I saw the name of a four year old that had died the day before his birthday.  I can’t waste any more of my life, it’s just not fair to them.

If you ever are looking for a good organization to donate to, I recommend Camp Heartland.  Let them show these kids some fun before they leave us way too soon.

The Toaster Situation

VINCE

I met a girl.  I actually saw her at the very first AA meeting I went to a few weeks ago ( For that reason and the fact that we already have an inside joke, I will from this point on refer to her as Chelsey Toaster.  (Her pseudonym).  I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her.  Somewhat unprofessional in a meeting, but what could I do, I’d been away at camp for a long time.  I couldn’t be certain, but she seemed to either catch me a couple of times looking at her, or she was checking me out too.  (Very unprofessional, Ms. Toaster.)  I shared about my recent release from boot camp, and my struggles with anxiety and how everything seemed to be moving so much faster out here.  When the meeting was over, she came up to me and said that she had also just been released from prison.  I said, “Really?”  And she replied, “No, I wasn’t.  I just wanted to make you feel better.”  Hmm.  A jokester, I think I like that.  And that was all.  Well not quite but the rest was recovery related so I don’t talk about it because it was at a meeting.  Very professional, Vince.
So I kept seeing her at meetings, and I kept my eyes on her.  She is beautiful, smart, funny, charismatic, and I kept thinking about her, and she kept letting me talk to her after meetings, which was great because I was having issues with socialization when I first got back to reality.  I have never pursued or dated anybody in recovery.  It’s not that it’s a bad idea, it’s just that it never happened.  So I asked her for her phone number, which she gave me.  And ever since, we’ve been talking, and seeing each other whenever possible on my limited time out of the house.  We went for a walk yesterday after I got off of work and it was really nice to walk hand in hand with somebody.  And today she accompanied me while I ran my errands.  It’s been a very long time since I have had the company of a woman who wasn’t strung out or drinking heavily.  So that’s my introduction of the lovely and brave Ms. Toaster. I don’t want to rush into anything on many levels, but I have a feeling that many future posts will involve her.

I haven’t had any kind of a relationship in years.  Even before prison.  It’s not that I didn’t want one, it’s that I was a huge piece of shit for so long and I knew it and I knew that any real attempt at securing a girlfriend would probably have meant that I would have to curtail my alcoholism and addictions, something I was not willing to set aside for anything.  And although I’m fresh out of the clink, I believe I’m in the best position in a very long time to, at the very least, see if I’m capable of starting and maintaining a healthy connection to another human being.  So, I have that going for me, which is nice. 🙂
In other news, I went in for an eye exam today.  Thank you Lisa!  You know who you are.  The optometrist told me that my eyes are more football shaped than globe, which she could have just called astigmatism, and I wouldn’t now feel self-conscious about.  I mean, what gives her the right to tell me my eyes aren’t normal other than her being an eye Doctor?  What are her qualifications?  I bet she doesn’t even have her G.E.D.  Well, anyhow, I have contacts now but I still keep pushing on the place where I used to have glasses sliding down.  Now it just looks like I’m pointing at my head.  I’m sure that will go away in time.
And finally, I got to see my uncle and his family today.  He and his wife brought their two incredible children whom I had never met due to my substantial absence.  My mother baked a chicken, and I made roasted garlic and squash soup and a chocolate cake with caramel-butter frosting.  And we sat around the table and caught up.  I’m really starting to like this family thing.  I still feel guilty sometimes, but I know I’m forgiven for my absence.

Next up on the blog: Camp Heartland– An eye opening experience.

Until then…..

Another First Conquered

VINCE

As some of you have read, and are excited to read about today, I started my new job today!  I haven’t said that in three years. I am sore from doing yard work yesterday at my aunt’s house.  It was a great day and I had a good talk with her, something I’ve needed for a long time. But that is all I am going to share on that.  Some things are just for me. and, I have so much to tell you about the job!

It’s not exactly like anything I’ve ever done before but it is in some ways similar to the work I did in the wrapper room at Kemps Ice Cream.  I work at A.M.G. Laminating in St. Paul.  Essentially as the rookie I will be floating from machine to machine learning the different functions, getting my hands caught in huge rolls of plastic wrap, moving palates of various sizes to and from various places, cleaning up, and generally just getting to know the processes.

Today I spent most of my time cutting the extra plastic film between segments of what will eventually be nice, shiny, laminated cardboard boxes for a well known company.  I would transfer them onto a palate and when it was full I would strap them down tight and circle the palate in a dizzying dance of plastic mayhem.  I was taught how to do this by a real cowboy although I suspect he was just a man wearing a cowboy hat.  Either way it was his last day and I was his replacement… Awkward!!  It was very clear to me that everybody thought I was great and funny and amazing at life, at least that’s what my interpretation was.  My very good friend from C.I.P. [boot camp], Mr. Doty, the same man who made it possible (along with my repeated attempts via e-mail, telephone calls, and personal visits) for me to work there, was in the background doing other things but we managed to wave at each other several times.  At one point I attempted to pick up the chair he was sitting in with a forklift but I failed.  He was far too quick.  Mr. Doty is very tall, and he likes it when I make jokes about that.  His lovely girlfriend, Ms. D (Unrelated. (I will protect her anonymity)) came by to visit him for our lunch break and I tried to explain to her that even though the sun is 93 million miles away from the earth, he sunburns faster because of how tall he is.  We all laughed.  Hahahahaa.  Well, you all know what laughter sounds like.  She also brought a foam missile launcher system that she purchased from Rainbow for 50 cents which we all had fun with.  It was a good day.  I had a lot of fun and got a lot done.  Hey, I’m a wrapper!

After work I arrived at home and my mother had made (ordered) an amazing blackened walleye dinner.  It was just what I needed after a hard day’s work.  Thank you.

The plumbers and electricians were here while I was at work today and now in my room I have a three by three gaping hole with exposed plumbing.  I guess it’s actually better than having the washer and dryer in this tiny room which is what I thought would be the case.  It’s all closing in around me here.  I think it’s about time to start looking for a different place to live.  The other morning I woke up to my mom yelling at the kitten. No! No! No!  Over, and over, and over.  She then started clapping at it.  This was all at about 7am.  She’s used to living alone, so I can understand not having to worry about other people.  But I go out of my way to be quiet.  I tiptoe down the halls, barely close the bathroom door because old houses make so much noise with so little provocation.  Ugh.  I don’t know.  I shouldn’t have put myself into this position, I get that.  And I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head, walleye in my belly, and another day sober.  And with that, I pass.

They

VINCE

Today was my friend’s daughter’s birthday. Audrey turned 10, which officially marks the point at which you can write numbers instead of spell them. Exciting! Anyhow, for whatever reason, a few other people from down in Southeastern Minnesota where I lived for a number of years, were sending me pictures of myself from back in the day, when my main source of nutrition was beer and weed. It brought back a lot of good, fun memories. In these pictures, I wasn’t engaging in illegal activities, and it appeared that for the most part I wasn’t hammered drunk. In  one I was hugging Audrey (the birthday girl) when she was maybe three or four, and she had a huge smile on her face, which she almost always does. I don’t have children, so she is the closest thing to it for me and I was there with her growing up for years. I was around for seven of her first ten years, missing the first and last two.

I miss all of my friends from the Fillmore County area. But with her I feel as if I left her without an explanation or understanding of why I was gone. I left the area because I got hooked on meth again, because somebody I used with many years ago moved to Fountain and I just went for it. It happened so fast. It took six months from the time I first used to stop talking to my friends, get fired from my job, and start selling. I managed to get a job in Lanesboro for one season but I cut all ties with the area once the tourist season was over, and went to work on the road full-time as  a meth dealer. I lost my apartment but I didn’t care, I didn’t plan on going back.

I wrote to a lot of my friends when I was locked up. Not all of them wrote me back as much as I thought they should have. I don’t know why I expected them to after I just threw my life in the trash and left them all without a word, but I did. I wrote Audrey a few times. I tried to explain to her what I had done and where I was in a way that a nine-year old could understand. I don’t know how well I did but it must have been alright because she wrote me back. Twice. And those letters made me feel like I still had a soul.

Every period in my life when I abused drugs, and sold them, something happened to me. A transformation took place in which I was no longer able to care about people. More specifically, my family, or any close friends that would not have approved of my drug use. When my friend died (the one I wrote about in a post recently) I had no emotional reaction to it. I remember getting the call from her partner and my first honest thought was, “Fuck. She owed me $300.” Then I went over to see Christie and when I arrived she seemed quite nonchalant about the situation. She had just come back from the grocery and liquor stores, and she asked if we could get high and we did.

It was not uncommon for a person’s life to be crumbling down around them and have no care in the world. People losing their children, their homes, their loved ones, but continuing to do anything other than get a job to get high. And of course there I was ready to listen to their story and sell them a bag. It took me a while to get over the fact that I didn’t have any morals. Thankfully I worked on it in treatment.  I can relate this in the opposite way to how A.A. works for people. When we were getting high we associated only with those types of people because we could understand each others’ pain. We didn’t do anything constructive about it, but we can now. And we are. I am. And as hard as it is for me to deal with society as a whole right now, there is a small group of people I meet with every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday nights that understands me just as I do them. I wish I could go to more meetings. But that’s my topic for the next post.

Dear Vince

VINCE

This is another one of my treatment assignments. My dear mother has been waiting for me to publish this for a while since it’s actually written by her.  Well, sort of.

It was written by me during a phase of treatment in which we were learning about the ripple effect. Not quite like the butterfly in China causing a hurricane in Iowa.  Or whatever.  This is more like how my actions, however insignificant they may have seemed at the time, affected my friends, family, and society.  The assignment was to write a one page letter from a victim in our ripple.  I chose my mom pretty quickly because I believe my actions have had the greatest effect on her over time.  It wasn’t supposed to be hurtful or degrading, but simply state, from her point of view,  my actions and how they made her feel. It was well received by counselor and peers, but I still don’t know if I really hit the mark. I guess I’ll find out soon. I wrote it from the time just after my arrest for my current charge.  Here goes:

Vince, I haven’t seen or heard from you in so long.  But for now at least I know where you are and that you are safe.  When I heard you were arrested I can’t say I was surprised but I was still sad and hurt.  On the other hand I was grateful that you might have another chance at recovery.

In your nearly five years of sobriety, you shined.  You were always a favorite with the kids in both our, and our extended families.  They looked up to you. They admired you, and loved you. We all loved you since the day you were born.  Then, without any warning, you disappeared.  For the second time in a decade, you fell off the face of the earth.  Because of your history, we knew more or less what was going on.  And from our experience we knew that any attempt to communicate with you would have been shot down.

After a couple years, the second time around, you showed up and said flat out you were using again and if I wanted to be part of your life I needed to accept that.  Well, I did.  It was tough.  You drank so much and so openly with your friends but you seemed happy.  But every time I would bring up the future, or school, or family, you shut down and didn’t want to talk about it. So I stopped bringing it up.

Then after eight years you were gone again.  The closest friends you have ever had couldn’t tell me where you were.  They were just as confused and upset as I was.  For a while I was so afraid that you would show up dead in an alley or on the side of the road, but then you showed up on the news, and you were finally somewhere again.

Since then we have become closer than ever, as a result in large part, by you being open and honest about everything with me and more importantly yourself.  I’m glad you are excited about being where you are. I hear in your voice and in your letters the same enthusiasm about recovery you had when you left Hazelden and Florida.  Me and the rest of the family will be here for you when you get out.  You will always have our full support in every way as long as you remain active in your recovery.

And that’s it.  When I was writing it I recall feeling sad for the first time in treatment.  I don’t often feel emotions, and rarely do they make me feel bad but this assignment did just that.  Even though that wasn’t the point of it, I thought of a lot of bad times I’ve had with her and because of being high or drunk nearly all of my adult life.  I hope you get out of it what you can mother, and I’m sure I’ll hear your thoughts on it in the morning!

For the rest of you. Well my day to day life is a struggle.  I don’t have a job yet.  I am not worried. My agents are not worried.  But I can tell my mom is.  I communicate with the world three times a week for an hour at A.A. meetings, through this blog and on Facebook.  I do not like talking to people outside of my family or very few friends, all of which I was incarcerated with.  Shit.  I’m over 700 words.  Until next time.

A great day for freedom

VINCE

It’s good to be home. After 15 months of incarceration, I’m finally able to type my own words. The first few days have been fairly uneventful. I’ve mostly been relaxing, healing, and setting up my schedule for this week. I took the train down a good portion of University Avenue and back. There were a lot of people everywhere. it’s overwhelming. But I survived. I have a few more posts coming from my last few days in Willow River. Then it’s on to the next phase of my life. Thank you to all our followers, I hope it has been helpful and entertaining at the very least. Here’s the last few posts from prison.

8-2-15   On day two, our first full day of boot camp, we had our initial weigh-in. I had arrived in St. Cloud at an alarming 216 pounds. I did a little better when i got to Moose Lake at 201, with a body-fat percentage of 14.4%. Today we had our final weigh-in. When I saw the numbers appear, I was shocked. 173 pounds and 9.5% body-fat. I succeeded in both of my fitness goals! Then we ran our test-out mile. My entrance mile was 11:14. I shaved off four and a half minutes. One mile in 6:45. I was breathless after i ran but it still felt good.

I feel good about myself in so many ways. I am so ready to get out of here.

OK, that’s all for now. Typing is very frustrating for me. I need to work on that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Writing, Ready

VINCE

Today is one of our work crew days, but they haven’t had much work for us to do of late.  They sent us out for an hour to do drill and ceremony but so far that’s it.  I haven’t lifted a splitting maul, a saw, or a rake since my first month here.  Don’t’ get me wrong.  I do plenty, but some days I get bored with sitting in my blue plastic chair.

On the plus side, I have two new Bill Bryson books to keep me occupied.  A Walk in the Woods and Neither Here nor There.  I’ve read 117 pages of the former since I checked it out last night and I’m completely immersed.  I now want to hike the Appalachian Trail, just like I wanted to visit Australia when I was reading In a Sunburned Country, and I wanted to visit outer space and a lot more when I read A Short History of Nearly Everything.  I don’t know what I’m going to do for reading next, I’ve exhausted all the authors I know and I still have weeks to kill.

I finished the 276-page A Walk in the Woods in just under an hour.  I may have to start reading less.  I sat in my blue plastic chair nearly all day, neglecting my body by getting zero exercise.  Maybe it’s okay to do nothing once a week.

I read these books and wonder about my ability to write my own.  I have certainly lead a life worthy of writing about but I don’t know how I could put it all together with all of my missing memories, lack of proper punctuation and rather short vocabulary compared to any book I’ve read.  In the last book there must have been a dozen words I have never seen before.

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly a year, and I wonder if it would even fill in a hundred typed pages in a book.  When I’m out I can finally check out this blog for myself and type instead of write.  But who knows, I kind of like writing by hand.

Thinking back to when I started writing, I had no clue what boot camp was about.  I heard so many things from so many sources, none of them very accurate.  But I wrote them down as if I was an expert on the subject.

I say that to say this, everything I write is written as I remember it.  And although my life has been crazy enough to have no need to embellish the truth, I’m sure some of the people involved in some of the stories might remember things differently.  One thing I can tell you is that every word since the first post has been written by me completely sober.  Sometimes it’s difficult to look back through the fog for details.  Sometimes I don’t want to.

Another Sunday in the bag.  Days seem to last forever, yet the weeks fly by.  I hope I’m ready for the real world.  It scares a lot of people.  Prison scares me, so I am going to make sure I never come back.  I will be a success.  I am ready.

Here’s the deal: I’m going to wind this thing down.  I want to write, and I will.  Unfortunately, I’m very restricted here in what I write.  I can’t say bad things or bad words.  I can’t give unfavorable opinions about any aspect of this program.  I simply don’t feel free to be expressive and explicit.  So, I will write a couple more posts then take some time off.

I’ve enclosed a picture of myself from when I arrived at Moose Lake in November.  I wish I could show you a picture of me now.  The difference is substantial.

Vpic

It’s been quite a journey.  I can’t wait to apply the knowledge I’ve gained here out in the world.  I’ve worked hard on so many levels.  I am lucky to have had the opportunity to be immersed in such an intense program.  It’s like Hazelden on steroids.

Thank you for reading.  Feel free to ask me questions via comment or feedback or however it all works.