The Fort

I’ve found it a bit harder to write in the summer. I believe there are several reasons for this, the first being that I like to work outside any chance I can, and the “farm” keeps me busy. It’s not the kind of work- or maybe I am not in the kind of shape- that when I finish working outside for 6 hours on a Saturday, I feel like sitting down and writing for a couple more. The other difference is my mood.  Back when I started this blog, I wrote about feeling down more often in the winter. The sun and its warmth are proven to have a positive psychological effect on the brain- they cause the brain to release more serotonin. If you have spent any time in treatment, you have heard all about serotonin- that is, if you were paying attention. Anyway, I am, like a lot of you, generally more happy in the summertime, and it’s not as easy to write about the dark sadness of addiction when I am not as in-tune with those emotions.

All that being said, September 13th was the 22nd anniversary of Tupac’s death. Seeing that reminded me that a week or so earlier had been the 22nd anniversary of our brother Josh dying. I had to text my sister to get the correct date- September 2nd, 1996. I was sure it was later than that, but to be honest it’s a date I have purposely tried to forget since it happened. I remember the first few years, people would get together on that date and put something in the air, or pour out some drink. If you don’t remember or have never heard of these rituals, then we grew up in different times, or on different sides of the tracks. This was the way we honored the young who had died, and typically I would be involved, but when it came to September 2nd, I hated it. Maybe it made it real, maybe it was too strong of a reminder. Whatever the reason, I decided I would honor my brothers on their birthdays and do my best to forget about the other dates.  It seems I’ve accomplished my goal for the most part.

So when I was reminded of Josh’s death, I was reminded about his last days. I was reminded about him “breaking out” of the Fort Des Moines Correctional Facility. (If you aren’t familiar with the story, go back and read Brothers (1).) Then I was reminded of my stay at the Fort and that I wanted to tell you about it. So, here we are. Big brother still guiding me.

I went to court in October, 2011 for my 3rd OWI. (Again if you haven’t read the story, you can find it here: Operating While Intoxicated (3).) At the time, I was about 5 months sober, which isn’t a very stable time for a person mentally. My life was really turned upside-down but I was just doing the next right thing from minute to minute. I knew I was facing a lot of trouble- it’s a Class D felony and carries a max sentence of 5 years in prison. I was ready to accept my punishment, but I was hopeful the Judge would have mercy on me.

After my arrest in May, I voluntarily had an alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet put on. This was an attempt to show the judge how serious I was about changing my life. Also, my landlord at the time wrote a letter to the Judge on my behalf asking for leniency. When he told me he had done that, I cried. Probably because I felt like I didn’t deserve anyone’s faith, yet here was a person who had only known me for a short time, still believing in me. Like I said, 5 months sober is not a stable time for a person mentally, and I was very emotional. I was also afraid. I didn’t want to miss out on 5 years of my life. I had honestly spent the previous 3 years fighting, battling to get sober, and felt like I was finally on solid footing to achieve long-term sobriety, so I didn’t want miss out on anymore of my own life. I was already feeling like I had missed the past decade in a blackout.  So I was aware of the possibilities of serious punishment, but I still felt somewhat confident that I would be given another chance by the Judge. I had fared well in all my other court cases and this time I was actually telling the Judge the truth- I was actually sorry. I knew that some people had been given what they call a “2nd 2nd” OWI, in which you are fined as if it were a 3rd OWI but you are not given a felony. This was probably the best case scenario.

So I left work that day and walked over to the courthouse. I had told my boss I wasn’t sure if I’d be back, but I certainly hoped I would.

I didn’t make it back to work for a couple of weeks and when I did, they had to fire me. They were a federally bonded corporation who couldn’t employ a convicted felon.

In some ways the Judge did not take mercy on me that day. I was convicted of a Class D felony and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

The Judge did, however, allow me to serve my sentence at the Fort Des Moines Correctional Facility, in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

I was finally following in the footsteps of my big brother. Except I planned to finish my time at the Fort. There was no way I’d be running. We learn from our mistakes, and I was really determined to put all of this behind me. All of it. The drinking, the arrests, the court cases and the concrete building vacations. I was determined.

After a couple months of house arrest, waiting for a bed at the Fort, I got the call and the next day I checked in.  I had no idea what to expect, except that I would be way out of my comfort zone.

Basically the Fort is an old army barrack that had been transformed into a halfway house. It’s known for being a work release program that helps inmates get acclimated to life on the outside. So on one side it’s people coming out of long prison terms, and the other side is people who need addiction treatment.

In my opinion, all treatment programs have 3 types of people in them, the first being the ones who just want to get out of trouble and have no desire to get sober.  The 2nd are the ones who just want their family members off their case and they have very little desire to get sober.  The last, most rare type of person in treatment is the one who actually wants to change their life, and absolutely wants to get sober.

The Fort featured an extremely high number of type 1, and a handful of type 3. There were no type 2’s because this isn’t the type of treatment facility you go to so your parents don’t stop paying your tuition or you wife doesn’t leave you. You have to really earn your spot in this camp.

I caught on pretty quickly to the concept of the FDM treatment facility. They literally took everything from you when you first got there. All your freedoms that you constantly take for granted; all of the things you had always felt entitled to.

When you first check in, you have some clothes and that’s it. You can’t leave the facility for the first week, even to go to work or look for a job. You can’t use the phone. You sleep on a metal bunk bed in a small room with 3 other inmates. You don’t have private showers or bathroom. You spend your down time in a hallway with a couple tv’s on the walls and 70 dudes hanging out. It’s bright, it’s loud, and you have no control over any of it. You don’t control when the lights go off and you can’t control if the dude in the bunk below you decides to talk all fucking night or worse, jerk off. You have no fucking control over anything. My bunkie was a dude who had been shot before, so he was on a way different thug level than me, and he would sneak in a cell phone and talk to these women on the phone all night, just all kinds of awful “hey baby” to “bitch you better” types of bullshit. I can only assume these women were not “dimes” but he claimed they were. Come to think of it he may have been a pimp or something. It was the worst, and it was so rude and disrespectful, but there was not a damn thing I could do about- just put in my earbuds and listen to am radio until I passed out. Needless to say, out of the 70 people I was living with, a large majority of them were maniacs.

By the time that first week ends, your lock up week, you are thrilled to go to work. You are likely begging your employer to let you work 60 hours a week minimum. Even if you previously hated your job on the outside, when you are locked up, you love getting to leave for work. Doesn’t matter if you are flipping burgers or sweeping up hog guts at the meat plant, you LOVE your job.

So basically the Fort takes everything from you and little-by-little you earn it back- like it’s a privilege to be able to work. They also take control of all your finances and force you to budget, and you also do treatment classes in the evenings. After you are there for 2 weeks you get to go outside and walk to the gas station on a Saturday. You can go to Dollar General too, and you are totally stoked to do it, even if it’s freezing out. The dollar store…

After you are there a month, you get to go home for 12 hours on a Saturday. Then you work your way up to 24 and finally 48 hour furloughs. After a month at the Fort there is nothing better than sleeping in your own bed in your own home, with no strangers around. Well, except for maybe showering alone and barefoot. You have to wear sandals when you shower because man, who knows what is on those floors. Also you tend to take super fast, disappointing showers when there are 5 weirdos in there with you. So yeah, that first time back home- the home-cooked meal or pizza, followed by a nice, long shower and sleeping in your own bed… I mean these are things I had never truly appreciated.

Another “reward” you can earn is the ability to work in the kitchen when you get back from work. You get maybe a little money off your rent (oh yeah, you are paying rent to be here and rent at home if you have a place) for working in the kitchen and like an extra smoke break. Oh, and some extra food, which really isn’t that great of a perk considering the best part of every meal was the salad. BUT it keeps you busy; makes the time go faster.

After my first month of being there I had joined a gym, so I was leaving the Fort at like 5:50 each morning, riding the bus to get to the gym and to work, getting back to the Fort around 6 pm, and then working in the kitchen until 11. It really wasn’t that bad. Well, at least not compared to my first week. I was beginning to appreciate all these little things, like being able to work or having something to do or showering without shoes (can you tell I hated that part?)… I was no longer taking the simple things for granted. That was a change in mindset that the program was trying to achieve. Like I said, most guys were resisting the change- it was like a game to see what they could get away with. Sneaking in cell phones, getting high or drunk, being somewhere other than where they were supposed to be, and so on. These were people who weren’t going to change. Most of them went back to prison. Some of them have probably been to the Fort several times. Not me. I was playing it real close to the vest. I followed every single rule, and I spoke up in our groups and tried to help any of the new people who seemed like they were serious about doing what they needed to do to get off paper, or out of the control of the Department of Corrections.

In my 3rd month there, I became the Vice President of the inmates. We had a vote and I wore a t-shirt with Willie Nelson on it that said “Vote for Willie” and “Willie for President” on the back. I am pretty sure that was the only reason I won, but maybe it had something to do with my leadership. It was fun. I was proud of it. I was proud of myself, and that was something that I really wasn’t used to feeling.

Toward the end of my stay at the Fort, I was housed in the Honor Dorm. I had to sleep there Monday through Thursday, and was able to sleep at home Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. I also was able to leave the dorm each day at 5 am and just had to be back by 10 pm. They continued to give you just enough rope that you could hang yourself, and if you didn’t, they give you a little more. I wasn’t late for curfew once. I never blew numbers (you’d be given a breathalyzer each time you returned) and I never dropped dirty. I was a model inmate and I credit the Department of Corrections and in particular the Fort Des Moines Treatment Program for helping rehabilitate me, and for helping me appreciate the little things and not taking anything for granted. Little things like the sunrise or, you guessed it, showering barefoot.

The Fort sits right behind the Blank Park Zoo, which is funny on its own. Caged animals living next door to half-caged animals.  The zoo has a huge sign that arches over its entry driveway. On the backside of it, it says “Thanks For Visiting” so that you read it as you are leaving. That backside of the giant arching sign also faced the Fort. I hated that sign- such an asshole of a sign. “Thanks for Visiting” just glowing at you as you freeze your ass off on your 10 minute smoke break. Thanks for Visiting. It even lights up at night, of course.

Anyway, Thanks for Reading. Don’t take the little things for granted. You never know when you might find yourself sleeping, eating, showering and shitting in a room full of strangers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s