INTERVIEW: Addiction, Crime, Prison, and Redemption – Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, please read it first, here.

An Interview

“I forgot to tell you: the main reason I was staying with my parents before sentencing was, I was going for a play with the judge. I signed myself in as an in-patient (to a treatment program), but staying at my parents’ home. I said, ‘I need help’. I truly did, on some level, but I was also cognizant of the fact that maybe this would give me a break from the judge, that he’d just give me probation.

I’m only in the program for two weeks, then… remember the stripper I told you about? She comes to visit me, so I sign myself out. I’m on my way to prison, and I want to spend a little time with my girlfriend.

My counselor sends a letter to the judge.”

“When I get to court, the judge reads the letter out loud to the court. ‘Model patient, worked in the other wards (this is the mental health center), had fed handicapped people, helped with laundry’, all that. But ‘He signed himself out early, and in the A.O.D.A. (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse) counsellor’s opinion, ‘snow job’.’

Those were the last two words he writes on that letter. But, part of that is true. So, interesting that I become an A.O.D.A. counsellor later on (years later). But this is the last thing I hear from the guy. Had I been smart and stayed my whole month in there, it might have changed everything.

But again, maybe that had to happen. Everything we do makes us who we are today. I did lots of stuff that I could have been locked up for, you know? Did do a few B and E’s to survive. I never did anything personally to someone, like a home invasion. Just business places, to rob a till. So even though I got sentenced for one thing I did and one thing I didn’t do, I did plenty of other illegal things, muling tons of pot, burglary.

But the cause of crime truly resides in the person and the way they think. We choose our associates; nobody ever held me down and shot me up, no one put a gun to my head and said, ‘Shoot this heroin’. I did this all because I chose to.

Anyway, the judge says, ‘I’m sentencing you to three years in prison. Do you have anything to say to the court?’ I said, ‘Yeah; if I was black, and this was Milwaukee, and I was twenty-nine with a clean record, there’s no way in hell you’d be giving me three years in prison out of the gate’. I was smart enough now, and straight enough, to know that was going to go on the written record. The woman’s typing away… I did get to read that about fifteen years later. I did laugh. Even my parole officer, after prison, said, ‘I can’t believe they sent you to prison for this – maximum security’. But again, I pissed off some people in La Crosse in an election year, and they were trying to ‘clean up the streets’.

So, the judge listens to me impassively, strikes the gavel, and says, ‘Take the prisoner away’.”

“What I didn’t tell you before was, I had one of my three-piece suits on in court. All through the suit – the hems, the vest – I had sewn in lots of drugs. Mostly blue valiums. I get tossed in my cell, they tell me they’ll get me jump greens (prison jumpsuits) soon. In the meantime I tear all that stuff out, it took them a whole day to get me the jumpsuit.

Now, I’m starting to make friends in the cell block. County jail can be way worse than state prison, lots of bad things can happen to you there, so having a few friends is a good thing.”

“I was transferred from La Crosse to the prison by the fat sheriff and his even fatter wife. They took me out of the squad car, put me in the back of their little Ford Pinto at their home. I’m in crotch chains, crammed in the back of this Pinto for prisoner delivery.

They get a food allotment for prisoners; they stop at a McDonald’s along the way, don’t feed me; he oinks up himself and his wife, you know? That was my ride to prison, and it got worse when I got there.”

Observatory LawnPRISON
“I went to prison in 1976. By the time I get to prison, I have this rep for being a dealer (due to the load of drugs he had sewn into his suit), I have all these buds going, ‘Wolfgang, how’s it going?’ Suddenly, I’ve become like an ‘old fish’ (established convict) in the joint. Technically I’m a new fish, subject to all the bad crap that goes on. But because I’m tanned, got some tattoos, now I’ve got friends.

And apparently I had a pretty good time with them. ‘Cause I don’t remember; many of the benzodiazepines are known as the ‘memory drug’. For instance, you take any barbiturates and mix them with alcohol – you may not remember everything short term, but it comes back in bits and pieces. But with benzodiazepines, it’s gone. I used to have to ask my girlfriend if I had a good time or not, she’d tell me what I did.

But having friends in prison is good, even though I was a fairly big and strapping guy; you know, there was going to be a cost… (if somebody tried to harm him), but you have to remember: if somebody wants to do something to you in prison, and they’re already connected… it’s gonna happen to you. So your best chance is to be smart, have friends. I was a little street smart anyway, you know… who to push, who not to push, how to stay low key, stay out of certain places so you wouldn’t get trapped and caught alone.

You get this mental attitude – even coming out from prison, it’s there – you know, everything’s different; somebody calls you out (challenges you), you need to do something about that right then, or word gets around and pretty soon they got a skirt on you and you’re everybody’s Nancy-boy. It’s better to take a beating than to snitch. It’s a completely different city inside. Inmates do run the place, it’s not the guards.

In prison, you don’t have a name anymore, just a number. ‘Number 99794, come to the rotunda’. And you picked that up just as if they’d said ‘Wolfgang’. Whoop, I’m blowing my anonymity here, aren’t I? (Ha)

Even back then, there’s as much stuff in prison as there is on the outside. It just comes at a bigger premium. Joints become pin-joints (smaller), for instance, a tiny thing where you’re smoking more paper than you are pot. Sometimes they have a slight – flavour – of fecal matter, you know, because they’ve come in (smuggled in to the prison) through someone’s asshole, in a balloon.

I started smoking there, and coffee. Those are the two drugs they would allow you to have legally. Mom came to visit me, many times. My Dad couldn’t even bring himself to go. He grew up with a lot of the teachers, guards that worked there. His shame was too great. But my Mom would come every other day. At that time, you could bring fresh fruit, vegetables, so she would bring me those; I’d pass out food to my buds in the cell block. It was great to get, like, a fresh pepper. You didn’t see none of that in the joint.

I wasn’t dealing so much, in prison. I just wanted to make my time pass as pleasurably as possible. I didn’t have to do the whole three years, I only did fourteen months of it, so that’s a walk in the park. I did fourteen-on-three, as the boys say.

I didn’t have too many bad experiences in maximum security. And as soon as I had a chance to make any plea, I was non-violent, non-assaultive, so they didn’t really need my maximum security bed for bad old me. So I started laying a line of crap on them that I was pretty much as close to being a son of the land as you can be, that I should be out at the honor farm they had, where I could be working hard for the state. What I know about farming, you could stuff in a thimble. But I wanted out of these stinking, sweaty cells where I could see the sunlight out there but couldn’t get to it.

The Walls is right next to Heritage Hills State Park, where they have re-enactments of civil war. So I’m watching these fireworks from my prison cell, looking through these bars. Gives you a different look on freedom, on appreciating freedom, on there being different levels of freedom. The American bicentennial year, and I’m locked up. I truly came to appreciate the Fourth of July a lot better.”

“So now I was working on this honor farm, living in this big old rambling farmhouse with one guard. We’d provide all the beef for the prison, all the pork. I was a swine herd, an oats driver, all kinds of stuff. The warden of the prison raised pigs like you and I would breed dogs; I would go with him to county fairs, we’d have pigs in the back. Ranching, and we farmed hay.

They worked you real hard; you baled hay. I personally hauled over 3,000 bales of hay that year. We were truly slave labor; I got a raise from eight cents an hour in ‘the Walls’, to nineteen cents on the farm. We were supposed to get better food too, but the cook was hustling all the hams and turkeys out to his girlfriend when we were working in the field.

You could do anything there, if you knew how to arrange it; like make love with your girlfriend. You could arrange your ‘visit’, they’d pick you up from the fields, drive you to the bunkhouse. They had flowers, swings… and one guard in the whole place. So if you paid off the guy in the laundry room for example, you could do a quickie on his desk, he’d have blankets on it. Not much fun, though. Not enjoyable when you’re worried about getting caught all the time.”

“I finally transferred to a place called Oakhill, near Madison. It was a CCC building, which meant Civil and Conservation Corps; policing the forests, building new roads, that kind of stuff, government programs to keep people working. I became a Xerox technician. I had a college degree, remember, but no skills.

Oakhill was a school release, and work release, program. It was a federal program to give inmates skills. We would get paid to fix manual and electric typewriters. The boss would take one of us to Madison to deliver these to federal properties. I get $2.50 per hour now, which is huge, in prison. It was so much fun going there; at that time, they had very liberal pot laws. I’d say, ‘Bob, look at that, there’s two secretaries walking down the street, passing a joint – I’m in prison, and look at those girly-girls’. He goes, ‘I know, Wolfgang, I know’.

After prison, I wasn’t dealing any more, but what I did do was almost as stupid. This guy I was driving with, I set him up with a pound of pot every week. Him and I ounce it up, we each get a free bag of pot, and he sells the rest, I don’t do anything. But again, inconsistent, inappropriate thinking: I’m thinking that somehow I’m isolated from this whole process. But you and I know, had he got busted, with him having a wife and two little kids, he would have rolled on me (told the police) in a New York second, I would have been the bad guy and gone back to prison.

But when you’re heavy into drugs, you believe what you want to believe. You know, there’s what he said, and then what I heard. So I think, if I set him up but don’t actually do any dealing around town, I’m cool (safe). So I seem to be this rehabilitated guy, working forty hours per week, paying taxes… I just wanted to smoke pot. That’s all I wanted to do.

But even at Oakhill, they put me in a rehab program, because I was stupid enough – in ‘Assessment and Evaluation’ – to tell the social worker anything she wanted to know about my drug history. I’m ignorant, so I don’t know how things work. So I give her all this information, now I’m in a rehab program. I don’t want a rehab program, I’m not reforming; as soon as I get out of here I’m going to do just what the hell I want. I’m still going to smoke pot, but I’m ‘not’ going to burgle drug stores, not going to deal anymore. My plan is, ‘better living through chemistry’, and I’m still going to smoke a good nickel cigar.

Later I asked my social worker to send me back to Green Bay. I made the case that my Mom, Dad live there, I’ll get a job… they say okay. So I go to a half-way house there, move into a three-story half-way house with a calorically-challenged house mother who was the sweetest thing in the world but also had a bad heart and couldn’t climb three steps – we could do whatever the hell we wanted upstairs, she would never find out. So we had a big fan in the window, we’d blow dope out.”

“I met a woman there… she had a great job, money, she just thought the sun rose and set from her ass. You might as well have it in neon on your forehead ‘I’m an addict’, you just attract those people. You attract people who are living ‘the life’, not above breaking the rules.

For my first couple weeks I worked at the Green Bay Memorial Arena, where they put concerts on. Me and some other guys would clean the place after concerts… so what do you think we found? (Leftover drugs)

On weekends they’d play hockey there; I’m doing garbage runs with the guys that run the arena. One young guy asks me if I want to get high. We’re doing garbage runs, getting high. He’s my boss. Then I find out there’s these mobile beer tappers – they’re usually left open until Monday morning sometime at the arena. So until 10:00 or 11:00 am until they lock those up, we’re drinking beer all morning. We’re cleaning up, doing our work, but it’s pretty pleasant; finding pipes, pot, pills under the stands.

Then I got a job working for Mayflower Movers. Ships dock in the port of Green Bay. I’m moving people (their belongings/furniture) every day. While I worked there, I sent myself to truck-driving school on weekends, so I can drive big rigs.”

“This is after the half-way house, now. I went through a few different careers. I was still looking for a skill, a trade. I went to a technical college, took an air conditioning and heating course and became assistant to a guy. Guess where you do a lot of AC and refrigeration? Bars.

Guess what that leads to? Now, I had gone long periods where I didn’t drink anymore, figured out that drinking is what gets me in trouble. Drinking is when I tend to get into fights; saving my friends, or just beating up someone who’s messing with me. I’m a good drunk, a pretty happy drunk actually, unless pushed into a corner, and then I will fight.

I finally found a place where they don’t give a damn I’m on paper (parole); in fact, the guy likes it. Driving a roll-off; a roll-off is a semi tractor, with a box that rolls off the back. They serviced the paper mills in Green Bay, so we would haul particulates around to them. And of course, the owners of this company are both alcoholics, part of the reason they hired me was because I could party, and they loved all that. So, two alcoholic brothers… I apply for this job I saw in the paper, I said, ‘I’ve got to be honest with you; I’m on paper’. He says, ‘You’re on what?’ I said, ‘I’m on probation, from prison’.

He starts laughing. And I’m getting a little pissed. He says, ‘Open up that curtain’. I do it, and it opens up on his shop, a one-way mirror. He says, ‘See that guy in the blue coveralls?’ –There’s this nasty-looking guy, all greasy. He says, ‘That’s Roger; he’s on paper for second-degree murder’. He laughs. ‘I love havin’ guys here on paper – ’cause I know where the fuck you are all the time! You don’t show up for work, I’ll call your P.O.!’ And he keeps laughing, you know.

So I’ve hooked up with this alcoholic family; their kids – who are around my age – are hunters, fishermen… but drinkers. So their normal way to pay you every other Friday, was in the office where they’d have cases of beer. Then after that, we had kind of ‘our bar’, a place down the street where anything went, for us. They knew I’d go out in the back alley and smoke dope with the guys, nobody cared. The way they measured how good of a worker you were was, could you party hard on payday, then come in and work overtime on Saturday. I worked four weeks in a row sometimes, no days off. I’d haul dead people in the truck, I didn’t care, ’cause I could smoke dope, drink beer.

Then the brothers sold out to a big national outfit. We were able to keep working with the new organization. The first night, they took us to a fancy restaurant, showed us a movie on waste management. But I knew what it was… there was an open bar, and they wanted to see who was going to drink. I nursed one beer for the whole night. I passed that test.

But after working with this small family-run job, I didn’t fit in real well with the new big thing. They had all kinds of little rules, like if you weren’t exactly on time, etc. And I would bitch at them… like: where was my uniform? They were taking forever getting uniforms, so one day I come in with a long leather coat on, and a Snoopy scarf and helmet. They knew I was on something, even though I passed their drug screening. They knew I didn’t fit the company mold.

They cut me loose; I was a liiiiitle… loose for their style. Then I was on unemployment for awhile.”

“I continue to be a drug addict for the next nine, ten years. The AA people talk about hitting a ‘bottom’; I don’t know that I ever hit a bottom, that way. As a truck driver, when you lose your driving permit, that’s huge. Finally I get a drunk driving ticket in my Cadillac coming home from a bar where my partner and I had done all the refrigeration, air conditioning. In Wisconsin, if you get a DD ticket, you have to go in for an I.D.P., an ‘Impaired Driver Program’ assessment. A counsellor, working for the state, assesses where you’re at. They decided, given my prison background, that I now need a level 3 treatment, which is in-patient.

I tell them, ‘Hell no, you want to lock me up for 28 days?’ Too bad, if you ever want to drive legally in Wisconsin or the other Reciprocity states, you have to go into treatment. The woman who did this to me, her and I are still good friends. She’s retired now but we still laugh about this, because I’m the president of her drug counselor association.

I resist for four years. I’m with a roofing business, got two trucks, but for four years I don’t drive. I resist the treatment. Until I finally go into treatment, in 1988. At that point, I made the decision that my life is still spinning out of control, in spite of some advantages I’ve had. I can’t get away from the drugs, and my inconsistent, inappropriate behavior. You combine those, and it continues to be a recipe for disaster; no matter what’s working for me, those things continue to fuck up everything else.

So, this is it. I tell my Mom I’m going into treatment. I went once before, but she thought it was a joke and I can tell in her eyes that she doesn’t believe I’m serious. But I say, ‘No, I’m going to quit drinking.’ And this is truly what I’m thinking: I’m going to give up alcohol, the drug that’s really killing me, the drug I get the most trouble out of… but up here in my little attic brain, I’m still thinking, ‘But I’m still gonna smoke a little pot, still gonna take some pills… I’m just not gonna drink any more’.”

“So I go into treatment. And this is how bankrupt I was, financially and spiritually: I was a size three pants, weighed 220 pounds, the fattest bastard I’ve ever been in my life. Two cars, paid for but can’t drive them. Other than that, I don’t have a pot to piss in. My Mom had to buy me some fat boy jeans so I’d have something (decent) to wear into treatment.

I’m in with all the people who are mentally challenged, in the county mental health center. Right in the middle of some pretty challenged folks. We’re off on the side (drug rehab is a separate area) but we all come together to eat in the cafeteria. You know, noise, hot dog weenies flying through the air, people laughing.

I’m solid about giving up drinking. They give you a physical, a third of my liver is like a bowling ball. They tell me if I keep going like this, I’ll be dead. They test me for aids. I never shared needles, but you know, multiple sex partners. The first week I’m there, I’m no longer drinking twelve – fifteen cans of beer each day, but I start eating everything in sight… and I still lost eleven pounds. They’re scared, they don’t know what’s up. But it was all beer fat.

This female counselor starts getting to me every day. I don’t particularly like her, but she tells me she loves me – she means that in a good (non-romantic) way. I’m honest with her, I tell her I’m gonna quit drinking… but that I’m leaving the door open for those other things (drugs). I’m well-defended, just like many of my patients now; marijuana’s not wrong, it’s natural, a God-given herb, blah blah blah.

She says, ‘You can’t do this half way’. That’s the truth. This counselor sold me on the fact that one thing would lead to another. And I knew that, from my own history. I thought about it, and she was right. Take the Big Leap… see if I could give it all up. How cool would that be? Whether I could do that… I didn’t know.

The system sucks you in. I never wanted to stay straight initially, but I found out I could do it. I got pulled into the happy bus, going to these twelve-step meetings. I’m not a big believer in twelve-step, by the way, but I use that with new people in programs (with his counseling work) because they need some sort of a rock. They need to understand that there’s other people there trying to do the same thing, and the idea is you morph into other healthy groups.

My Mom, now, was starting to take a little interest. The only person who believed (once she saw his effort) I could really do this, who never gave up on me.

Strange thing happens after two weeks: my thinking starts to clear a little. For the first time in twenty years I’m actually straight. Where I’m actually straight… life starts to look a little different. It’s really weird, where I am.”

Mahoney Lake salt

Walking around Mahoney Lake, a saline lake with dried salt all around its shore.

“I went to the big fat morning guy, the resident assistant, say, ‘I’d like to start running, so I can lose some of this weight’. He’s like, 300 pounds. ‘I can’t let you out, you’re in treatment’. I say, ‘How about I get up early, you let me out at 5am?’ They don’t want to do that, they think you’re gonna score out there, have friends drop off pot. I say, ‘How about you let me out to go running, when I come back you can give me the whiz quiz (urine test)?’ He says he can do that. For about the first two, three days he tests me, but then he’s lazy. It doesn’t make any difference to me; I know I’m not using, not scoring anything out there. Pretty soon they get used to my routine, I start running, get up to a mile.

That’s where all this (his doing Ironman triathlon events) started; back in 1988. The theory of healing addiction is: what are you going to do? How are you going to replace all this time you used to spend in that lifestyle? Replacement, replacement, replacement. You replace unhealthy things with healthy things, right? So what could be better than being outside, running, doing anything, even if it’s gardening? That’s what I try and sell my clients on: healthy replacement activities. If you want to sit under that tree and read a novel, then God love you – it’s better than killing your liver, killing your lungs, isn’t it?

That’s how I got into running clubs, that’s how I met these crazy people (Ironman triathletes). Never got particularly good at these things, but smart enough to know that I had to hang with healthier people. Whether that was martial arts, sports, whatever. ‘If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you’re gonna get a haircut’. And it’s like that with people who hang around in bars – and then think they’re not going to drink anymore.”

“I went into treatment April 4, 1988. That’s my ‘recovery date’, right? A month later, in May, my month is over… and I’m clean and serene for the first time in twenty years.

My buddies from the roofing company come to pick me up. Well, they’ve got a case of beer, they’re convinced the only reason I did this was to get my driver’s license back. So I’m in between the two of them, they’re packing the pipe, they’re, ‘Come on, let’s get high, this is your first time in a month, you’re really gonna get off like a raped ape’. I’m going, ‘No thanks’.

Pretty soon money starts changing hands… because one guy didn’t think I was going to use, and the other one did (and they had made a bet). I didn’t last much longer in that partnership, now I saw what was going on (with a clear head); ethical deterioration, you know – their attitude at work was, they’re roofing the houses of old people, who won’t be going up on the roof to check it (see the shoddy workmanship). I’m going, ‘If that were your parents, would you want only this half-assed work done?’ They’re like, ‘Well, it looks good enough from my house, good enough for the girls I go out with’. That was his attitude.

I started to think, ‘What am I going to do?’ This is great, I’m clean, but I realized I didn’t want to go back to the roofing. I did it for the rest of the roofing season, but there’d be mornings… like, I was on the chief of police’s house (in Green Bay, Wisconsin), re-doing his roof… and my co-workers are all asleep in his garage, because they’re hung over. I’m up there with the nail gun, it’s 95 degrees outside, and I’m thinking about this.

When you’re absolutely clear… about what’s going on, then you have a harder time overlooking things like your company paying for the work crew’s cigarettes. I’m mulling this kind of stuff.”

“I realized there was something else I could do in life. I’m also still in treatment, in twelve weeks of what they called ‘aftercare’, now called ‘continuing care’, which I attended every Thursday. They told me I could come as long as I wanted. Thirty-nine weeks, I went to continuing care.

To me, it’s like another meeting, only way more cool. There’s people just out of treatment like I was awhile ago, there’s counselors, and I’m liking all that. I’m starting to think, ‘This is the only damn thing I really know about – drugs, the getting of drugs, and now I’ve added that I kind of know about recovery’.”

“I’m doing twelve-step, AA. Not buying hook, line, and sinker into them as the years go by, I see it for what it is; it can become another addiction for somebody. Like the addict husband who was a shitty husband and a shitty father, now replaces the alcohol addiction with his self-help support meetings, five days a week, doing service work, recovery’s gotta come first… but his family still doesn’t have him, hasn’t got a husband, a father. Now he’s just traded addictions.

I wanted my life back, and I didn’t want my life to mean that I needed to go to eight meetings every two weeks. But I did do my share of service work. For about eight years I went to the prison each Sunday night with the N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous recovery group, whose meetings he facilitated). And I know some of these guys had about as much interest in recovery from drugs as I had back then… but – you know? Even in my program, where I’ve been working with guys like this for twelve years now and I’m actually being paid for it, I still see these guys who come in, ‘Hey, Wolfgang, how’s it goin’? I’ve come here today to ‘change my attitude!’ And they’re so drunk they can’t hardly talk, but they remember the opening phrase to our group every day.”

“Then there’s the other side of the coin, someone who’s, ‘Wolfgang, this is Tom. I’ve been straight for six years now; you know anything about mortgages, buying a house? I tracked you down, can you help?’ I see plenty of these guys around too, and a lot of them are doing good.

So, is it not worth it? For my whole criminal justice program, it costs about the same money to lock up five guys in prison for a year, as it does for me to service eighty guys and gals, and their families. Doesn’t that make more sense, money-wise?

I think of several different people I’ve really affected, since I’ve been in the business for a long time now. There was a young man, told me he’s never going to quit smoking pot. Now I see him all over town; he’s married, has his own business, and he tells people I saved his life. I tell him, ‘You give me too much power; you did the hard work, you saved your own life. I was just a player on the side, gave you some tools’.

Sometimes it’s role-modeling, sometimes some direction. For instance, in my corrections program, if they came to me and they didn’t have high school education… you know, I’m still a rule-bender, I’d let them go to the technical college where I now work, get their high school equivalency diploma. I’d let them out of therapy with me – which was a God-send, not getting drilled by me in therapy – so they could escape and go to tech college. Then it would look better to a future employer, kind of like saying, ‘I made a mistake, but I went back and corrected it’.”

“There’s all kinds of people out there I’ve dealt with. And today, with my doing therapy at the college level, I know I play a little role in the lives (and health) of a lot of people. Whether it’s getting them into the running club, or helping them quit smoking. For me, it’s very fulfilling. Even teaching; I see the counselors of tomorrow. I know I played a role… I hear them say something when they’re working with people, repeating one of my speech mannerisms, something I say. It’s fun.

In that sense, I’m never gonna be the president, have some big memorial… but I know I play a role in some peoples’ lives.”

You must be able, now, to see quite clearly through the bullshit, when someone you’re counseling is handing you a line, trying to snow you.

“You know, they say ‘You can’t con a con’. But I think it only takes a better con to con a con. (Ha)

But for the most part, yeah, on most levels; if someone pisses in my pocket and tries to tell me it’s raining out, for the most part I can figure it out fairly fast.”

You must also be good with confrontation, and digging through to the truth, making that person face that they’re trying to con you and are maybe even lying to themselves.

“In therapy, I look at it as ‘care-frontation’, instead of confrontation. It’s confrontation, but in a more caring way. With my learners, now, I tell them, ‘You’ve got choices; you’re gonna do whatever you’re gonna do. And this is all confidential, so if you’re gonna do that (more drugs), just try not to hurt anyone else, but maybe you need to experience these things…’.”

The idea here is that some people – Wolfgang included – just feel an inner need to ‘keep doing it’ no matter what happens to them, who tries to help them, and what the consequences are, and no one can stop them…

And Wolfgang is wise/experienced enough to know that different people have different timing, that he can’t literally grab someone and force them to stop, until their ‘internal clock’ dictates that they are now receptive to help… even if it’s tough help.

“I tell them, ‘I realize I’m an old man, telling you about something before you were even born, but….’ I’m big on choices. I believe that treatment IMposed, is treatment OPposed. Even though, in this treatment program, sometimes we would drag people kicking and screaming, they didn’t want to be here, ‘Fuck you Wolfgang, and the pig you rode into town on’, right? ‘If we weren’t in this room, I’d beat the fuck out of you right now!’ I’d say, ‘Well, if you’re feeling froggy, just leap’. I’d say, ‘It’s just life; there’s always consequences. You think you’re the only one? We all got consequences. It’s just different. Like, my level of freedom is a little better than yours. But guess why? I worked at it (my problems). I was where you are. Now, this (freedom) is what you want’.

And you know, maybe prison had to happen, for me to be where I am today. I did a criminal justice program working with offenders, for twelve years; some of my true-life hands-on experience inside helped. There was none of this ‘what do you know about alcoholism’, any of that shit. Everything happens for a reason.”

What you have gone through qualifies you for your next steps.

“Yeah. I’ve often thought about that. I not only ran a drug rehab center for criminals, but I was an ex-offender myself. And I had a five-digit (prison) number, so that got me some respect. They switched over to six-digit numbers a year after I was in. So if you had a five-digit, it means you did prison time a loooong time ago (in their eyes), or you had a record that stretched back to adolescence.

When we talk about corrections treatments, there’s a difference between self-esteem and self-respect. When you look at it from the criminal’s standpoint, someone who’s on that continuum of criminal thinking, is an extreme criminal, they think of self-esteem as being kind of externals… what car they drive, what jewelry they own, what does their girlfriend look like, who do they hang out with.

We try to help them understand that what real self-respect is about is… probably like someone who’s proficient in martial arts, it’s internals as opposed to externals. You know… ‘Am I honest? Do I have a good work ethic?’”

“When you understand addiction, there are several phases; phase one is ‘experiment stage’, where you start to learn the effects the drug has on you, whatever drug it is.

The second phase, past experimental or learning phase but still not really harmful yet, is where you get used to what you do; you go out for ‘beer night’, bowling, you know about how much beer you can have, but you also learn it’s not good to mix five shots with your beer because you’re gonna puke and suffer consequences later on… your lady friend gets angry ‘cause you came home stinking of beer, whatever.

But at some point, people who progress into the addiction phase cross that line… we have use, misuse, and then we have abuse, where we cross the line and it becomes very harmful. Eventually you have like chronic alcoholics who are ‘using to live’ – they need that shot in the morning to ‘get right’, so their system felt okay.

I always kind of laughed at that… not realizing that I was destined to be one of those people, if something didn’t intervene. I liked being high. I probably would still like it, that’s why I’m careful and don’t go there.

Drugs still pervade everywhere; even on the final run coming in on the Ironman (triathlon, which he was in town to participate in), I could smell all this high-quality pot somewhere – there’s these balconies, cars sitting there, I know people were blowing dope somewhere. But that’s the reality of life. I just kind of smiled as I ran through it, you know.

I can be in a park and people will offer to get me high… you know, I’m jogging. I say, ‘No thanks’ (friendly); I don’t have time to tell everyone I’m a recovering drug addict, I was shooting heroin before they were born.”

“I’m twenty years in recovery, now. Finishing off that many years of no drinks, no drugs. I’ve spent enough time in bars, seeing all that. Even when I’ve been clean these last many years I’ve been in bars, but I just don’t enjoy that anymore. It’s boring for me. It’s people legally taking in drugs to change the way they feel… but I have other ways to change the way I feel.

I’m really ashamed about some of the stuff that I told you I’ve done, and I’ve done lots more I’m really ashamed of (that he didn’t have time to tell me). But I have the good side, of knowing that now… I rarely do something I have to say I’m sorry for, and if I do it’s usually just from a sudden mistake, I don’t knowingly hurt people anymore. I try to be courteous, I try to be respectful, I don’t do anything that keeps me awake at night tossing, thinking I shouldn’t have done it.

That’s the problem with drug addiction and what it does to your thinking: we tend to ‘make’ things okay, they fit into our temporary morality scheme at the time.

I say to everybody, ‘If you’re in recovery, you work some kind of a program. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this cookie-cutter thing where you’re in AA, NA, in ‘rational recovery’, but we need a stepping stone at least to stabilize, get going. Then recovery, like life… you grow a little, branch out, look at other things. How do you make the most of the time you have left? What way, and what would that look like?”

“I would be a positive addition to anyone’s community.

That sounds like bragging… but I just know that I bring good to a community, now. It’s my way of paying back.”


And he does pay back, he is a positive force. The other athletes, and we motel workers, just love the guy; and it’s not for any ‘fun guy’ thing, it’s because of the way he looks at you and talks with you and treats you.

The apple

After the ‘triathlon’ of an interview, time to relax with an apple and enjoy the succulent view.

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