Sep 28

The Hole

Hole

Forest

The Hole

Behind one of the houses we lived in was a dark and formidable forest. The trees were enormous and it seemed as if the limbs and branches intertwined, creating a canopy that blocked out every drop of sunlight. The darkness ran deep and long, probably forever. There was no telling how many children had been lost in this woody abyss.

 

The only thing that separated our yard from the woods, was a simple chain link fence. We played in our yard constantly but always wondered what it was like on the other side of the fence. On the days my brother and I walked to school, we followed the fence line as the imaginations of a nine and an eight year old boy ran wild. 

Could there be wild animals in there?

What about an undiscovered, lost tribe of people?

Maybe even mystical creatures like a unicorn or dragons?

 

There was something scary but magical about the wooded area that seemed to beckon us. It was as if we could hear it saying, “Come in, if you dare.”

 

If we did go in there, what if we got lost? No one would ever see us again. Our youngest brother would get our room all to himself. It was just too risky.

 

But every day the draw got stronger.

 

Resistance was futile and an excursion was imminent. It was no longer if we were going, but when and how were we going to get back there.

 

Gathering a couple of the more adventurous neighborhood kids, my brother and I told them “Today, we are going in the forest! Who’s with us?” All we were missing from this scene were some horses, swords, spears, blue warpaint, kilts, and Mel Gibson. Okay, so we had nothing.

 

Everyone agreed to go, so we headed off in the opposite direction of our normal school route. This was unfamiliar and uncharted territory. 

 

From the safe side of the fence, we traveled along the perimeter looking for a point of entry. Eventually we happened upon a section of fence where some of the links were detached. Some bold adventurer had breached this area before us.

 

We wondered:

 

Who could have done this and how long ago?

Did they ever make it back out?

Would we stumble across their bleached bones, with arm outstretched and finger pointing back to the entrance as if warning us, “Get out while you still can?”

 

Despite these fears we went in anyways. Probably because we had so much testosterone in the fifth grade.  

 

The darkness was damp and smelled of grass, moss and decaying leaves. None of us thought to bring a flashlight, rope, Rambo knife, food or water. We kept going, figuring we would just stay in for a little while. 

 

After walking for what seemed like an entire day and traveling many miles, I turned around to see our progress. There, about fifty yards away was our house. I could have sworn we were much deeper than that.

 

As we came to some sort of clearing, I noticed a large piece of plywood laying on the ground. It must have been at least ten by ten feet. As we all got closer to investigate, we could tell that the plywood was a makeshift roof placed over a massive hole. One of the corners of this roof had a square section cut out of it.

Wondering how deep it was and what was in there, I peered into the opening. What I found was the top of a ladder leading down in to the pitch dark depths of the hole.

As a group, we discussed the situation. “If there is a ladder then it can’t be that deep, right? Can we all fit in there? Who wants to go first?”

 

It was killing us not knowing what was down there, so I decided to be the first to go. As I stepped into the hole and on to the first rung of the ladder, I looked at everyone for the last time, wondering if I would ever see them again. Digging deep into my adolescent bravery, I descended the rest of the way down the ladder.

As I was being swallowed by the darkness, I noticed that the temperature was cooler and there was kind of an earthy, mildew smell. When I stepped off the ladder, my foot landed on something soft. When I hit the bottom, I found myself standing on a large mattress.

Why was this here?

Was this some hobo’s home or something?

Who made this place?

The hole was deep enough for me to stand up and not hit the plywood ceiling. It was still pretty dark but the light coming down from the opening revealed that the hole was square, with four walls. Looking up to the opening, I could see my brother and some of the other kids, trying to see me.

“Come on down!” I called out. “It’s safe.” I reassured them.

My brother came down first and the others followed him down the ladder one by one. We were all amazed that someone had dug this into the ground. We really weren’t sure what to make of it or how it could be used.

Maybe it could be our secret hideaway?

Or it could be a place to have club meetings?

We could bring stuff down here that no one would ever be able to find.

 

As my vision started to adjust to the dark, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.

A small movement. Near the roof.

Then some more movement.

Was the entire ceiling moving?

 

Straining to make out what was up there, I felt something tickling my wrist. When I looked down, a daddy-long-legs was making it’s way up my arm.

Hole

Daddy-Long-Legs

With chills running up and down my spine and my hair standing on end, I let out a blood curdling scream that sounded like a little girl, who just had her dolly taken away, and I brushed the spider off of my arm.

Everyone looked my way with fear in their eyes wondering what had happened.

And then I realized what was on the ceiling.

The entire sheet of plywood was covered with daddy-long-leg spiders!

“GET OUT!!!” I screamed.

With the speed of Flash, the neighborhood kids flew up the ladder. As each person made their way up, they smacked and bumped the plywood. This caused hundreds of thousands of spiders to rain down on my brother and me.

My brother was the second one down and so he was in front of me. Fate would have it that I would be the last one in line to climb out. If I could have ran through the other kids, I would have.

Once we broke through to the surface, I saw my brother trying to remove the hundreds of daddy-long-legs from all over his body.  As if he was on fire, he employed the stop-drop-and-roll technique.

I would have rather been engulfed in flames than to have masses of spiders crawling all over me. Not having a flame thrower, I mimicked my brother. There was a lot of flailing across the forest floor, while emitting a girly high pitched scream.

Arachnophobia doesn’t describe the trauma I was left with that day.

I can reassure you that we never went back down that hole again.

It took about 35 years to get over my fear of spiders.

 

Only click this link if you think I was exaggerating and you are very brave!

Daddy-Long-Legs

 

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Humorous Life Lessons

Sep 14

Swimming Lessons

Swimming

Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons

Swimming has always been a major challenge for me. If there ever was an aquatic emergency, you wouldn’t want me jumping in to help. That would require the next rescuer to have to save two people.

For several summers in a row, my parents dropped me and my siblings off at the pool for lessons. I’m sure the expectation was, that when they came back to get us, they would be picking up trained dolphins, capable of thwarting sharks and detecting underwater mines.

Swimming

Trained Dolphin

Now, I would like to say that is what happened, but I would be lying.

It always began with the float.

The lifeguard / instructor spoke with a soothing and faint whisper,

“Just lay back and relax. 

Fill your lungs with air.

Extend your arms and arch your back.”

Knowing what was about to happen, I looked around at everyone else to observe their technique.

The other kids lay motionless on the surface of the water, resting like giant lily pads on a serene summer lake. They were basking in the sunlight, just soaking up the warmth, without a care in the world.

As I eased my head back into the water as instructed, I began an immediate descent. Having zero body fat and a figure similar to a science class skeleton, I could not float.

The water enveloped me and I plummeted in a rapid descent, to the depths of the pool. It was as if Leviathan had me in its grips and was pulling me quickly, down to Davey Jones’ locker. (Said in a crusty pirate’s voice.)

Swimming

Davey Jones Locker

Trying to hold my breath as I could see the light from the surface begin to diminish, my nostrils would always fill up with water. Having not been born with a set of gills, I would immediately start breathing in the water. Jumping up as fast as I could, I would then realize that I was still in the shallow end of the pool.

It always ended with the float.

Because I sank every time, the lifeguard float Nazi would not pass me to the next level.

My fear was realized and I was doomed to a life of swimming with life jackets and arm floaties.

Year after year as we got older I would watch my siblings use the diving board, splashing into the deep end with delight. They would frolic around in the advanced swimmers end of the pool, bobbing up and down so effortlessly. It was easy to see how much fun they were having down there, as a I dipped my feet into the toddler section of the pool.

After getting married, my wife informed me that her family took an annual vacation to what might be the deepest lake in North America. I believe that it is just about the depth of the Marianna Trench. She also informed me that I would be going every year.

Swimming

Mariana Trench

The first year I went, she showed me all around the place. It was a neat little vacation spot. As we walked down to a lake and out onto a pier, panic seized me. The water was dark and cold, there were green things swaying around in there. As I became mesmerized by the sounds of the gentle waves and hypnotized by the slow ripples, I could hear the voices of the lake sirens calling me to slide in to my impending doom. I almost fell for it but quickly came to my senses and ran back to the cabin.

When the family went down to the lake, I would stay back and read. There was no way I was getting in that water. The lake floor was probably littered with the bodies of other non-swimmers who attempted to get in. Because my skin was the same tone as milk and I never came out of the cabin while the sun was out, my in-laws began to think that I was a vampire.

It was in my thirties that I recognized the familiar panic in my oldest daughters face. While playing in the pool, she lost her footing and she sank in backwards. She was fine but it freaked her out. I realized that if she was going to survive the summers at this lake, she would need swim lessons.

So we signed her up and as I watched her grow as a swimmer I realized that now might be a good time for me to try again. Seriously, it can’t be that hard, those Navy SEAL boys make it look so simple.

Watching and learning all the elementary lessons that I blocked from my memory, I re-familiarized myself with the pool. Now that I was older, it seemed as if I was strong enough to pull myself across the surface of the water.

Water still got in my nose and I floated like a chunk of granite, but I could make it across the pool without drowning. Thankfully my children can swim and float so they won’t be needing my assistance.

There are times and circumstances in life that can cause you to shy away from challenges. It’s easier to run and hide from your fears, but they will still be there waiting for you.

Think about what you could do next, if this one thing was out of your way.

It might take a while, it could take years or even an entire lifetime.

So, when the opportunity presents itself, seize it! Unless it’s water, you can’t seize water. In that case you just go with the flow.

Do I feel accomplished by conquering the water? Maybe.

An author friend of mine says you need to, “punch fear in the face.” This is great advice, except when you do this to the pool, you kind of look like a baby who has just discovered how to splash.

What fear do you need to splash, I mean punch in the face?

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Humorous Life Lessons

Sep 07

One Technique To Get Their Attention

Attention

Squeak

The Family Squeak, One Technique To Get Their Attention

We have a traditional technique to get everyone’s attention in our house. This method has been passed down by my father, through me and on to my children.

As small children, we used to grab my dad’s nose all the time. We couldn’t help ourselves because, it was a dead ringer to Corporal Klinger’s from the TV show MASH.

When we squeezed his nostrils together, we would hear a loud squeak. Somehow, he was able to make this noise with his mouth without moving it. We squeezed our own nostrils and nothing happened. We tried to get each other’s noses to squeak, but with no luck. He was like a master ventriloquist with that thing.

This was so much fun for my dad and so we did this a lot. We did this so much, that my dad found out that he could squeak and we all would come running or at least turn in his direction. So it went from being a fun activity to a command technique (shout out to Pavlov).

Whenever he would want to get our attention, he would squeak. If we were doing something in public that we weren’t supposed to be doing, he would squeak. Then he would give us “the look”. Double non-verbal communication jackpot! This squeak seemed to have so many functional uses.

When we used to go to K-Mart or Wool-Co for some family shopping, we would be released into the toy section with a command of “Don’t leave these aisles.” This was before all the televised and posted dangers of leaving your children alone in a store. Being the oldest of four, I was always in charge. So it was my responsibility to make sure my siblings didn’t wander away.

As we were playing with all the packaged toys, pretending that we were going to be able to keep them, I heard the squeak, signaling that It was time to go.

After assembling “the kids”, we ventured out in the direction of the squeak. My parents must have been in hurry because the sound was more frequent than normal. It felt like they were searching for us because I could hear the squeak moving from aisle to aisle.

Trying to catch up to my parents was becoming more difficult and I was having a hard time keeping the little ones all together. They kept getting distracted by every bright and shiny items we passed along.

“Stay together and hurry up!” I shouted. “We’re going to lose them.” They were nowhere in sight and no matter how close we got to the squeak, I just couldn’t find them.

The high pitched noise finally led us up to the cash registers, however still no parents.

And that’s when I saw him…

A small boy sitting in the toddler seat in a shopping cart. In his tiny hand he was grasping a little red ball. Every time he squeezed that ball, it emitted a sound that was identical to the family squeak.

Attention

Red Ball

This miniature person, in all his excitement, had led us around the entire store in a vain attempt to find our parents. He had no idea what was going on but I felt like every giggle was his way of mocking me.

Nanny nanny boo boo! Okay, he didn’t say that but it sure felt like it.

Even though this isolated incident made me look like a complete imbecile, I still decided to keep the squeak in the family.

In a crowed or in a store, if I yell out my wife’s or any of my children’s name, no response. If I squeak, they all look in my direction, simultaneously. This is a serious husband/dad win.

My wife does not agree. She feels like she is being beckoned like a dog. Maybe it’s payback for when she tried calling me “Babe” while we were dating. This was of course, her family dog’s name.

Sometimes, when I squeak at my wife, she will answer back by flapping her wings and squawking in her best bird imitation, “CUH CAW, CUH CAW!”

Attention

Cuh Caw

Point taken.

My five year old daughter has figured out how to do it. It’s so cute listening to her try it out. The problem is when she is trying to get my attention, I never hear it. After all these years of using it on everyone else, I must have become immune to the squeak.

Do you have a unique way of communicating with your family?

Share your special techniques for signaling your loved ones.

 

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Humorous Life Lessons

Aug 31

Epilogue: New Identity

Identity

Image used with permission from Lisa Bliss Rush. http://www.lisablissrush.com

Epilogue: New Identity

As time passed, I tried to get on with my life. Doing the best work I could at the hair school and staying out of trouble. Life was not perfect or easy and I still suffered from my human identity. This meant that I made mistakes from time to time. No one ever gets it right, only one man did and He was God so there’s that. So, I tried to be a productive member of society, a role model to the students that I taught, and a good man.

In Nov, 1997, I met a beautiful woman named Lindsay, who had an uncanny resemblance to the young Audrey Hepburn. She was enrolled in the Cosmetology program at Capitol and there seemed to be some attraction between us. I can’t say that I was a perfect catch for her, but everything about her intrigued me. At that time, my heart was hardened from a failed relationship and I even told her not to get close to me.

She captured my heart and we fell in love. On March 13, 1999 I married the love of my life. I truly feel that God put her in my life to complete some of the work that he was doing in me. Being married to her has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me. She not only made me a husband, but with the addition of three beautiful daughters, I became a father. The most terrifying role a man could ever take on but at the same time, the most rewarding. My heart swells with pride at the accomplishments they achieve, the beauty they possess, but most importantly the hearts that they have for others.

Lindsay challenges me to uphold the God given roles that I possess and just like everything else in my story, if I do it on my own I will fail. So I rely on God to give me the knowledge, wisdom and strength to live in the same house as these four women. It has never been simple or perfect but it is so worth it. Love is not a strong enough word for what I feel for my family.

On September 11, 2001 our country changed forever. After the attacks a huge wave of patriotism swept our nation. War was imminent and everyone backed our service members no matter what branch of service or what job they held. It was amazing seeing how much love and respect was shared with anyone wearing a uniform.

It was at this time I became very unsettled. My father, brother and sister were all veterans and my youngest brother had just signed up just months before the attacks. As America hailed and praised our men and women in uniform, I began to develop a deep sense of guilt and shame about the actions that led to my incarceration and dishonorable discharge.

This feeling wouldn’t go away and it cut deep into my soul. It was hard to go to work every day feeling like that. I was feeling like there really was no significance to what I was doing. That in the grand scheme of life, I was irrelevant. Men and women were going overseas to fight and die for a cause.

In no way, shape or form did I ever want to leave my family to go to war. It was in knowing that even if I did want to, I was blacklisted from serving. The time that I spent in the Army was good for nothing. The worst part was, every time someone said to me, “Thank you for your service” it dug the knife in even deeper. They meant well, but I just couldn’t shake these feelings.

This same thing would happen around Veteran’s day and Memorial Day. Holidays honoring those who serve or have served and for remembering the men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.

A reminder that I live in a country that was fought for with blood, sweat, tears and lives. I know that I walk around every day with the freedom that was provided for me. My heart is heavy and my head hangs low because I was discharged from the Army with dishonor. My selfish actions are to blame and I accept full responsibility. Having failed my family, my country and God miserably, I deserve the death that each military grave represents.

Yes, I know now that I am forgiven, and I know that God doesn’t look at me this way. However, it seems, the consequences of my past still haunt me year after year.

Knowing that I am forgiven by God’s grace is not enough. I need to surrender my past to Him and rest in my new identity daily. My conviction does not have to define me. I have to leave my old identity and accept my new one.

It is time for me to step out of prison and into the arms of Jesus.

1Peter 2:9 (NLT) …For he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

You do not have to be defined by your past, you have been forgiven and can have a new identity in Christ.

 

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Thank you for reading my story, please feel free to share with anyone that you feel needs to hear this message.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Aug 24

Second Chance

Second Chance

Second Chance

Second Chance

In September 1994, I received another official document from the Department of the Army. This time it was the best news I could possibly expect. The letter I found inside the envelope was my Certificate of Release from Parole.

It seemed as if my parole officer and the Army thought that I had done enough to complete my sentence. It was effective 9 September which was 20 days shy of my twenty-fifth birthday as well as two months earlier than my original release date. Essentially, I had been forgiven by the government and was being awarded my freedom.

The paper stated that I was hereby released and set at liberty. Nothing I could do at this point could ever send me back to Leavenworth. It was an amazing feeling, knowing that I was literally and completely free. Like shackles being removed from my arms and feet, there was nothing holding me back at this point. It had been a long five years of being in this mess and it was officially over. The State probation remained in effect, but that didn’t matter to me anymore. This chapter of my life was over.

Near the end of my State probation, the owner of the school wrote a letter to the licensing board asking them to consider letting me off probation early. Since I worked closely with him, he felt that because of my performance, dedication, and the fact that the Army had seen fit to release me from parole early, probation was no longer necessary. It felt so good to have someone other than my family stick up for me that way. The State agreed with him, and even though it was only a month early, it saved me from my last urinalysis.

There was a final sense of freedom and hope. My future was ahead of me and the path was open wide. One of the things I learned from this whole experience was that no matter what adversity I faced, I knew that I could make it. Not on my own strength or will, but by the grace of God. It was He who’d carried me through this journey. Everything I tried to do on my own turned out to be a disaster. It was crazy to think that five years prior to my release from parole, I was on a path of self destruction. A path that had I not been arrested, would most likely have led to my death.

Even though I had made quite a mess of my life, it seemed as if there were people around me that were willing to stand by me or stand for me:

Special Agent Thundercloud testified in my defense;

My father flew from Germany to be present at my court-martial;

Mary Sue Meeks, who didn’t even know me, wrote to me, prayed for me and came to visit me in prison;

My family gave up many of their weekends to come spend time with me;

The owners of Capitol School of Hairstyling, took my collect call and allowed me to enroll;

The ShopKo manager, gave me a chance when he hired me; and

Lyal McCaig wrote the letter to the Cosmetology board.

Ultimately, I feel as if God placed these people in my life and timed these circumstances perfectly according to His plan. So many events transpired over those five years to help me reach this place of freedom and new opportunities.

Even though I had to re-earn my place in society and also regain the trust of many people, none of this matters to God. I can never run far enough, dig a hole deep enough or screw up bad enough to hide from His love. He is crazy about me because I am His child. There isn’t anything I can do to make Him love me any more or less.

My past, present and future are in His hands and I know that He has a plan for my life. It wasn’t just people, but the situations as well. Starting with the arrest, every scenario led me to Him. I can say that now, because at the time, I was just thinking about myself. I’m so thankful to have this shot at starting over.

With this second chance, I was ready to launch into a new life and a new career. After completing the instructor program, I was offered a full time position at the school. Without hesitation, I accepted the job. Working at Capitol gave me the opportunity to share my passion for cutting hair with others and watch the students achieve their goals and dreams. To this day, I still work at Capitol School of Hairstyling. It has been so rewarding helping over one thousand students realize their dreams.

 

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Next post: Epilogue… (I know I said that before, but this will be the real epilogue.)

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Aug 17

Dream Job Probation

Job

Dream Job Probation

Dream Job Probation

In June of 1993, I showed up for my first day of school at Capitol School of Hairstyling. Since high school I had been cutting my own hair and practicing on my friends. It was something I really enjoyed and had a passion for. After multiple failed attempts to try and get into the barbering program inside the USDB, I decided to enroll in a program when I got out.

I had already started working at ShopKo and eventually got hired at Pizza Hut so that I could save up some money before starting at Capitol. Nine months after being released on parole, I walked through the doors of the Cosmetology school, where I would learn to do my dream job.

The Cosmetology program was 2100 hours long which would take me about a year to complete. Everything I needed to know about being a stylist, I would learn here. First, I’d spending two months in a classroom environment and then the last nine or ten I’d be on the clinic floor servicing clients. I remained working at my other two job while attending school full time. My drive for maintaining this type of schedule, was to not be a financial burden to anyone.

Even though I was adjusting to being on my own and making my own choices, the effects of Army prison were still present. At the USDB, I had small freedoms at times, however most aspects of my life were routine and decided for me. There were places I needed to be and times that I needed to be there, as well as many other expectations. Major consequences were attached to every move if I failed to adhere.

Because of the structured nature of the school and the setting of a controlled classroom, I thrived. When they told me what to do, I did it. It helped that I loved what I was learning and being able to apply it. The school setting fulfilled a similar need for rules & structure that prison gave me, but it was different. The only thing that would happen to me if I didn’t complete tasks and requirements at school, would be that I would fail. With enough failure under my belt to last a lifetime, I made the choice to succeed.

At times I found myself helping others when they were struggling at certain things. Students teaching other students wasn’t something they condoned, and I was quickly told to let the instructors do the teaching. However, this did not go unnoticed. Half way through my training, I was approached by the owner of Capitol, the late Lyal McCaig, who said, “I want to see you take the Instructor program.” Since I respected him and his judgment, I decided to follow his lead. After completing the Cosmetology program, in April 1994, I got a job in a salon and enrolled in the Instructor program. This would take me another year to complete. During this time, I was finally able to quit the other two jobs.

Before I could actually start my instructor training, I had to have my Cosmetology license. It was normal to work on a temporary one that was good for a couple months. Everyone else in my class had received their permanent license within two weeks of passing the state examination. Mine had been held up at the State Capitol because of my felony conviction. The board had up to two months in which they had to notify me with a decision. That deadline was approaching quickly and I was getting nervous, because I had heard nothing.

Why was it taking so long?

What were they going to tell me?

Did I just go through a year of school for no reason?

The anticipation was nerve-racking. It was illegal to practice without a license and I was beginning to feel like my temporary one was going to expire. This would force me back into working at ShopKo and Pizza Hut. Jobs that I didn’t want to return to.

When the envelope finally arrived, I tore it open. Inside was a blue square piece of paper that had my name on it. At the top there was a heading stating that the State of Nebraska was giving me permission to practice Cosmetology professionally. However, stamped diagonally across the paper in big, bold black letters was the word, PROBATION.

Inside the envelope was an additional document. This paper outlined some stipulations that I had to adhere to in order for my probationary license to remain active. I would have to refrain from using drugs, and once a quarter I would have to provide a urine sample for the State and I was responsible for the cost. After a year without incident, the probation would be lifted.

I was still on parole, was heavily monitored by the Federal Government, and I had to provide three urine samples a month. Over the past year, I had been reporting to my parole officer and providing six urine samples a month with no incident. So now, I was not only on parole for the Federal Government, I was on probation for the State as well. This didn’t make sense to me.

Calling the licensing division to explain what seemed to be some overlapping requirements, turned out to be a waste of time. They assured me that this was what I had to do. The board had actually approved my license with no conditions, however the Department of Health did not. It was their decsion to put me on probation. There was no getting around it.

The hardest part about having this probationary license was that by law, all licenses had to be prominently displayed in the salon I worked at, as well as at the school. So anyone walking by it would clearly see that I had some kind of issue. It would be visible to all the students, staff and clients.

Even though I had been deemed worthy enough to be released on parole, it seemed as if the consequences of my actions would be following me for quite some time. The path that I was on was a good one, but I couldn’t escape the fact that what I had done in 1989 was serious. I would still have to prove myself to those who didn’t trust my choices and decisions.

There is a saying:

“Two steps forward and one step back, is still one step forward.”

Since this is something that I really wanted and the State wasn’t budging on their decision, I would just have to do what was asked of me. So for the year that it took for me to complete the instructor program, I followed all of my parole and probation requirements.

It would have to be my actions that would prove to those in control of my destiny, that I was a changed man.

The hope was that this would not be forever.

 

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Next post: Second Chances…

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Aug 10

Almost Done

Done

David Mike

Almost Done

There is some more work that needs to be done on the next post and so I was not ready to publish.

So, I decided to take a moment to let you know where I am at with the process. There are about 3 more posts left to complete the Ft. Leavenworth Story. This is not the title of the book, it’s just what I have been calling it so far.

Yes, this blog is the rough draft for the book.

In the begining, I rushed through some details and I need to dig a little deeper. There are some parts that I left out because I was not sure I wanted to talk about them. After I finish with the  story, I will compile and revise the whole thing. The next step it to have it edited and make a decision on whether or not to self-publish or have it published.

Ft. Leavenworth is three hours away from Omaha and I plan to take a trip to down there to visit the Frontier Army Museum. After talking to someone on staff there, I was told that I could have access to their photo archives. This will give me some better visuals for the book.

A little over two years ago, I started writing. This is my one hundred and third published post and the blog has been viewed over 100,000 times. Never in a million years did I expect to write my story or even have anyone read it. I can’t thank all of you enough for all the continued and wavering support that you have extended to me. The comments, the social media shares, reading and reaching out to me means more that I can put into words.

Three people have been gracious enough to alow me to be on their podcasts. One has not been released yet. If you want to hear me talk about my story in the last one,

Click here

I thank my family for all the time they have sacrifced in order for me to do this. It has been very hard with the limited time we have together. My wife Lindsay is my rock and my kids are my everything.

I thank God for showing me what forgiveness and grace means and for never giving up on me. It is only by His power that I am alive to day to share this story with you. He had a plan and it didn’t matter how bad I messed it up, it seems like He feels that I am still useful.

Some housekeeping, it seems as if many of you who signed up for email notifications may be losing my posts to your spam folder. I am still trying to figure this out. If you could check your spam and mark it as “not spam” that may or not fix it. If you have not signed up for email notifications, I would be honored it you would consider it. It seems as if publishers ask about your email list when you want to use their services.

With that I will leave you with another cliffhanger,

Posting will resume next Tuesday.

Thank you!

David

“DilemmaMike”

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Aug 03

Trying To Get A Job With A Felony Conviction

Job

Trying To Get A Job With A Felony Conviction

Trying To Get A Job With A Felony Conviction

When I handed my job application to the manager of the Old Country Buffet, he wanted to sit down with me immediately. He was excited to see the two years of mess hall experience and thought that it would be a great fit for his establishment. He continued down the application and his facial expression changed abruptly.

His next words were, “Uh, it seems like we got in a little trouble here. When did you get out of prison?”

I answered, “Last week.”

The manager replied, “Well, it looks like you don’t have the type of experience that we are looking for here.”

As I looked up and into the kitchen area, I saw what looked like high school aged employees moving around doing various tasks. I was dumbfounded. How could he be so excited about my experience and then, a minute later, feel like it wasn’t enough?  It was doubtful that the guys I could see in the kitchen had anywhere near the experience that I did. Was he really going to discriminate against me because of my history? What was he worried about?

Even with all of the job applications that I filled out at the mall, I was okay with not hearing back from any of them; I could convince myself it was not a big deal. This was the first time I had to deal with a face to face rejection. It hit me pretty hard. As I got up from the table, I mumbled, “Okay,” and left. This was quite a blow to my confidence and I began to doubt myself.

Would every interview be like this?

Would I ever be able to get a job?

Was anyone going to hire me?

Deciding to regroup, I went back home and grabbed the classified ads. In the jobs section, I found a cash paying job that involved assembling carnival rides for a local event called September Fest. My siblings’ friend Mick said that if I went, he would go as well. He said he could use some extra cash. The ad said to show up at 8:00 am at a specific address and jobs would be assigned.

The next morning, we drove to the address which ended up being a field littered with ready-to-assemble carnival rides. We both walked up to the small group of people standing around a person that seemed to be the foreman. The group of people seemed to be regular “Carnies;” they were a rag tag bunch of misfits. As we drew nearer to them, we caught a whiff of what seemed like a month of not bathing. The heat of a Nebraska August intensified the smell.

The foreman told a few of the Carnies to go do specific tasks and then he assigned us to one particular guy. He was going to need assistance opening and securing a couple of the rides. Mick and I were given mallets and the Carnie started doing his thing. As the pieces of the ride came together, there were pins that had to be put in place and then hammered in. Some of them went in very well and others not so well. When I brought it to the Carnie’s attention, he said not to worry about it. I made a mental note to never ride another carnival ride again.

The time went by pretty quickly because we kept busy. Around noon we stopped for lunch. To save money, Mick and I had brought our own. Eating was a challenge because of the strong body odor coming from all of the workers. We choked down our food and got back to work. We were able to get a few rides assembled but had to stop around 4:00 pm to break for the day. The foreman had a wad of cash and was handing out $50 dollar bills. We both took ours and left.

The next morning, I called Mick to see if he was going to come with me again. He replied, “No, it’s not worth it.” So, I headed back to the field by myself and worked another day. It was hard work, it was hot, the smell was terrible and there was no satisfaction in doing mindless labor that wasn’t one hundred percent correct. After my second day, I decided to go back to Galvin Road and try again. This time, I would try a different approach.

The next place I tried, was at ShopKo, a Midwest retail store. Immediately after entering, I asked for an application and quickly filled it out, making sure to check the felony check box. Then, I asked to speak to whoever was doing the hiring. A large man with red hair came out to greet me and I shook his hand as we headed back to his office.

He seemed pretty reasonable, so I started talking before he read the application. “Sir, I need to be honest with you. Three years ago, I made a huge mistake. This mistake landed me in prison. During my time there, I did a lot of growing up. I am enrolled in school and I need this job to support myself. If you hire me, I can guarantee that I will be one of the hardest working employees you will ever have.”

With a surprised look on his face, he sat there for a minute. He thought about what I said and then he stuck out his hand to shake mine and said, “I’m going to give you a shot.” Smiling back at him I replied, “Thank you so much. You won’t regret it.” After filling out some paperwork and taking a tour of the store, I felt the best I had in a while. It was such a good feeling to know that I was employable, even with my history.

For the next few months, I worked as hard as I could while preparing to start Cosmetology school. The store was going through a remodel and so there were lots of extra hours and overtime. It was a good time to be employed there. Being able to stockpile some money would make going to school easier.

Eventually, in October of 1992, two months after being paroled and starting my first job, I received an official letter from the Department of the Army. Inside were my separation documents. Enclosed was a letter stating that my case had been finalized and that my Dishonorable Discharge was effective as of 21 September. In the letter, I was instructed to return my military I.D. card immediately. Included was a self-addressed stamped envelope to send it back.

And that was it, I was no longer a soldier.

I didn’t realize the full effect of this moment until September 11, 2001.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jul 27

Life On Parole

Parole

Job Application

Life On Parole

 

Many aspects of returning to the civilian world were easy compared to military prison. Not having to worry about making a mistake that would send me to solitary confinement was nice. Even though a mistake could violate my parole, it was still different. The food was much better. Being able to come and go as I pleased was a new freedom I enjoyed.

There were other parts about adjusting back to a normal life that were more challenging than I expected. One of the hardest things was letting my guard down. Trusting that people were not out to get me or turn me in for their gain was difficult. Something else I noticed was that I could not make a decision to save my life. For the past three years, every part of my life was scheduled, programed or decided for me. Coming from a place of complete structure and entering in to a world of none was overwhelming.

Another discovery I made was that I was now prone to anxiety and panic attacks. It was hard to pin down what actually triggered them but when my stress level got too high, I started pacing back and forth. I realized that the steps I took while doing this was the exact length as my USDB cell. This happened a lot.

For the first couple days, I just settled into my parents’ house. My youngest brother and my sister chauffeured me around like they did when I was home the last time and I was able get to know their friends a little better. Omaha was pretty easy to navigate and so I was able to familiarize myself with the town.

My discharge was not final yet and so I was issued a military I.D. card with the word “parole” stamped across the front of it. This meant I had access to the Air Force Base for any services I needed. It wasn’t something I wanted to flash around and so I only went to the base for one medical appointment. When I had to show it to the Air Force hospital personnel, I got the most puzzled looks.

One of the first things I had to do in Omaha was meet my parole officer. The office was in the federal building downtown about a half hour away from my parents’ house. (The joke was that everything in Omaha is about twenty minutes away.) When I walked into his office, he was pretty nice. I had to sign some paperwork and we talked for a few minutes. Maybe I was different than the people that he normally saw, but we hit it off pretty well. He seemed to think that I was going to be no trouble at all.

Regardless of the relationship between us, there was the formal stuff. In the beginning, I would have to come into his office once a month. He told me that I needed to try an AA meeting or an NA meeting within the first month and let him know what I thought. Pretty easy. The hardest part of parole was the urinalysis.

For the next two and a half years, I would have to call a telephone number every morning. If the message said I had to report in, I would have to drive all the way to the North side of town to a urine collection center and pee in a cup for drug testing. If it came up positive, Federal Marshals would be summoned to expedite me right back to Leavenworth. During the first year of parole, or phase one, I had to report six times a month on randomly selected days. Phase two was six month long and I had to report three times a month and phase three was also six months but reporting was once a month.

Within the first week I found an A.A. meeting near my parents’ house. I went in and sat down at a table and listened to everyone talk. It reminded me of the N.A. meetings back in the USDB. Guys talking about their situation and the last time they had taken a drink. For me, I didn’t feel I belonged there. The experience in prison jaded my view of this program. It was clear in prison, the only reason people took the class was to get out on parole. If you didn’t take the classes, no parole.

There was nothing wrong with these meetings, but I felt I was only attending to fulfill a parole requirement. This was not a good reason, so I did not pursue it any further. At my next visit to my parole officer, I let him know how I felt about it and to my surprise, he told me that I no longer needed to attend. He figured, that I seemed to be rehabilitated enough without it. There really was no chance for me to get into trouble with all the urinalysis that I had to turn in.

After I had settled into my parents, my dad helped me get a car. We got a Ford Escort which was exactly like the car that I left to be repossessed. Because of that situation and the phone card that I used without paying for, my credit was shot for seven years. Once again, I had to rely on my parents to help me out. Thank goodness they were willing to do so. This was probably one of the best examples of help and support that really made my transition much easier. A car was equal to life. With keys to a car and nothing else to do, it was time to get a job before attending Cosmetology school. It would take me about seven months to get all my ducks in a row before I could grace the school with my presence.

Prior to the Army and my summer jobs in Germany, I had never worked before. This was all new to me. The only job experience I had was as a US Army Cavalry Scout, the mess hall and bagging groceries. Obtaining those jobs was far simpler than what I had in store for me.

At one of the local malls, I went from store to store and filled out job applications. I can’t remember how many exactly, but it was a lot. There was a question that showed up on every form that I had to fill out. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? If so, please explain. On every application, I had to check yes and explain what had happened. It really didn’t feel good that I had to do that and as I filled each one out, there was a sense of futility.

Why would anyone want to hire a convict? How could I convince them that I was worth the risk? I never received a response from any of the mall jobs. I suppose it was understandable that if there were other people applying for the job, that with my “past” I would be looked over. It didn’t bother me that no one called. At this point I was determined to get a job no matter what it took. Giving up was not an option.

There were some more places to try and I had all the time in the world. On Galvin Road near my parents’ house, there were a ton of restaurants as well as retail and grocery stores. Starting at one end of the road and making it all the way to the other, I began the application process again. When I handed it to the manager of the Old Country Buffet, he wanted to sit down immediately.

He was excited to see the two years of mess hall experience and thought that it would be a great fit for his establishment. He continued down the application and his facial expression changed immediately.

His next words were, “Uh, it seems like we got in a little trouble here. When did you get out of prison?” I answered, “Last week.”

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jul 20

Going Home For Good

USDB Fort Leavenworth

United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Library)

Going Home For Good

On August 25, 1992 my last day at Fort Leavenworth, it was hard to stay focused on anything. The anticipation of waiting for my family to take me home, was too intense. They were supposed to come early which meant I wouldn’t have to wait too long.

 

Luckily, there wasn’t much to do as far as gathering all my personal belongings. Over the past few months, I had been ordering extra supplies like soap and shampoo so that I wouldn’t have to buy them when I got out. About a six months’ supply is what I had stockpiled. But that still didn’t amount to very much. I was given an Army duffel bag to put everything in and those things can hold a lot.

After I packed up all of the stuff I wanted to take with me, I put all of my LPU uniforms in a bag to turn in. It was going to feel good to get rid of those for good. I had already changed into the clothes that my family sent for me to wear home. Wearing these clothes made me stand out in the crowd of blue clad inmates in the building. I was okay with that. You couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face if you tried.

I never really got close to very many people in prison because, I learned quickly that no one is to be trusted. There were a handful of guys that I felt that were okay. Because I had testified against another inmate before coming here, there were a lot of people who didn’t trust me either. So, before I left the building, I made rounds to the people I wanted to say goodbye to. There were no promises of keeping in touch because I knew I would never see any of these guys again. For the most part, we all wanted to move on and forget about this place. But, I didn’t feel right not saying goodbye.

Having made it to the LPU, I feel like I was more prepared to leave. There was so much more independence and self-reliance. Most of us felt more human than inmate while serving our time out here. If I had to leave from inside the walls, I feel like the transition to civilian life would have been harder. Also having the opportunity to visit my family for seven days on temporary home parole, made it feel like I was just going back home.

As I headed down the hall towards the staircase that led to the building exit, I turned around and took one last look. I could see the excitement in some of the guys faces. Maybe my leaving gave them hope that it would be their turn soon? At the same time I could see the reality in their looks, that it would not be them today.

Making my way to the administration building, I saw a few other guys that I knew and said my goodbyes. Once I was inside, I sat down and waited for my family to arrive. It wouldn’t be long, but I was early because I was so ready to go. When I saw my dad’s car, I jumped up, grabbed my bag and headed over to the desk Sergeant to sign out. For the last time, I signed my name on the line “Out”.

Everyone was pretty excited to see me and I was ecstatic to see them. There was no need to hang out in the parking lot, because we would have three hours in the car on the trip back to Omaha. So I blurted out, “Let’s get the heck out of here.” On my prompt, everyone got back in the car and we backed out of the parking stall.

As we left the LPU, I didn’t look back. And for the final time, we passed the USDB on the road that would take us off Post. I tried not to pay attention to it as we drove by, but I found myself glancing in its direction. The Castle was impossible to miss and it commands respect from anyone who looks at it. I was so glad that it would be final view.

I was going back home, but I wasn’t just going back home. Being on parole meant that I had to keep myself in line. Maybe I was being overconfident or maybe I just really didn’t want to come back, but I just wasn’t worried about messing up again.

Three years was a long time to sit and think about what I had done, who I was. A nineteen year old kid running from the Army, strung out and selling drugs. Medicating myself to escape from my own skin. Ready to die than to be captured. Disregard for anyone but myself. Selfish and immature.

Three years was long enough for me to grow up. Just one month shy of turning twenty-three years old, I was a different man. Having learned things the hard way, there wasn’t any room in my life for the things that brought me here. I was prepared to be an asset to society instead of a liability. Realizing the importance of my family as well as the love and support they gave me was enough to get me through this. But mostly the revelation that my God had forgiven me and that in His eyes, I was clean. Clean from drugs and clean from the bondage of sin.

John 8:36 (NLT) So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story