Every day I wake up with a sore and aching back. Bones that feel every bit of eighty years old, and I wonder, how in the world did the Michigan Department of Corrections figure out how to make a mattress made of lava rocks? After 25 years of sleeping on these beds one would think I’d be accustomed to sleeping at the base of a volcano, but only when I look around the cell I’m caged in does the reality of imprisonment really set in.

As I stare beyond the four brick walls – peeling and unkept by nature – and peer directly into a steel mesh screen and metal bars set deep within the window frame, I am reminded I am in prison. I am a prisoner. Everyday I am forced to wake up around these drab and dreary things, and I’m reminded of that fateful day. The day when one incident and a series of terrible decisions cost me more than I’d ever bargained for.

In 1996 I was young, only 23 years old. Of course I was legally allowed to drink, but biologically lacked a fully developed, mature brain. Now having been imprisoned for over 25 years and reflecting on youth-lost, I am reminded of what a kid I really was. The memories flood my brain like a tidal wave, and I remember when I finished my first prison term. I served about 4 years of a 1 to 15 year sentence, which – in my mind – was a cake walk.

The problem was, instead of being forced to take programs which changed my thought and behavioral patterns, I was pushed through – like a cog in the machine – with trivial MDOC programming, and surrounded by seasoned criminals. Everywhere I turned, I received solid advice, but not the kind that keeps you out of prison, only the kind that leads you back to it.

When my time for release came I knew everything I needed to know. Unfortunately, my “know-it-all” and pompous attitude didn’t work too well with my then-girlfriend. My new thinking led to a rapid deterioration in my relationship, which meant things fell apart quickly. After 90 days, my girlfriend was done with my immature and know-it-all attitude. Still, I wasn’t worried. I had family and family is always there for you.

I turned to my brother, and things began looking up. Scott and I smoked a lot of weed, and began drinking with his friend Billy. Drinking and drugs became a way of life for us, and we believed we did our best thinking when we were drunk and high.

As brilliant as we believed we were while inebriated, we were not. One night as we smoked and drank, the idea of easy money came up. Scott suggested someone he knew, and as we continued getting drunk and high, we talked about how easy it would be.

All three of us woke up the next morning still high and swimming in unrealistic thoughts. The cobwebs were thick in our brains, and the idea of easy money was knocking at our door like Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven”. We all piled into the car and decided Scott wouldn’t go up to the house because our victim knew him. Billy and I would go to the house and Scott would be our getaway driver. Without much more planning or talking, we made our way to the house. When the man answered I struck him on the bridge of his nose with the butt of my gun. Both Billy and I quickly moved into his home and Billy snatched his wallet. We had what we needed. We had what we came for, the big score, three hundred dollars.

In hindsight, I can see that between the three of us we shared what might have been about one half of a mature brain. With this in mind, it was in no time that our “foolproof” plan began to unravel. All three of us were arrested and placed in the county jail. While Scott and Billy were put into a cell together, I was placed by myself. I remembered the solid advice I’d received while in prison from the ‘solid’ cons, “Don’t ever talk to the cops”. When I was questioned by the authorities I kept my mouth shut, and I knew my brother would too.

Boy was I wrong. Not only did everything come out at the trial, like the fact that my victim received seven stitches and returned to work that night, but also that Scott – my own brother – and Billy had struck a deal with the prosecutor. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, As Scott and Billy testified, things began to make sense. I realized that while my brother and Billy shared a cell, they hatched a plan, and I was the scapegoat. 

Throughout my trial, everything was placed squarely in my lap. I’d gone from being an equal participant in my brother’s genius idea for easy money to being the “mastermind”. The prosecution rewarded Billy and Scott for favorable testimony against the so-called seasoned con. Billy received a 10 to 20 year sentence, and Scott was given 6 to 15 years in prison. As the alleged “mastermind”, I received the harshest and longest prison terms. I got 45 to 75 years for an armed robbery conviction, 8 to 20 years for a home invasion conviction, 2 to 4 years for assault with a dangerous weapon, and 6 years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Interestingly, while my brother Scott has been released from the custody of MDOC and continued to commit multiple crimes, I am ineligible for parole consideration until at least July of 2035.

I don’t remember what it feels like to sleep on a normal mattress. I’ve never used the internet, had a cell phone, or a computer. My sentence does not make me parole eligible until I would be elderly and normally eligible for retirement or social security benefits. Instead of retirement and a chance to give back to society before I am old and frail, I earned a sentence of 45 years in exchange for three hundred dollars and seven stitches. What is 45 years of your life worth?