Where do I begin with my teen years? An obvious date stands out to me, so I guess I will start there.
September 16, 1994 (I will not be able to recall dates other than this one), this was a very eventful day in my life. I had just turned 15 years old, eight days prior. To this point in my life I hadn’t gotten in any BIG trouble. I smoked cigarettes, and drank alcohol on occasion, I skipped school pretty regularly (I HATED school). That was about the extent of it. Nothing too major. With that being said, I never did end up doing anything too major. I’m getting off track, back to that very eventful day…
…This day was the day that a school “walk-out” had been planned. Students were protesting to get some rules changed. I really have no idea what we were protesting, I think one of the rules had something to do with chewing gum, but I really can’t say for sure; I just wanted to get out of school. My parents knew this had been planned and made me promise I would not participate. I assured them that I would NOT be taking part in these activities (was this their first time meeting me? As if I wouldn’t jump at the chance to get out of school). I was dropped off at school that morning, and once again I assured them, I would not be partaking in the days events (at least not the days events that took place inside the school). I never even made it into the school that day. I was stopped by a friend who said, “hey ya wanna just start the walk-out now?” who was I to get in the way of a peaceful protest for student rights? I said, “yes!” And so the day began. A grand total of 13 students participated in the walk-out that day. We really made an impact, and by that I mean, we accomplished nothing, but we had a lot of fun that. Oh and that whole gum chewing thing, yeah I just did it anyways. Chewing gum didn’t take away from my ability to learn. Not paying attention, passing notes, and hanging out in the hall took away from my ability to learn, but chewing gum did not.
After the police came and escorted us off of school property, we all went to a friends house and hung out there for the day. Whenever I hear the song “Regulators” by Warren G, I am taken back to this day, hanging out with friends on a front porch shootin the shit about anything and everything. We were so carefree that day. Most of us knew we would catch hell for participating in what can’t really be categorized as a “walk-out”, but no sense in changing the terminology this many years later. It was really more of a small mass skip day. There were probably more students legitimately out sick that day than there were students who participated in the “walk-out”. Nevertheless, we didn’t care, we were proud for taking a politically stance against some of the school rules that were just uncalled for (not that any of us had any idea what those rules were, other than chewing gum in class. That one was a biggy). The day was drawing to an end and we couldn’t have possibly listened to “Regulators” one more time without the CD just disintegrating. It was time we all started to make our way home, and so with dread, we did.
Needless to say, I was in a bit of trouble when I got home. I think that was the first time I had ever been grounded. That night was the homecoming football game, had the school not banned us from attending, I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t have let me go anyways. My phone privileges were taken away. I couldn’t have access to the cordless phone (yup, that was the cool phone back in those days, cell phones weren’t near as common place back then, if you had one, you were rich). I remember they did let me make a call, I don’t know who I called, but I had to use the phone with the cord. It reached into my parent’s bedroom, so I went in there to talk. Then that was it. I was stuck in my room the rest of the night.
The neighbor boy had to come to our house after the football game because his parents weren’t home. He sat in my room with me and watched me play hacky-sack. I remember kicking the wall a couple of times in order to get the hacky-sack, I left black scuffs from my boots. It was sometime after 10pm when I heard my mom scream from her room.
This was the night our house burnt down, well our second house (we had another house fire when I was very little. I don’t remember much of that one, just a wall of flames). Luckily none of us were hurt. However we were all displaced. I’m not sure what the neighbors did after the house burnt down(we lived in a duplex, my parents were buying it. The neighbor boy lived upstairs), we ended up staying with my sister and her boyfriend (now husband) for a bit until we could find another place to live while our house was being rebuilt. Yup, it was my parents, me, my sister, and now bro in-law, oh and their rather large cat (whom I loved very much), and I think our dog stayed at the shop where my dad worked, anyways, it was all of us in a one bedroom apartment. This, is when it all fell apart for me, not that it was real together in the first place.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the fire investigator suspected me of starting the fire due to the day’s events. I was pissed at my parents so apparently that meant I burnt the house down. If memory serves me right, they found it to be electrical. What I do know, is that I didn’t do it. And if being pissed at my parents was cause enough to burn down the house, we would’ve been rebuilding houses faster than they could rebuild one in the first place.
…I didn’t spend much time at the apartment. It was too crowded and cramped. I had other shit to do. It was shortly after that I started smoking pot and drinking on a far more regular basis. I was almost never sober. I dropped out of school, then I managed to get myself on probation for “Trespassing” on school property. It turns out that even if it is public property, if they ban you from the grounds, it’s trespassing. So begins my ridiculous run-in with the law. I shit you not, for nearly 2 years, every time I left the house I got caught doing something so stupid. I swear the cops and my probation officer had to have some sort of tracker that alerted them to any law I might be breaking. I won’t go into great detail, but I will give a list of the stupid shit I got caught doing…
I was pretty much on the straight and narrow (I didn’t get caught) for the first 6 months of probation (that’s how long I got for trespassing). I was due to get off of probation right around the 4th of July. I grew up in Delano, MN and they are known for having the largest 4th of July parade in the state. That’s pretty impressive. The city sets up port-a-potties all along the parade route. My friends and I thought it would be a great idea to tip some of them over (it was fun, but it cost us). Before I had my discharge papers from the first round of probation, I had myself another citation, putting me right back on probation. We weren’t the only group who were tipping them over that night, but we were the only group that got caught, therefore the only group to have to cover the damages for all of them. Turns out the chemicals in those things destroy lawns.
During this 6 month stretch of probation I got in trouble for so many things: I got a probation violation for a dirty UA, probation violation for not working or going to school (I was court ordered to do one or the other), curfew ticket, I got caught shoplifting…
…A group of us went to this store (I’m not sure any are even around anymore), we had a habit of shoplifting (I’m not proud of it). This particular time a friend and I decided we were going to shoplift an electronic pocket diary. I didn’t want or need it, it was only $14.95, but we just had to steal it. The packaging was terrible, my friend was the one who removed the packaging while I stood watch. We thought we were clear of camera’s but we thought wrong. We were all on our way out of the store, just outside the doors, when the manager asked us to come back in. One of the guys we were with said “did you take anything?” I said “yeah, I’m fucked” and I was. This was almost enough to get me sent away to juvenile detention, but not quite. My probation officer needed one more strike from me to send me away. Rather than waiting for me to screw up again, he went digging to see if there was anything he could nail me with. Sure enough, he came up with a probation violation for not attending school. So, in the end I got sent to juvi for a probation violation.
Duluth was my home away from home for twenty-three and a half days. It was February and cold as a well digger’s ass! I was in there with other teens who were in for burglary, attempted sales of meth, sales of meth, car theft, and here is little ole me with a stupid probation violation for not attending school. This place seemed a little overkill for what I had done. I hated it there. Man, did I hate it there. I only got like one 5 minute phone call home a week, and Sundays were visitation days. The rest of the days we spent, chopping wood, shoveling snow in the community, cleaning the massive house, and attending school. We could only talk when we were spoken to, there was no swearing, no slang, no physical contact, we couldn’t look at other kids from other groups, we couldn’t have candy, our showers were timed (I failed miserably the first time and had to clean out the refrigerator as punishment), we would have to do push-ups for things like leaving a light on when we left a room, if a bunk-mate left a light on all of us in the room had to do push-ups, our beds had to be perfectly tight (they would randomly come around with a coin to test if it bounced, if it didn’t they would tear your bed apart and make you start all over), if we broke any rules (and there were A LOT of rules) we would either have to do push-ups or get a half a day added onto our stay. I ended up with an extra two and a half days. I was also in the best shape of my life when I left there.
For the first several days I cried myself to sleep at night, singing in my head “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier, ooh child things’ll get brighter” As the days went on, it got a little easier to be there. I didn’t cry myself to sleep anymore, but I did continue to sing the song to myself as I fell asleep every night. After what seemed so much longer than 23 days, it was finally time to go home. I woke up that morning happy and excited, I didn’t have to make my bed, I was going home! Then, I was told it was too foggy and they may not be making the trip that day. My heart sank, I was filled with disappointment, I was willing to walk home if that’s what it took. Luckily it turned out that they were making the trip. The staff would drive a van/bus to Hinkley to meet families to exchange the teens. My family said they would’ve driven all the way to Duluth if need be. Once we arrived in Hinkley, we (my family and I) ate at Toby’s restaurant. I had a glass of Mt. Dew, french toast, and banana cream pie. Afterwards we stopped at the gas station, I got another Mt. Dew, a pack of smokes, and a candy bar. All of which I couldn’t have while in lock-up.
For as much as I hated it there, it was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me. It was the beginning of me changing my life. It was the realization that I didn’t want this kind of life, I wanted more, better, easier. I only had a few more stupid mistakes to go before cleaning up my act.
I literally did not leave my house for a month after I got home. I was afraid to leave in fear I would get caught doing something. Then one night, about a month after I got home. A friend called and asked if I wanted to go hang out for a bit at a friends house. My parents advised against it, but I said, “what’s the harm? I can’t be out long anyways, my curfew is 9.” With hesitation, they let me go. My friend picked me up, we went to our friends house. I foolishly had one beer, just one beer (I had two wine coolers at home though). Without fail, the police showed up. I got a minor consumption. The citation was issued at 9:01, I shit you not! A minor consumption and a probation violation for curfew. My PO was gonna have a heyday with this. And he did…
Three months is how long he wanted to send me away. I told my mom, “I’m not going, I can’t do this again. I will run, whatever it takes, but I’m not going to Juvi again.” I tell you what, I had gotten to know Mike, the wright county public defender, pretty well. He wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a blazer to court…all the time. I was dressed better than him, but he was good. I got off with probation. I was officially released from probation when I was 17, and like a dumb-ass I got wrapped up in illegal activity again. My father used to say to me, “it’s gotta be pretty hard to breathe, huh Dan?” I would ask why and he would say “with your head so far up your ass!”
This time my run-in with the law was bigger than anything I had been part of in the past. I was harboring the stolen goods from fish-house break-ins. A couple of my friends at the time would break into fish houses and steal things out of them. I was looking at being tried as an adult, I would’ve gotten time in an adult woman’s facility. I was scared to death! Luck was on my side again. I got off because my involvement was minor and I cooperated. And that was the last time I have ever been in trouble with the law.
Oh gosh, and somewhere in there before I got sent to Duluth I got in trouble for running away. I didn’t runaway for myself, I ran away to keep a friend safe who had runaway. That was another probation violation.
In the end I had to walk away from most of my friends. I couldn’t keep hanging out with them if I wanted to stay out of trouble. I’m not saying they are to blame for my decisions and behaviors that got me in so much trouble, but they were the group I was socializing with, so I had to give them up. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do to that point. But I was in desperate need of changing my life.
It wasn’t a very easy time in my life. The house fire, trouble with the law, being sent away, dealing with (or lack there of) all of the abuse I had endured to that point. There was just so much going on during that time of my life, but I survived. I survived it all, and the life experience I’ve gained from having gone through it, I can use for good. I can apply my life to helping others find their way. It was all part of the journey I had to take to get to where I’m going.
If I could tell my teenage self one thing it would be:
You are so much stronger than you think, Darling. Believe in yourself, keep fighting for yourself, don’t ever give up on yourself. You survive all of this, you rise above all of it. You will get knocked down, but you will get back up. This is who you are. I know you can’t see it now, your courage, your strength, your resilience, but it’s in you. You are one of the coolest people I know, I’m not just saying that because you’re me, I’m saying it because it’s true. You, my dear, have given me so much hope. You are the one who showed me how strong we are, you are the one who continued to get knocked down and continued to get back up every time. I know life seems to suck for you right now, but you have no idea what you are currently doing for future us. All of your courage, strength and resilience pays off. We turn out to be a pretty amazing person, with a hell of a lot of fight for our-self and others. We learn love and compassion and sympathy and empathy on levels we didn’t even know existed. We survive sweetie! You are loved, you are worthy, you are more than enough.
Your Adult Self