Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Matthew Schroeder testimony

My name is Matthew Schroeder, and I am a convict. I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. You have to grow up quick where I lived. I learned at a very early age that people take advantage of others. My neighborhood was not the safest place to grow up, and the things that went on around me, I just grew up thinking was normal. I realized at an early age that money made the world go around. But now I know that this is not what will make you happy in life.

I can’t exactly explain why, but I always had the fastest and easiest connections to whatever you needed. For this reason, I was the very best “middle man” you have ever seen. Anything, anytime! I never thought twice about the destruction I was causing in the lives of others. Some people will do anything for their fix, and I mean anything. I wasn’t just hurting that addict, but their families as well. But back then they were nothing but what we called Cluckers!

I became very popular, not because I was a great guy, but because I had what they wanted. After a couple of years of living this way (the "Highlife"), I was stabbed, robbed, beaten and I wanted out of this life. I needed a drastic lifestyle change, so I joined the baddest group known to man, the U.S. Marines. I moved to California. I would like to end the story here, but I can’t. I began to drink very heavily. I was getting into fights and losing control of myself. After two years, the Marines couldn’t even handle my outburst. I received an OTH, or an 'Other Than Honorable Discharge' from the service.

I continued to drink and lost control everywhere I went... Every city and every state. Ultimately, I landed myself here in prison, in a city I’ve never seen, in a state I’ve never even thought about before.

I was sentenced to 30 years, and I thought the world didn’t have a purpose for me anymore, so I came to prison thinking I was never going to leave. I treated it like I was going to war. Little did I know that it was the most dangerous battle I would ever have: The battle with myself.

After years of living what I call now the revolving door, I was doing 90 days “again” in the SHU, also known as the Segregated Housing Unit. It just hit me like a lightning bolt, this is the way I live my life. Let me tell you this is no way to live... Mad at everyone in the world. Mostly I hated, and I mean hated, myself. After this time in the SHU my life changed forever. I had to do the hardest thing ever. I had to take responsibility for my actions in life and for all the horrible decisions I have made in it. That’s when I could really start to live comfortably and even start forgiving others. That was my gateway to what I now consider my happiness. I began taking Alternatives to Violence classes and other classes that I felt would help me grow as a man.

Now I volunteer. I facilitate the Alternatives to Violence classes and experiences. I have received a sentence modification from my judge and I’m currently serving only a 13-year sentence. I truly believe in myself and I know that anyone can change but they really have to want it. It’s a hard thing to do. I believe my journey in life has really just begun.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lance Przybylski's Testimony

Some people have no problems when it comes to drinking or drugging. I’m not one of those people. And a look at the span of my life will only galvanize that statement. Almost every great turn in my life has been razed by my choices to get high.

I think it was anxiety, a sense of alienation that led me to peer pressure. I gravitated to seedy company, the outcast kids. This is where I felt a sense of belonging. It is also where I found marijuana. At 12 years old I began smoking pot, and by 14-15 it was a regular thing. By 17 it was drinking, cocaine, LSD and anything else that I could get a hold of. The thing was I didn’t see a problem, and all I wanted was more. 2 years later I became a full-blown cocaine (crack) and meth addict, not to mention an alcoholic.  And year after year it all got worse and worse.

The reason I skipped a lot of those details was because we’ve all heard the story. It’s not important what I used and abused, but why. You see, when a person doesn’t feel right, or doesn’t feel whole, they try and substitute and fill the holes externally. And that was my case.  As I said before, I feel that I’ve always had some inner problems. For instance, my parents divorced when I was young. I think I’ve always been deeply affected by this. But when you’re a child you don’t know what compels you to do what you do, or feel how you feel. Heck, most adults I know don’t know what makes them tick. But it’s these things that affect us, these things we don’t know how to deal with, that become the platform for something as perplexing and damaging. At least that’s what I’ve found to be the truth.

So, like many people, I looked to fix something internal. It began with appeasing behavior, or trying to fit in. And when that didn’t work I tried drugs… When I say drugs, I include alcohol, because alcohol is one of, if not the worst, drug of all. Using drugs became a habit, then a lifestyle. And the thing was that I never saw further away than the pipe or drink in my hand to realize that I was developing quite a problem.  Slowly I started to see things go wrong in my life, and the first things affected were my interactions with other people, my relationships.

Drugs became my problem when they became more important than everything else in my life. Getting high was my first priority, and my girlfriends started figuring that out and leaving me. Then it was friends, then family members, co-workers, employers, you name it. Yeah, my using drugs became more important than work. How was I paying for my drugs with no employment? Selling, scamming, stealing… However I could get my high. And this meant that my morals were no longer significant in my life. I became who I despised- a liar, a thief, a worthless shell of a man.

Now psychologically really kicked in, because not only was I hurting others I was hurting myself, so now I’m damaging my life and hating myself for it. That is like a double dose of bad. When you start hating yourself you use and abuse more drugs. It’s like the worse, treating myself worse, and it all builds up to self-loathing. That’s when I started suicide attempts. A man must really hate his life and himself if he doesn’t want to live. And that’s what drugs did to me.

Unfortunately I did not clear up any of my problems until I ended up in prison. I have now done 10 years behind bars, and I owe that to my addiction. I know that everyone who does drugs doesn’t end up like me, some have no problems and some have worse. I’m just telling you what happened to me. Maybe you can see yourself in my footsteps soon enough to say, “Hey I need to change the way I’m living.” Then you don’t have to live locked up in a cage. 

Life is too valuable to waste. If you think you have a problem, don’t keep it a secret.  Let someone know, live your life to the fullest.  And you can’t do that running around with a needle in your arm, or a pipe in your hand.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Testimony of 'Jimbo' Andrews - Co-founder of PPR

James “Jimbo” Andrews
1st Degree Robbery- 40 years

As a child, my family was strong on my mom and dad’s side. Both my grandfathers were successful businessmen. My grandfather, Clet was a cattle buyer at the Sioux Falls stockyard and my grandfather John started his own drywall toll business, Andrews Company. To say I was made out of poverty and committed crimes out of necessity would be an untruth. I had every opportunity and loving parents who stand by me to this day even after I drug them through hell. Many of us in prison have loving families, plenty of money, and a couple opportunities.

As an adolescent I stole out of cars and eventually got caught. I was sentenced to probation with restitution. I worked all summer to pay off my restitution and was quickly released from probation thereafter. Other than that one large warning sign, I was a wonderful child. Didn’t drink, smoke, use drugs, or even cause trouble. I went to church twice a week; my girlfriend was from the same church. I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I achieved three varsity letters in school, and I took advanced classes in high school. I was an overachiever.

At age 18 I joined the Army. I was a good soldier. I passed all the physical training requirements with ease. Any test I took, I aced it. I fit in well with the soldiers. I was independent for the first time in my life. Everything was fun and exciting. We soldiers work hard and play hard. I found out that I could not handle playing that hard.

There was some drinking every night in the Army barracks. I thought, "I’m a soldier, old enough to die for my country. A few beers now and then shouldn’t hurt." But they did end up hurting me. I began drinking every night. I started a cigarette habit also. I used to run track and cross country in high school and now I smoked! I would look down on such behavior a year earlier. Now I was caught in the habit. It was downhill from this point.

I had many incidents of misconduct after my drinking and smoking became daily routines. I would stay up late partying. Every morning was difficult because I didn’t get enough sleep and I was abusing my body. My attitude became a problem also. I even got arrested a couple of times. Little did I know, my superiors were building a case against me. Soon thereafter I was kicked out.

The Army was gone, but my new habits seemed to get stronger. The crowds of friends I associated with were all alcoholics who did heavy drinking. Drugs seemed to follow close behind. As if drinking wasn't enough, now I had another habit. I became a person I wouldn’t have associated with years earlier. I didn’t know how to pull out of the lifestyle. The unhealthy behavior fed on itself causing a downward spiral that felt impossible to correct. The lifestyle drained my body through lack of sleep and too many chemicals. In turn, my attitude was bad which made it hard to keep a job, a girlfriend, or even friends. Everything that was going on in my life was supposed to be different.

Looking back on it now, I didn’t want to change because I was afraid. I didn’t have any coping skills. It was easier to blame others, to take the easy way out, and use people... Anything I needed to keep using drugs and alcohol. At this point my habits were so bad and I was in such a physical disaster that crime felt like the only alternative. Crime after crime and hanging out with others who were similar to me took its toll. I was a wreck.

Then it finally happened... Forty years for robbery. I had never been to prison, but now I had to do a forty-year sentence. It devastated my family and me. For the first couple years my mom was a wreck and I was no better. I hope that no man has to ever sit down with his mother and look her in the eyes and see how her heart has broken like I had to. But I know it will happen again to someone else. And there wasn’t anything I could do or say to fix it. I still had bad coping skills. There were no alcohol or drugs anymore but the years of recklessness left me a broken person. I would act out, throw tantrums if I didn’t get my way, and get into fistfights regularly. I was still a burden on my family. I was still a problem. My family gave me support. I don’t know why to this day.  

All the bad actions made me a nervous wreck and paranoid that people were trying to get me. I started having heavy anxiety attacks. Something had to change. But I had no idea where to start.

My saving grace was my mother. She never gave up on me and planted seeds of good in my heart. Eventually these seeds sprang up. 

I was tired of being a loser. Change was small at first. I started by trying to keep a job. I had to wake up early to keep a job. I also had to stay out of the hold. Staying out of the hold meant new friends and a new attitude. Slowly a chain reaction was taking place. The effects are still happening to this day. Nine years later, I’m finally developing coping skills instead of using drugs or alcohol to forget about to forget about problems. Small problems from years ago grew into large issues that have taken me years to correct. So much damage leaves me with a lot of work and many support groups to deal with it.

Today I need AA, continuing care drug and alcohol counseling, two church communities, alternatives to violence classes, college classes, and a handful of mentors to just function with all my problems. Ten years of criminal lifestyle may take me the rest of my life to correct. 

Better late then never.

James ”Jimbo” Andrews

Testimony of Jon Rogness, Co-founder of PPR

My name is Jon Rogness. Right now on paper it would be easier to find me under my South Dakota Doc number 50372.

This is my story.

I was born in Sioux Falls SD.  And when I was 3 days old, I was adopted to my parents Phil and Colleen Rogness. I was raised on our farm North of a town that most people have never heard of, Astoria, SD, population 109.

I was a hyperactive kid, more than most kids. Had some behavioral problems early on in my life. By 1st grade I was on medication for ADHD. From the very beginning of meds I hated it. I thought I didn’t need it, didn’t want to be “different". I now know that to the people on the outside looking in at my family and me, many didn’t understand. But there were these amazing people (ma and pa) who are very respected and looked up to in the community, and their son was having problems. Now especially if you knew my family you would wonder also. I like to say my mom is the closest thing to a saint, and my dad is a very well grounded, hardworking, driven farmer, that loves his family very much. Yet I was having these problems.

All of my early years through school, I had to be the defiant class clown. That’s how I felt I needed to be to fit into the class. I got into some legal trouble as a teenager, stole and had trouble with alcohol. I can remember when I started smoking cigarettes and thinking is was cool/defiant. I had the idea it made me tough or something. Alcohol would turn out to be my kryptonite, one I loved. So I got into more trouble, went to two different treatment centers as a juvenile. The first one was McCrossan Boys Ranch in Sioux Falls. I saw this as punishment, not prevention. I didn’t care I just wanted to leave. This ended after a short time, without a lot of positive progress. I returned back to my home by Astoria, but in a few months got into actual legal trouble. I don’t even remember what happened that night (alcohol was involved). I was charged with felony vandalism. Then I got into even more trouble before that was done, so I spent 4 months in juvie in Watertown, SD. At this time, no family involvement except through a window for visits.

From there I spent 9 months in another treatment center, Woodfield. I learned so many things from that place, because I chose to learn something from this place. When I was there I was looked up to by many of the other kids there. It felt so awesome to be recognized in a good way. I left the place thinking, “There I’m good, they helped me fix my problems." I went back home to my farm where I belonged. It was my senior year of high school, almost 18 years old. I had a fresh start. That was Feb. 3rd, 2006. I was still behind some with schoolwork, so I decided to attend Select (an individual education for students who are behind). Most kids go there to catch up. That was my intention, but that is not what happened. Now, I’m making absolutely no excuses. I take full responsibility for my decisions. You know how they say “You are the company you keep?” Absolutely without a doubt, true. I chose to hang out with the same type of people I did when I got into trouble before. Not smart. It wasn’t long before I started slipping back into the same routine.  

It started when I decided to smoke again. Then once in awhile ignore rules of probation and stay out too late, and skip school. It wasn’t long after that I started to drink again, just a little at first, but it never stays there. Within a few months my girlfriend was pregnant. I was scared now. What was I suppose to do now? How was I suppose to tell my family?  I went downhill from there and spiraled out of control. Drinking a lot more, rules and laws didn’t matter. I ended up dropping out of school totally.

At this point I decided to move to Brookings, got a job, and I rented an apartment. This didn’t even last 4 months. I have always lived on a farm with a lot more freedom to move, and when I was in town I felt like I was being choked.  So I purposely got myself evicted from my apartment. There was even a time in that 4 months that I spent 72 hours in the Yankton HSC for suicide watch. Now, that was an honest misunderstanding on my friends side. But the fact that my friend even had the thought that I would try to kill myself, or worry that I would do that means there must have been other things he saw that made him worry. That was very embarrassing for me. Because whether it was true or not, I have always been against that. In my opinion, nothing's ever so bad that you should take your own life. This caused me to lose my job at Daktronics.

After all of this, I got hired at Falcon Plastics in Brookings. You already know I lived my whole life on a farm, so working in those factories just wasn’t my thing. It drove me crazy. So one night on my break at 2 a.m. I just left my job. I decided that night to go to my friend's dorm room and get drunk instead. Another bad choice.

By this time, my girlfriend (Cassie) was about 5 months pregnant. This was when I started cheating on her. To this day I still don’t know what I was thinking. Why would I do this to her and to our relationship? Just like any relationship, it wasn’t all perfect and fairy tale all the time. But I loved this girl, this beautiful girl who was carrying my son. Now I was unfaithful to her for a short while before she found out. It still kills me when I picture her sitting there, with tears in her eyes asking me, “Why would you do that?” That will always stick in my mind. And of course, rather than deal with the problem, I chose to go off and get drunk. That way I could ignore it at least for the night. That was how I chose to fix things. Like I said, to this day it kills me to think about the way I hurt her. I still wish I could go back in time and not make the choices that brought Cassie the pain. Definitely one of those live and learn times.

We stayed together but things were never the same. A few more months went by and she was about 8 months along when she went into early labor. We spent a month in Sioux Falls. The doctor absolutely wouldn’t let us leave until they knew she would be far enough along in her pregnancy to give birth.  We were discharged from Sioux Falls and drove back home on Feb. 14 (my birthday). Then just 2 days later, February 16, 2007, my son Preston Jon Rogness was born. It was a bad storm that night.  But that Chevy 4x4 got me there in time to watch my son come into this world.

I could try to explain to you that feeling, but I can’t. It’s hard to explain how you feel when you see your son born, until you experience it for yourself. It’s an overwhelming feeling. You know how when they show that on some movies and you can see this proud, excited dad and you think how his feelings are... Take that times 10. I have never been more proud. My advice is never miss this experience for yourself.

A few weeks after our son was born, my girlfriend Cassie and I broke up. There was so much tension and stress with this relationship. It was a tough first night. We stayed close for a while after that, and I continued going to see my son. But in time I even let things come in the way of that. Alcohol, partying, sex. I basically fell off the map again.  I drank more than I did anything else. It made me feel good. I got in some more trouble on a felony charge, burglary, stealing, alcohol. I thought that summer partying was all that mattered. I set so many things that were more important aside. My job, my son, other family members, obligations (truck payments). I set things aside that I would never have let go before. If you are at all familiar with taking care of cattle, you know that you cannot just skip feeding them. Now, it was always my responsibility to feed cattle. That was just something that was long ago established. That’s the way it was, and I always did it. So, I wouldn’t feed, they would get out to get food and someone else would have to deal with that cause I was of somewhere else, ignoring responsibilities. That is just one example.

I had a party at an abandoned farmyard, which was busted. It was just one thing after another. I lost touch with my family members. I also had many of my friends that really worried about me. I can remember many occasions when my friends would do anything they could to get my keys from me, just to keep me from driving drunk. I had one that would even go as far as asking me to give her a ride out to my farm for the parties. Then by early morning she would get me to let her take my pickup truck back to Brookings so she could get to work in the morning. She got
with this one more than once. She knew I loved to get drunk and then go out tearing around on all the back gravel roads, go find some mud holes. This always worried many people, but she would do everything she could to stop me. And if she couldn’t stop me, she was going with me and there was no question about that. I especially remember being mad when I’d wake up and ask people where my pickup was. They would tell me “Don’t you remember letting Emily take it back to Brookings last night?” I would get mad, but now I think back on it and it makes me smile. She was looking out for me. Thanks Em.

Many of the things I look back on now, hurt me to think about. I can remember there were times when I would come up into the yard in my pickup and it was 3 a.m. and I couldn’t walk a straight line. 

I can remember pulling up in the yard and seeing the light on and my mom looking out the window and she’d  watch me to make sure I made it inside. I can remember thinking to myself “Why does she do that, she acts like I am a little kid, but I’m 19 years old? I don’t need my mom worrying about me.” This was such a selfish thought. I look back on it now and I appreciate those things. She cared and loved me even through my defiance. I have thanked her for all this kind of love since.  Even after all the crap I put my family through, they still loved me. I pray that my son will never put his mom through this.

On August 10, 2007, the walls came crashing down. I was arrested and charged along with my best friend for First Degree Murder. I don’t remember the first few days in jail, but I tried to keep a tough guy face on for a few weeks. Then one Sunday morning I can remember sitting in the church service and Pastor Kevin was talking about his life story and how you’re never too late or too bad to be forgiven. God will forgive the worst sins. I broke down right there. I cried like I’d never cried before. The tough guy was gone.

There was another time in county jail, when I felt like someone was telling me “it’s time to change.” The first time I watched my son walk. The first steps he took on his own were across the small visit room. I watched as he walked to Papa, my dad. I was on the other side of the glass. It would be worth it to change for my son. My family has still been committed to bringing my son to see me every week, just to keep my relationship going with my son.

Preston will be 5 years in February. And these tough questions from him come up. Why are you here? Can you come home with me? Can you come watch me at this?  These questions are hitting me hard, right in the heart.  It’s hard to answer his questions, when I have so many questions of my own.

Today when I look at the big picture, being locked up at this time of my life, I believe there is a reason I am still alive today.  I have no idea how many people told me things about my drinking. Getting my keys from me was near impossible. I can specifically remember one of my close long-time friends one night told me I shouldn’t drive. I remember thinking in my mind, “This dude does this a lot, so if he is telling me not to do so, that means something.” So I didn’t that night. But I did others…

I want to end my story with my experiences and few things I now know.

I can’t stress enough to you that you may think it is your choices and your life, and why should anyone else worry, everybody around you just needs to mind their own business. Let me tell you right now. I said those exact same things to myself and to family and friends, many times. Every time I would ask them those questions or tell them to mind their own business. The answer was always the same. “Because I/we care about you.”

There were a number of family members besides my immediate family, such as my uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, who tried to talk to me and let me know they were worried about me, and the direction I was headed. I would deal with that by getting mad and defensive and just pushing them away. Some of them may never forgive me for that and some may want nothing to do with me. I have to say that I don’t blame them. How could I argue? They tried to help me and I pushed them away and said some things that I know if someone said it to me, I’d be real mad. That’s something that now I have to live with.

I can tell you right now how that affects my family. I see it every single weekend when they bring my son to visit me downstairs in the visit room of the prison. Our activities are watched on a camera and can be listened to at all times. Now, I want you to think about how that feels to you. Now think about how your family would feel if they had to leave everything behind in a locker; coats, purses, cell phones, wallets, hats, medicine, everything that you wouldn’t even think about. It makes them feel as if they are the criminals. They aren’t the criminals they just love me. No one wants their family to have to go through this, just to visit their son.

There are so many things you don’t see or understand until you are in this situation. At your home you can choose to get up, go outside and maybe sit on the porch with your dog. Or maybe go get in your vehicle and go for a drive, wherever you want to go, or just go walk down the road. You have freedom to do what you choose. When you are locked up someone else tells you what to do, when you have to go to your cell, when you can go outside, when you eat, when you shower. Somebody else tells you how your day plays out, each and every day. And when someone else that you may not even know decides to screw something up for themselves, this will affect your day also. You can be on the phone with your family and someone in a totally different part of the prison can do something and you will be told that you need to hang up and go to your cell. Not because of what you did, but because someone else screwed up.

Now let me tell you, you don’t get into this place or this situation like me with just one bad decision. Remember when I said in my story that I left that Woodfield thinking I was fixed? The reason things fell apart so fast was that I didn’t have a plan. I just left thinking the fight was done. I was so very wrong. These things happen due to a series of bad decisions. It can start very small. Sometimes it happens slowly, and then starts spiraling out of control. This can happen so quickly you don’t know what is happening around you. You cannot fix any problems until you take full responsibility for what you have done. People catch bad breaks. We have all been there. But you can decide for yourself when to change. You can’t expect anyone else to do it for you. You will need some help from others at times.  Don’t be afraid to ask. One of my biggest downfalls was thinking I didn’t need anyone else.

So here are some things you can do for yourself.

  • Make a plan.
  • Stick to the plan. 
  • Fix the problems one at a time.
  • And don’t break the cycle.
  • As soon as you feel you are again slipping back into poor choices.. STOP and EVALUATE. Start over again and rebuild. And remember this will all take time, and a desire to want to change.
Believe me, I know how bad that is to have to keep starting over and rebuilding. But it isn't as bad as being locked up in prison away from your loved ones.

I pray that somehow, something in my story helped somebody who is struggling in whatever walk of life they are in now.  I pray that we can reach others through PPR. Remember you are not alone.