Sunday, February 26, 2012

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.


  1. Jon, I think its awesome that you are trying to help others! You may not be in the greatest situation, but its good to see that you're doing what you can with what you've got! And from what I've seen and heard PJ is a very good little boy, and a cutie too! Good luck!!
    -Alicia T.

  2. Jon -I have found your writing inspirational and a direct reflection upon your growth and maturity. Its been a long time since I've seen you, and a great deal has changed. I encourage you to continue to stay positive and focused. I wish you luck in your endeavors in prevention.
    Mark Francisco

  3. Jon..we have been friends forever... I was even there when preston was born... I have never seen you that happy before..hopefully this will change someone life around... I miss you so much!
    Love you!,

  4. Jon, I've shared this link with my family and told them to Pass it On. I too am praying that many lives would be changed for Christ with your testimony here. All things do work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. May His purpose be fulfilled in you where you are planted. Happy Belated Birthday In Christ, Aunt Sandra

  5. Thank God we don't have to do everything ourselves. We are not alone, no matter where we are, God will never leave us or forsake us. Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you." Here is a New Testament verse : Hebrews 13:5 "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Good bible advise to follow. Keep reading/memorizing your bible and stand on God's promises. Your mom sent us one of your dream catchers. Great work! It's hanging up in our dining room window.

  6. Jon, The more I read and re-read your testimony the more I pray for you and others in our family and circle of friends, even complete strangers that I don't know. Most of us do not consider ahead of time the consequences of a seemingly small decision. I am praying for all the everyday decisions/choices we make that God's will be done and his hand of protection be over us all.

  7. Jon, We are very proud of you...Writing this testimony made you think about allot of things in your life.. Your opened up your life and your heart. We are thankful that God has been working in your life, and know that he has great things for you in the future. Keep your eyes on Jesus and he will guide the way... We love you... Mom and Dad

  8. Jon,

    Happy Birthday next week!

    Aunt Sandra

  9. Wish my good friend Brian Brody senior was around to read this .

    1. Friend of Brian Brody Senior? Hate to tell you this, he didn't have friends. Jon and his best friend live this life because of your 'good friend brian brody sr.' It's funny that you're anonymous, but I guess if you are really friends with Brian Brody Senior, I wouldn't want anyone to know who I was either.

      Jon I pray that you are still doing great!

    2. Your good friend? The same one, who broke Brandon's mothers jaw? The same one who beat the shit out of Brandon's older brother? You mean the same guy that threatened to kill Brandon's mothers family if his mother didn't go to a field while he tortured her? THAT's the guy you're talking about?

  10. dam... well after reading those replies its hard for me to say anything about this story . I don't know you or anyone involved in this story . My name is Jon Rogness . I'm a few years older then you and live in another state. I only know of you and this story because we share the same first and last name. its funny to me thinking back before google became what it is today. that I was the only Jon Rogness . that my name was an original . One of a kind . The only one . now it seems threw google and utube . That is not true . I can see now that the world I knew is not as big as I thought. I stumbled across your story and was intrigued to read about how another Jon Rogness came to be . I was surprised to find out that we both lived some what the same kind of life . I've had and have problems dealing with alcohol . from my years as a teen and now . I was there for both of my children being born . I've had the fights with there mother . I've made one bad choice after another . Today I started thinking about all of those bad choices that I've made over the past years . from the friends I should'v not been hanging out with . To the wrong things that I've done. All that regent and where did it get me . You are not alone . I'm sorry that the page that you turned in your book of life, ended up this way. after reading your story . I will try to set up a better plan for myself . I can only try to better myself , if not for me , for my family . Good luck to you Jon

    1. Hey Jon,
      This is Jon mom. What state do you live in? I copied your comment and sent it to my son. He was so very touched by your note. He has made so many positive changes in his life. His God is so important to him right now. He knows that God is where he needs to put his trust. And he is doing this with his life.. Yes he is still in prison, but he has a ministry of helping others to come to know the Lord.. He is serving God within the prison walls. And someday hopes to serve the Lord outsdie the prison walls. His started this blog in hopes that others will be touched and maybe not end up in the place he has. There is so much better for people in life. Your life is so special to God, and your family. Jon will be remembering you in his prayers and hope that you can find peace with God, and know that he loves you and wants a better life for you. And with God's help you can do it. We wll also keep you in our prayers. Thanks so much for you comment left here.

  11. Hey Jon,
    This is Jon mom. What state do you live in? I copied your comment and sent it to my son. He was so very touched by your note. He has made so many positive changes in his life. His God is so important to him right now. He knows that God is where he needs to put his trust. And he is doing this with his life.. Yes he is still in prison, but he has a ministry of helping others to come to know the Lord.. He is serving God within the prison walls. And someday hopes to serve the Lord outsdie the prison walls. His started this blog in hopes that others will be touched and maybe not end up in the place he has. There is so much better for people in life. Your life is so special to God, and your family. Jon will be remembering you in his prayers and hope that you can find peace with God, and know that he loves you and wants a better life for you. And with God's help you can do it. We wll also keep you in our prayers. Thanks so much for you comment left here.