I’ve always been fascinated by prisons. Maybe because of a secret allure to a forbidden society. Maybe it was the images created in the media fantasy machine—the burly tattooed savages, muscle-bound toughs and slick, death-dealing predators—all running amok on the galleys of giant cell blocks. Never in my wildest dreams though, did I think I would ever see the Pen from the inside.
Well, here I am.
Mine is not your typical prison story. I didn’t grow up on the mean streets. I wasn’t a pistol-popper or a gang-banger. I was a kid from the suburbs who liked sports and dirt bikes and girls. I had a normal life. But apparently, it wasn’t enough. Neither was being a star jock in high school, or going to college on a full ride to play baseball or a chance to make it to the big time. Marrying my college sweetheart? That wasn’t enough either. Nor was having a good job or owning a house on a creek or living the American Dream.
People wake up every day and make choices. I made mine. For reasons beyond the grasp of my comprehension, I chose a world of drugs and violence and mayhem. I thought outlawry was a glamorous trade; I thought cocaine was a sexy game. A lost soul to say the least.
It turned out I wasn’t a very good criminal. I ran up high numbers in a treacherous business, but everything else, everything that really counted, fell apart. My twisted lifestyle came to a crashing halt when I was arrested at gunpoint—make that machine gunpoint—and dragged off to languish in the dismal, rat-infested county lockup. After being charged with multiple felonies, I pled guilty to manslaughter and narcotics trafficking, and received an 11-year sentence, of which I was mandated to serve roughly seven years.
Having never been to prison, I expected the worst. I had heard the stories of riots and rapes and all sorts of depraved and dangerous things happening inside the razor wire. Now, after four years of incarceration, I can say that, yes—bad things absolutely happen in prison. I know this because I’ve seen it firsthand. Prison life can be vicious; it can be lonely and heartbreaking. That’s putting it mildly.
But prison can also be a blessing if one goes about it with a clear head and a strong will. Prison is an exclusive, no-frills institution of higher learning. Smash Mouth University. It teaches lessons that can’t be taught anywhere in the free world. A man can lose everything he loves, but he can find his true self behind bars. All the bullshit is stripped away, and all the lies laid bare.
I currently reside at the Minnesota Correctional Facility—Lino Lakes. I am the editor of the prison newspaper, the Lino Lakes Ledger. I’ll be here until the end of 2013, at which time I will go out to the minimum-custody camp and then to work-release in a halfway house.
As it stands today, I’m just hitting the home stretch on what’s been one hell of a long, strange trip. I don’t even recognize the person I was four years ago, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
My name is Tim Boland, and that is my story.