I kind of figured I was destined for prison. I’m dead serious. I was born a realist and knew that the life I was born into meant there was little to no hope for a prosperous future. 

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher asked us each to answer the question “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” for a little book she was going to hand out to us before we moved onto middle school. Everyone had the run of the mill answers, like becoming an astronaut, teacher, policeman, etc… 

I was the only one who put something deeper, though the teacher frowned on it. I kept it real. 

I answered, “Dead, in prison, or driving a bus.” Dead, cause I deeply enjoyed getting high and knew if I liked it this much at a young age, I would more likely than not overdose and die. In prison, because I had already been in trouble numerous times for theft and various other offenses. Driving a bus, because at a young age, I figured I could drive around all day selling drugs, unhindered, and not get stopped. Adolescence in its purest form fully represents ignorance is bliss.

So when I got a decade long sentence at the age of 21, I wasn’t too broken up about it. First of all, the friends I did have were junkies and losers who weren’t achieving anything with their lives. Secondly, I was hopelessly addicted to every drug I could get my hands on, and at that time I had overdosed about 12 times within the last three years. Shit, I even had overdosed off the same bag of dope three times in two weeks. I just shot up in the hospital parking lot to make it easier for them to find me. 

In a way, going to prison was a huge relief, a break away from my addictions. All the women I was sleeping with, juggling numerous females all the time, wore me out. I’d wake up with my fiance, bust her down, be with a side chick at lunch, and at night go on a conquest sleeping with one of the random flippers I’d encountered throughout my day working in the mall. After, I’d end up back at home with my fiance, so I literally needed a fucking break.

Most of all, I hated my life. I hated EVERYTHING about it. Hated who I was, where I grew up, hated my friends, the females, my family, how I looked, how I had no future, and how I only passed school cause I nailed two teachers who could pass me along.  I hated literally everything about my life and just wanted to get away from it all. Prison was a vacation, a rescue from the suffering and pain that my life had become.

I wasn’t shocked when I was shipped to a maximum-security prison. I was ready to hit the yard, blade in hand, and stand on the first fool I saw to make it clear you don’t fuck with me.

I got through intake and was put in a cell with a much older black man. He was tall and skinny like Kevin Durant. The guy was nicknamed Wimp, which I thought was cause he was a wimp. But I was wrong, it was just the guy’s last name. I’m shorter than him and weighed 180 (pure dope weight for my height). I unloaded my property, which was very little at the time, into a cell no bigger than a fucking closet, 5 feet wide, 7 feet tall, 7 feet long, with a dog kennel cage for a front door. We were on the bottom of a four-tier cell house that housed over 600 inmates. The walls were pure concrete and covered with gang graffiti. I’d been in crack houses that had no toilet (because it was sold for dope) that looked better than this.

As I got settled in, I grabbed a shaft of metal I had stolen off a fence in intake and proceeded to file it down on the concrete floor. We had yard in a few hours and I wanted to be ready. Wimp, quiet as a librarian, just sat on his bed and watched a TV show, unperturbed by me filing down a weapon. We hadn’t spoken one word since I moved in. 

You have to understand. I thought this was a real prison like you see on TV and in the movies — where you had to show you’re tough to get respect — and I wanted to be ready. I thought this is what people did. Once I finished, Wimp casually sat up, took off his headphones, and snatched the shiv out of my hand. I stood up quick as a rocket, and so did he. 

Before I could utter any threat out of my mouth, he asked me what I needed that for. I told him I was going to the yard and going to put in work. He just started laughing. He sat back down and told me to do the same. He placed the shiv under his mat and told me that that only happens in the movies. Here, the inmate population had been so beaten down that no one wanted to go to the hole [solitary] for a fight.

Times had changed. No more could you get in a fight, go to segregation and be out in under a week. Nowadays, men were given an entire year of segregation for one fight — and up to three if it included a weapon. Makes sense they didn’t want to count down an entire calendar in a box with a shower. Don’t get me wrong, people still fought but it was rare.

Wimp changed my life that day and continued to for a while more. For the next year of my life, I sat on the toilet in our cell and talked to Wimp. He raised me from an unintelligent drug addict to a human being I could be proud of. He taught me how to act in prison and how to think cognitively when a problematic situation arose. Sometimes the mentorship was forced. I didn’t always want to change, I thought life was just the way it was: use drugs, bang bitches, steal stuff, and do it all over again. Little did I know that life was more than the mess I lived in.

Wimp would question me on what I wanted out of life, why I hated everything about myself and he motivated me to change for the better. That knowledge and purpose should be treasured like gold. I never found out why he was so dedicated to changing my life. He had been incarcerated for 17 years before I got there and had another 12 to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I questioned everything about him and bucked his motivational talks until they started to make sense. He even influenced me to find faith in something bigger than just what my eyes could see. I didn’t fully hand over the reins of my life to Christ until my mother passed away from drug addiction years later and I saw first hand a miracle that gave me the push I needed to totally relinquish control. But Wimp got me started.

Wimp set me out on a path driven by the purest motivation to be better. When I got locked up, I was damn borderline retarded due to drug use, the refusal to be taught in school, and a careless attitude. When I got a second chance, I devoured educational materials like narcotics. I taught myself everything you learned in school, and most colleges, and completed three different vocational programs. I earned a bachelor’s degree in ministry, an associates degree in theology, and I read every book I could find on home repair.  I changed my eating habits, became physically fit, and I actually started liking myself, even loving myself. And I started my mission to ask the people in my past for forgiveness and find peace.

This all started with Wimp. He didn’t have to do anything for me, he was under no obligation to alter my life, but he never gave up on me. His teaching me how to act was a biggie. I can blame my incarceration on so many things that went wrong in my life, a cornucopia of factors that all in some way shaped the outcome. But the truth of it is, it all falls down to this one issue. 

No one taught me how to act when I was a child. 

I lived in Milwaukee with one older sibling that fought with me my entire life. Shit the first memory I have of him is me stabbing him in the chest with a fork. My mother hustled the system like professional manipulation was a career, that enjoyed chasing the high of drugs like prescriptions, weed, coke, and liquor. My father worked rotating 16-hour shifts to not deal with his drug-addicted neurotic wife and two destructive children. 

I hated school, and my mother would always let me stay home and hang with her to smoke weed. My parents and school administration thought I was mildly retarded and emotionally disturbed. They had little hope for my future. Truth be told I just hated school and liked smoking weed like it was better than life itself. No one could prove to me why school was important nor get me interested in it. My intolerance for adults who thought they were better than me, combined with my lack of respect for authority, made me behave violently in class. I mean, my god, the only reason why I graduated high school was that I slept with a teacher and a teacher’s assistant who passed me without doing any work.

At the time it was cool, but when I was arrested and was given a cognitive test, I realized I couldn’t even do basic math if it didn’t have any relation to drug use.

Growing up not one single person ever taught me how to act. No one had hope for my future or even tried to help get me clean off drugs. My parents saw me as a child all the way until I was incarcerated at the age of 21. I wasn’t trusted enough to have a car until I got one on my own, and was never taught how to pay bills or balance a checking account. I was their little baby and they would take care of it all. That drove me mentally down a hole that ruined the rest of my life. 

When I finally got arrested I tried every stupid thing I could think of to get out of the situation. That only made everything worse. 

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t “woe is me” blame everyone mentality. This is a serious point I want to get across. If you don’t invest in a child, allow them to grow and mature and have responsibilities, then they are designed to fail in life. Without a role model or hope, that child will falter. When I arrived in prison, I was still mentally a child, but a great man raised me in knowledge and gave me hope. 

I was raised for prison. My mother was a drug addict who would chase dope like Usain Bolt. There were times, as a teenager, that I hated having friends spend the night because my mom would come into my room and tear it apart, looking for my dope. Sometimes she would accuse me of stealing from her. 

Sometimes she would have an allergic reaction to her morphine so severe that she would become a child and not remember who anyone was and cower under the table. When this happened, I would call the police, tell them she overdosed, get everyone out of the house, leave the front door open, and take all the drugs with me. She was a walking pharmacy, with so many prescriptions it was fucking unreal. She had three different physicians prescribing her all sorts of pain pills and a pain clinic that would double-dose everything. She would still run out of her meds by the 17th of the month and sometimes we would fake having her purse stolen to get new scripts. Her floor was my pharmacy when I was 8. I would find pills laying on the ground and scoop them up, go to school and play “what do you think this one does?” with my friends.

My pops was a mess on a whole nother level. He was an ex-marine, alcoholic, working 18 hour days, who taught us how to steal. He even forced me and my brother to steal huge spools of copper wire from the train tracks as kids. I followed in his footsteps all throughout my teenage years. 

He was a huge hypocrite as well. He’d give me money and I would ask him to take me to my friends where I would pick up dope and tell pops to take me back home where I’d proceed to get high. Then he’d scream at me when he caught me and I’d ask him. “What the fuck did you think you were doing when you took me to the fucking ghetto and back?” 

As a teenager, I wound up taking the blame for my mother a lot, even when she would front ounces of crack and clean every inch of the house before taking off for days. Pops would always come home to find the house clean — and then whoop my ass for it. I always wondered why other people’s houses were so boring.

My entire life changed when one person actually started caring for me, I owe Wimp everything. Every part of who I am now was started with his influence and hope-filled words. 

Every child born should be given somebody like him. Our entire country would be better, there would be so much more hope. I still have a few years left, but all that means is I have time to learn more and be better. I’ve seen so many guys come back to prison and the only thought that pops into my head is “I hope they find a Wimp.” 

Nickolas Laumann is serving time in Wisconsin.