I grew up in a small town in southeastern Minnesota in a family with alcohol and co-dependency issues. Growing up in rural Minnesota meant that there was always work. At the age of seven, I dragged hay bales in the summers and learned how to milk cows. The code of ethics among the farming community was, "If you don't work, you don't eat." I always worked as hard as my body would allow.

Early poet

I began writing poetry at the age of seven. I would sit outside and listen to the nature sounds around me and write. I filled several notebooks with my writing - most of which I kept hidden. I once shared a poem with a friend at school and they went to the teacher, as the poem was what most would consider very dark and depressing. So I hid my notebooks, but I didn't stop writing.

I have always been a people-pleaser. I didn't want people to think I was different, and in turn I adapted myself to be like everyone around me. I started forcing myself to spend time with other kids, even though I would rather have been alone with my journal. As the years went by, I continued to do whatever it took to fit in with the kids and people who were "normal." The more I tried to fit in and please the people around me, the more I lost myself.

Drowning emotion

As I got older, I started drinking to fit in and found that I could forget my problems. I dove into my addiction and only hung out with people who would enable me to drink like I wanted to. I suddenly forgot about everything I once cared about.

Then I had my first son. Even that didn't keep me sober. I loved him, more than life itself, but the physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child left me needing a vice to cling to, since I had never dealt with any of it. I had my second son 23 months later and still continued drinking. I suffered legal problems, but that didn't stop me until I got a probation violation and was accepted into drug court in Wabasha County in 2006. This program kept me sober and I had two more boys during the 34 months I was in the program. I returned to my people-pleasing habits and felt I needed to make up for all the time I had been sober. I soon went back to drinking full force.

The worst year of my life was 2010. I had so many monumental losses. I lost my kids, my house and my best friend. I got a felony DWI and was told I would either sit 16 months in county jail and have 25 years of probation or sit 36 months in prison and have five-year conditional release. I had a decision to make. Considering that I had lost my kids in 2010, I let the math speak for itself. I decided to execute my sentence in prison. I never had a clue how vital this decision would be.

My voice

In the past two years I've spent in Shakopee, I've met me. I found what I liked again. I found my self-esteem and built my self-worth. I returned to writing as an outlet for my emotions. I had long ago abandoned writing for drinking. I learned that I don't have to be like everybody else. I found my voice and I learned that I am a pretty okay person. I lost the desire to drink and had an urge to tell my story and help people.

The most important part of the whole equation is the fact that I met me in prison and, as awkward as it sounds, it's one of the best things that has happened to me. I now see myself as a writer, not a drinker.

Tracy Yennie lives at the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Shakopee.

Editors' Note: This essay was first published in The Reflector, a quarterly publication of MCF-Shakopee. Used with permission.

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