Conversations During Quarantine — Scott Wostal
The mix of scrolling Facebook and the COVID-19 coop up has caused me (and many others) a lot of anxiety. All the fighting and speculation. I’d had it. But there were a few choice Facebook Friends that were making me laugh. One gentleman in particular really raised the bar when it came to posting. His name Scott Wostal…we went to high school together. Good lord his posts are freakin’ hilarious. From photoshopping former classmates’ faces into funny slash compromising photos to adventures with his dog Pigpen, his posts made me bust out laughing. I mean, you haven’t lived until you see a guy named Bubba dressed in a little boy sailor outfit.
Scott has a bit of a checkered past. He was that tough kid in school, you know, the one you didn’t want to mess with; however, he was always nice to me…and that was Scott. Tough exterior, but underneath it all, he was a genuinely sweet kid. Just misunderstood maybe…incredibly intelligent. One day after school, my first boyfriend, Chris Brock, swore me to secrecy. He claimed he went to Scott’s house after school and busted him listening to Depeche Mode. I’ll let Scott verify this story, but apparently he told Chris, “Tell no one, or I’ll pound you.” I mean the guy only wore Megadeath and Slayer t-shirts so I can see how Enjoy The Silence might tarnish his bad boy reputation. (However, I do know a photo exists of him with his ballet class…see, soft side…all be it he was probably in 2nd grade.)
After school, he joined a pretty tough motorcycle gang and did a couple of stints in jail. After he was released, I was visiting my parents and bumped into him at the Log Cabin Restaurant. Cooper had just finished stuffing pancakes into his face and walked passed Scott’s table with his hands in the air yelling, “Sticky hands, coming through!”
After scrubbing the syrup off my son’s entire body, we returned to our table but stopped to say hello. I introduced Cooper to Scott, and my son was fascinated with all his tattoos. I hadn’t seen Scott in ages, so obviously I asked what he was up to. My face must have been priceless when he said, “well, I’ve been in jail”. Oh..followed by an awkward silence. But much to my surprise, he wasn’t a dick to me about it. It was all very matter of fact and said he’d really learned from the whole experience. A new outlook on life.
Because of the kiddos, we returned to my hometown every couple of weeks. Staying at my parents’ home allowed The Boy and me to go out for dinner, and if we were lucky, partake in a beverage. Our normal stop was Gem City, a bar owned by yet another high school classmate. Gem is one of those towny bars where regulars turn and give you a puzzling you’re not from around here stares. But Gary (the owner) would hold up a bottle of Jameson and the locals immediately knew we were good people.
One night, I looked across the bar and there was Wostal sipping a PBR. Of course, I bought him a shot, and he sauntered over to introduce himself to The Boy. Put his arm around him and gave him a few pats on the shoulder that my husband swears pounded him into the ground 7 inches or so. Scott is a big dude. He has giant hands, is incredibly tall, and his presence can be intimidating. The Boy scanned my face for a look of terror, but I just smiled, laughed, and cheers to that shot. We proceeded to get incredibly inebriated that evening and laughed for hours.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, Scott has agreed to let me interview him about jail. I don’t want to get into what he did, but I’m interested to learn about what it was like and the transition back into normal life. When I first saw him at the Log Cabin with Mister Sticky Hands, he looked sad…tired…almost worrisome. Now it seems he’s found joy. Joy in babysitting his nieces, pranking his mother, and going on adventures with Pigpen. He’s found creativity as an artist.
Most recently, while others are fighting and complaining about quarantine, he’s been an uplifting, jovial voice of reason. But after recently losing a family friend to COVID-19, he pleaded for others to take this situation seriously and stop laying blame here and there. “Don’t be stubborn to the point of endangering someone else’s safety.” He also offered up some sage advice that I immediately implemented and pretty much rocked my world, “anyone that’s sat any length of time in jail…like yours truly…get a routine down. Do things the same way, every day…same order…it will give your mind mental structure.”
I can’t tell you how much those words rocked my world. I was sitting in bed, in the pajamas, unshowered, and eating Pop-Tarts. I was also anxiety-ridden, taking my temperature once every few hours, convinced my allergies were the initial signs of the corona. I reached out to thank Scott, and then asked if I could interview him. To my surprise, he agreed.
OKAY, HERE ARE THE QUESTIONS
Give me a little intro about yourself, and tell me how long were you in jail/prison?
I don’t think it’s possible to give a little intro on myself…this guy’s a real class act..ha! I’ve only been in county lockup..Sauk and Dane counties..never prison..which surprised the hell outta me, as last time I caught a case, I thought I was gonna do a nickel at least.
What was the average day like for you?
Wake up call via bullhorn loudspeaker ..standing headcount in 15 minutes..make your bunk then have a shitty breakfast or just go back to bed till the next standing headcount which was around noon I think. I always stayed up…it was quiet time in the pod…all the punks and little gangbanger wannabes were sleeping…so I could watch TV…I’d watch In The Heat Of The Night, My Name Is Earl, and Dog The Bounty Hunter. When those shows were done I would walk circles in the room which held about 24 of us I think. I’d walk the perimeter over and over again like 200 times..just for exercise. Then, I’d buy a Mrs. Freshley’s honeybun outta the vending machine, and a Diet Pepsi. I’d lay down and read ..write down random thoughts..list of things to do or people to see when out.
How were the other inmates? Did you like them? Any you would still consider a friend?
I have one person I am in contact with. He’s a good guy.
What was your favorite meal in jail?
It was all awful bland shit and bologna every day for lunch. I went through a bologna fandango in there, or I also call it, The 4 Stages of Jail Bologna. Like, you show up in jail, you’re pissed, you’re not hungry, you say, “I ain’t eating that shit”. That’s Stage 1. Next, “fuck I gotta eat. It’s not that bad I guess.” That’s Stage 2. Then before you know it, you fucking love bologna! It’s the greatest shitty meat ever as far as you’re concerned. You prey on guys in Stage 1 Bologna Denial, just so you can eat just stacks of that shit. Then comes Stage 4, “I’ll never eat that shit again as long as I live”. And this becomes a vicious cycle.
Were you ever in solitary confinement?
No, I was well behaved. I wanted out.
What was your demeanor during the last month of your incarceration? Were you scared? Excited?
I was nervous they would forget or screw up paperwork. My plan was to get home, and I don’t know, I think I was really nervous about an indictment coming down because that’s how the feds work. They let you do time and then pick you up again and nail you with more charges. I was allegedly involved in a lot of criminal activities.
What was the first thing you ate after being released? Was it as good as you remembered?
Fast food…I think…I remember not being impressed though.
I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to transition back into everyday life. What would you say was the most difficult?
I didn’t transition at that point. It was many years in the making. I wasn’t done being a criminal yet. Not sure if I am that guy anymore or not…it seems to go day-by-day, situation-by-situation. You never forget what you’ve done and what you’ve learned. I don’t consider myself a criminal anymore. I’ve seen more crazy insane things than anybody in my entire home town — next to a combat veteran who’s been in all day firefight. I’ve been shot at a few times and allegedly shot at some tin cans before but not an all-day firefight.
Did your old friends, the ones you got into trouble with, try to reconnect? What did you say?
I still talk to certain individuals. Others, we have a pretty simple understanding of, “don’t think about me, and I won’t think about you, your family, and your friends”.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to 12-year old you?
I’d like to go back to 11, that’s where my problems started. If I could have avoided one single day at 11, everything would have been different, but that’s a different jam ya know?
What good came out of jail?
Nothing. It did nothing to make me choose a different path at that point.
You seem much happier now than ever before. How did jail change you?
Jail had nothing to do with where I’m at mentally now. I had an epiphany at the same time many other great ideas were entering my skull, and to put it in terms we can all understand, I had seen enough. I’d had my fill…good and bad. I guess I wanted to see what normal life was. What I had always run away from now seemed somewhat interesting, and it is, but I’ve tweaked it to my exact liking. No time wasted, no excuses given, and I like that.
Alright, before signing off, let’s do some fun questions.
I periodically make mixtapes on the blog. What music is inspiring you at the moment?
Boy, you know I really just dig the goddamn Grateful Dead, and not the cutsie bear shit, etc etc…like primordial 1968 -71 shit. Stuff most squares don’t know about or could even handle ya know. This ain’t no A-side shit were talkin’ about mama!! HAHAHA.
If you had one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be?
The ability to be incredible at any musical instrument I pick up…from a double gourded sitar…to a Hammond B3 organ…fiddle/violin. Yeah, that would be the coolest. Selfish I guess, cause I would just be happy to play by myself like I do now. Guitar, 5 string banjo, pedal steel guitar, and dobro are all things I actually do play.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and who was it from?
There’s a lot and ask me tomorrow it would be something different, but for now, it’s “Never get out of the boat.” — Capt Willard
Now that you’ve found a career in pinstriping and as an artist, where do you find inspiration?
Career, no. I live day-by-day doing what I can. Me and another pal kind of live collectively. Like as long as we got some smokes, we’re doing ok…ha! I did quit smoking right before this virus madness ensued. Talk about nerves of steel. Yeah, I was a little on edge. I quit because I had lost a tooth and didn’t want dry socket from smoking. Just so happens that the word around town is you need a good set of lungs on ya for this virus, so everything happens for a reason. And don’t ask how I lost the tooth. That’s a chain of events that boils my blood.
I last saw you was outside the local tattoo parlor. If you could stick me with a tattoo, what would it be and where would it be?
Well, I don’t tattoo, but I have close friends that do. I’d make you get a tattoo on your butt that says “I love Depeche Mode” HAHA!!!
Scott, I legit just snort laughed. This is why I love ya! I’m gonna make you a mixtape of all my Depeche Mode favorites and not just the cutsie emo shit, but the stuff most squares don’t know about 😝Gotcha! Thank you for always making me laugh. And I’ll forever be grateful to you for smacking me in the face with your knowledge and helping me find structure during quarantine. Without you, I’d still be in bed wearing pajamas, eating Pop-Tarts, smelling quite gross. You’re one of those people that will always have a special place in my heart, and just know, you are loved here at the Herbes household. Oh, and next time we’re in town, maybe we can make that tattoo happen…as long as I can pick one out for you.