Six years lost: Book gives glance into life of drugs, recovery
"Dark room. Ratty couch. Several people, men and women, sitting around getting high."
In a different life, this used to be a typical setting in Ben Schmidt's daily routine.
Today, 10 years later, in a corner of a coffeeshop, Schmidt talks about this time in his past with restorative strength. Almost with a sense of absolution.
"Something that was dark in my past that I tried to hide — the mistakes I made as a young man — is now becoming a vehicle to help people," he said.
Schmidt recently released a book with local author and publishing company director, Brian Scott. The book, "Six Year Lost", tells a story of pain, loss, self-destruction, faith, hope and repentance.
Scott and Schmidt first met in 2016, then began working on the book.
"I was all in," Scott said of their initial conversation. "I had confidence in the story and knew this would be a good thing for Ben himself and the community."
In the book's introduction, Schmidt tells readers it was painful, at first, to open up about his experiences.
"I'd tell a story then realize one person was in prison and two others had died. It shocked me how many people from that life were no longer with us. There are no happy endings in that world, except for those who are able to escape."
"Six Years Lost" chronicles Schmidt's six-year struggle with illegal drugs — first using, then selling and dealing. Readers learn about the tragedies and pressure that pushed a teenager toward his first high and how the rapid grasp of drugs took over Schmidt's life.
"There is great power in the relatability of Ben," Scott said. "He is an ordinary guy. He has an approachable energy."
As Schmidt's story unfolds, through all the pitfalls of substance abuse, an undercurrent of spirituality can be felt, eventually guiding Schmidt out of darkness.
Behind closed doors
Through Schmidt's courage and vulnerability, the curtain on an idyllic small town is pulled back, allowing the audience an inside look into drug use in Red Wing and the influence of Twin Cities drug gangs. Schmidt and Scott describe streets we know, homes and buildings we pass by in our daily routines.
"Across the street a mother was pushing a stroller down the sidewalk," Schmidt writes in the book, describing how it felt to emerge from a dark home after a drug deal. "It always surprised me to see normal people going about their lives: buying groceries, driving to work, playing in a park. Aliens, all of them. People like me, we lived in a different world."
Behind cardboard-covered windows, in dark basements, illegal drugs poison people in our community. "Six Years Lost" is a jolting wake-up call, and a first-hand account of the growing substance abuse problem in Red Wing and surrounding regions.
Schmidt said, although the opioid crisis is now gaining national attention, more needs to be done.
"Resources, funding, there just simply needs to be more," he said.
Join the discussion
On Thursday, March 29, Schmidt and Scott will present a community meeting 6:30-8 p.m. at the Red Wing Public Library. Sponsored by the Phillip S. Duff, Jr. Endowment Fund, the "Needles and Pills" event will serve as a platform for discussion of drug use in the community.
This will be the third community discussion that Schmidt and Scott have participated in.
"I was nervous I would be judged harshly, but the community feedback has been just the opposite — all positive support," Schmidt said. "I have been taken aback by people reaching out about their personal reactions to the book. It is helping people with their own struggles in life, and that was my goal from the start. It's been incredibly rewarding."
"Six Years Lost" is available at the Red Wing Public Library, Fair Trade Books and online. For more information on the book and upcoming events, visit the "Six Years Lost" page on Facebook.