I live on a steel bunk in a warehouse. Everything I own in this world is in the footlocker beneath me. It ain’t much; a photo album, a stack of letters, a few books. I’ve been in prison 10 years this time. My release date is 2032. A few hazy, drug-soaked months of strip bars, casinos, and fast living cost me most of my adult life.

I run across old friends and associates from that era on the yard sometimes. They look bad — rotten teeth, track marks, gnawed nails on shaky hands. They give me news of other old friends who weren’t as lucky: overdoses, shootings, suicides. Occasionally I’ll recognize the names of women in the arrest report of my hometown newspaper. Those wide-eyed college girls who were just beginning to experiment with coke and ecstasy in 2003 are now haggard streetwalkers, hardened repeat-offender prostitutes.

This is the natural evolution of drug abuse. Cause and effect. I know you’re thinking it won’t happen to you. I thought I was an exception too. Believe me, no one plans on destroying their life and coming to prison. No little kid daydreams about growing up to rob gas stations for dope money, or getting doused with pepper spray and beaten half to death by abusive guards in a confinement cell, or dying alone in a motel room with a needle in his arm… We call getting high “partying” and like any party, there’s always a mess when the party is over. In fact, the bigger the party, the bigger the mess.

The irony is that the kids we label squares and lames and dorks because they refuse to party grow up to be the doctors who resuscitate us when we overdose, the psychologists who attempt to help us put our broken lives back together, the lawyers who represent us in court when we’re arrested, the judges who sentence us to prison, and the men who step into our families and become the fathers and husbands we failed at being.

So if you’re 15 (or 17 or 24) and you’re popping bars, snorting Roxys or dabbling in meth or molly or whatever, this is what middle-aged drug life looks like. Guaranteed. And if you think it won’t happen to you, we can talk more about it when you move into my dorm. The bunk behind mine is open right now. We’ll leave a light on for you. The one from the gun tower.

[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in February 2015.]