Friends, Family, Coaches - please read the letterthat a Former Kiel High grad wrote about his alcohol experiences....We all like to "relax" with a drink with friends, but hopefully by reading this letter we realize what can happen if we go overboard! Feel free to use the letter in any form or fashion you deem fit - forward it on - make copies for your students, whatever it takes.....it is what his mother in her original e-mail asked for us to do.....
----Where do I begin? Why is someone reading aloud a letter I wrote?
Why aren’t I there in person to tell you my story? I’ll get to that later! First
I’d like you to know who I am, my name is Jeff Niesen, I’m 29 years old, grew up
in a small town named Kiel. I was an only child, but grew up in a good home with
two parents that loved me.
As you’ve probably guessed, this letter has something to do with drinking
or drugs or some kind of addiction. Yet I don’t have a sob story for you, as I
said I was raised in a good home with parents that didn’t drink or do drugs. No,
this didn’t cause me to rebel and sneak out of school to smoke pot or drink. In
fact it was quite the opposite. I was a good student, definitely not the
valedictorian, but got A’s and B’s. Sports were a really big part of my
childhood and that followed through high school and even into college. I was
fortunate enough to be the quarterback of our football team and a four year
starter on the Varsity basketball team. I’ve been out of high school going on
eleven years now, but somehow I still manage to hold many of the schools
basketball scoring records. None of those records matter, I’d just like you to
know I was a “Normal” kid, maybe even a “Good” kid! The stereotypical “Jock” or
“Prep” whatever you want to call it. You get the picture?
My first drink came when I was a junior in high school. Yeah, I got drunk,
but nothing bad happened and it was a pretty good time. Like I said, sports were
a big part of my life and I didn’t want to jeopardize them so drinking wasn’t a
regular thing for me. If I drank, it was with a few friends at a safe place, and
we always intended on staying at that safe place, definitely NO drinking and
driving. We were drinking as responsibly as 17 and 18 year olds can I guess.
After high school, a good college offered me a chance to be a part of their
basketball team. Some of you know what it’s like to leave home at 18 to attend
college. It’s a pretty cool time in a young person’s life. You have total
freedom and no real responsibility, other than school.
To say I embraced the college “party” life style would be a bit of an
understatement. Sure I had classes and basketball from August until the end of
May, but I always found time to party. Sometime in between partying and classes,
we even managed to win a National Championship my freshman year. It was pretty
neat to be a part of that.
Life seemed to be going pretty damn well. My grades were still good,
basketball couldn’t really get any better. Maybe that’s why I didn’t notice that
my drinking was getting out of control. After all, what are the signs you have a
problem? Grades slipping, losing friends, people concerned about you, right?
That wasn’t me. When I reflect on that time now though, it pains me to see how
foolish I was. Seeing if I could do a keg stand for a minute or two straight,
slamming a whole pitcher of beer, or seeing if I could do 21 shots on my 21st
Those first years in college were when the black outs really began. I’d
wake up in my dorm room with absolutely no idea of how I got back the night
before. It was like a game, trying to piece together the night.
One time we were on spring break, in Cancun, and I decided to ditch my
friends and see what fun I could find by myself that night. Luckily, I have some
pretty good friends. When they got back to our hotel at 4 AM and I wasn’t there,
one of my buddies got worried and went looking for me. He found me, on the
beach, about a mile from our hotel passed out in a chair, half frozen to death.
That ocean breeze gets cold at night. What was I doing there? Don’t ask me, I
have no idea. I don’t remember going there. I don’t remember anything before he
woke me up. We had to piece together my night by the receipts I had in my
There are so many things that could’ve or maybe should’ve happened to me
that night or countless other nights for that matter. But there was always an
excuse. That night it was, “It’s Mexico, Spring Break! WHO CARES! Everyone does
that!” I really believed most other people experienced the same black outs that
I did when I drank. Like I said earlier, so foolish.
After two years of playing college basketball, I grew tired of it and
wanted more from my education. So I transferred to a small, private, business
college, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Looking back, this is where things really
started to get out of control. This school didn’t have a basketball team, so all
I had to do was go to school and party. The grades still came easy for me, and I
was 1200 miles from home, so no one had any idea I was hitting the clubs at
least five, but usually six or seven nights a week. There are all kinds of wild
stories that involve drinking and jumping off the University library into a
pond, waking up in random places with no idea of how I got there. But I never
got mixed up with drugs! I was raised being told drugs were bad. Drugs were
addictive. Drugs destroy lives. Drugs scared me and thankfully I never
experimented with them. How ironic is it that I didn’t realize alcohol was doing
the same thing in my life? All be it slowly, alcohol was still playing a
destructive role in my life. But because things weren’t falling apart, I thought
everything was fine.
At 23, I graduated and moved back to Wisconsin. My uncle owns a large and
successful automotive group. My degree is Automotive Marketing Management. You
could say I went to school to be a car dealer. At 24, I was the managing partner
of his Chrysler dealerships. It was a small dealership, but I was proud of the
accomplishments we were able to achieve in a very short time. I moved into a
brand new house, was able to travel all around the world, the sky really seemed
to be the limit.
Unfortunately, I never got rid of the college “party” life style. Now
it became a “work hard, play hard” life style. Was I late for work sometimes
because I was out the night before? Yep! But I was the boss and didn’t really
have set hours. And like I said, we had taken a failing business and made it
successful in less than a year. I realize now, successful or not, my example was
still that of an irresponsible party boy. My drinking black outs continued.
Luckily for me, one of my college buddies moved in with me, and he was always
the designated driver. I’d wake up on the couch or in my bed, not remembering
getting home. Yet I knew I didn’t drive, Ryan was ALWAYS my designated
In November 2006, Ryan bought his own home, and moved out of mine. My
weekends still consisted of hitting the local bars with friends, and the
occasional trip to Chicago or Las Vegas. In small town Wisconsin, when you go to
the bars, there’s usually only one way home. Cabs aren’t an option. They don’t
exist in towns with small populations. You need to make plans ahead of time for
a designated driver, plan a place to stay, or chance the drive home. My
designated driver didn’t live with me anymore. Depending on the destination, we
still had a designated driver from time to time. And sometimes we would crash at
each others houses, depending upon which city we were drinking in. And yes,
sometimes we would chance it and drive home. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the
Remember when I talked about when we first started drinking, and we
always had a plan where we were staying? Drinking and driving wasn’t an option.
For me drinking was kind of like learning to walk. You take baby steps. At first
because you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re afraid of the unknown. As time
went by, I became more familiar with what it felt like to be drunk, and less
afraid of what lie ahead. I guess you could say it was like a false sense of
So the first time I rode in a car with a driver who had been drinking, it
was really scary because I thought maybe the person was going to crash, and we’d
all die. But we didn’t. Nothing happened. We made it home safely. The baby steps
were starting all over. I thought “maybe it was ok to ride with someone who had
been drinking as long as they weren’t “TOO BAD”. Everyone probably knows this
led to my first time behind the wheel after drinking. Again I was scared of what
might happen. Mostly though, I was afraid of getting a DUI. I’m a good driver,
and would NEVER get into a crash, and so the baby steps began. I went from
getting behind the wheel scared of getting a DUI, to confident I could drive
“JUST FINE”. And I never did get a DUI.
Not until February 11, 2007. It was a Sunday and I met up with some
friends at a local bar for a youth baseball fundraiser. Naturally, we were
drinking beer, but for some reason decided we should mix shots with the beer.
The fundraiser was over by 5:30 or 6:00, and I decided it was time to head for
home. Rather than do that, I met up with some friends at the next bar. I don’t
know if the shots finally caught up with me or what exactly happened, but once
again, I was on my way to a blackout.
The people I was with at the bar said “I didn’t seem that bad.”
However, I remember very little of that last bar. I remember walking into the
bar. I remember using the ATM, but everything else is really hazy. When I woke
up, I was in the drivers seat of my car and quite confused. I had no idea where
I was, or how I got there. When I opened my driver’s side door and got out, I
realized my car was in a very deep ditch, a few miles from that last bar. BUT I
WAS FINE! No injuries. I thought I must have driven, fallen asleep, and ran down
into the ditch. I was essentially in the middle of nowhere, and relieved there
seemed to be no one around. My first instinct was to get away from my car, to
avoid getting a DUI, just in case someone saw my car and called the
So I began jogging down the road. When I reached for my cell phone to
call a friend, I realized I didn’t have it with me. There was a car coming
towards me, so it was too late to turn back. I continued on, and short cut
across a field. Parts of my jog are hazy as well. Some things I remember, and
others seem to be just completely lost. I wish I could remember it all, maybe
then it would all make sense. But I was just TOO DRUNK. MY BAC was just too
Eventually I came upon a house, and stopped to use their phone. I called my
buddy Ryan, who at one time was my full time designated driver to pick me up.
After only a few short words, the call was disconnected. I spotted a police car
slowly driving down the highway. The car came to a stop near the end of the
driveway I stood in. It’s February, I was soaked from head to toe, freezing
cold, and tired of running. I handed the home owner his phone back, and walked
down the driveway towards the police car. I’d had enough. Time to get my first
DUI I figured. It sucked, but it definitely wasn’t the worst thing that could
happen. The police officer was very courteous, and almost concerned for my
health. I didn’t fight him, it was time to face the music. He put me in his
squad car, and drove me back to the area where my car was.
There were red and blue emergency lights all over the place. My car wasn’t
visible from where we parked, but I thought they were definitely over reacting.
Before the officer got me out of the car to do the field sobriety tests, another
officer opened my door and asked, “Was there anyone else with you in the car?”
Do you know the feeling you get right as you crest the top of the roller coaster
and start to plunge towards the earth? Your stomach seems to shoot somewhere up
near your throat, and it makes you unable to breathe. That’s the feeling I got
A million thoughts raced through my mind as the officer stared at me.
I thought to myself, “Who else was with me? Oh my god there wasn’t anyone in my
car when I woke up. Was one of my friends ejected?” I didn’t remember leaving
the bar. I didn’t remember getting behind the wheel. So how could I even know
for sure, if someone was with me or not? All these thoughts were processed in
just a second or two by my intoxicated brain. Reluctantly, I replied to the
officer, “No, I was by myself.” At that exact moment I didn’t even know for sure
if I was by myself. I think more than anything, I just wanted to BELIEVE I was
by myself, and that no one was injured.
The officer asked me, “Where were you going?” “We were going to
Schwarz’s I replied.” Schwarz’s is a supper club, my friends and I would
frequent almost every Sunday night. This Sunday, being no exception. My friends
wanted to head to Schwarz’s. They made plans to go there while at the last bar.
One of the last things I remember was telling them I wasn’t going. But from
where my car was in the ditch, it’s the only place I could’ve been going. My
home was 20 miles in the exact OPPOSITE direction.
Now the officer says, “We? You just said you were by yourself?” And
my natural response was, “I was but I was meeting some friends there.” Then the
cops asked, “Are the people in the other car your friends?” The description of
the roller coaster and your stomach dropping out, doesn’t even compare to the
horror I felt at that exact moment. No words can describe it. This police
officer just asked me if the people in the other car were my friends. What other
car was he talking about? When I got out of my car, it was pitch black, and my
car was the only one I saw. All I could utter to him was, “What other
With that he slammed the door shut, and disappeared into the darkness. I
was left all alone, to try to figure out just what in the hell he was talking
about. The rest of this night drags on for many hours. I could try and describe
the details but they’re foggy. I thought I was running from a DUI when I left my
car that night. But the DA didn’t believe me. So I was charged with OWI
Homicide, and Hit and Run Resulting In Death which the judge found me guilty of
The “people” in the other car the police officer asked me about was
actually a 21 year old college student, heading back to school after a weekend
with her family. She died instantly, when my car rear ended hers going between
78-84 miles per hour. She was just leaving a stop sign, and only estimated to be
going between 5 and 15 miles per hour. The circumstances of the crash, where it
happened, how it happened, still don’t make any sense to me. But I’m not writing
this to try and explain to you how this happened, and why I’m not guilty of the
hit and run charge.
I’m writing this hoping that not one of you can relate in the least little
bit to anything I wrote. If you can’t relate, that means you don’t go out
partying with friends and over do it. If you can’t relate, that means you always
have a designated driver, or you always take a cab. If you can’t relate, that
means you’ve never woke up wondering just what you did the night before. And
best of all, if you can’t relate, that means you never have and NEVER will get
behind the wheel after drinking. Regardless if it’s after one beer, or one shot,
or even just a couple drinks. Because I’m afraid you’d end up growing
comfortable, and then getting behind the wheel after just ONE MORE than the last
time you drank and drove. I’m also writing this with the hope that all who can
relate to my story, will learn from it.
A beautiful, 21 year old, young woman, who had a very bright future,
is dead because of a series of bad decisions I made. Bad decisions that night?
YES OF COURSE. But I think it’s more a series of bad decisions I made from the
time I was 17 until I was 27. I never should’ve left my house that afternoon,
knowing full well I would be drinking at the fundraiser. But I think those baby
steps I made, made me comfortable. The thought of not going, never even crossed
my mind. I wish I were there so you could see the pain in my face, hear it in my
voice. Someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s girlfriend, isn’t here
because of me. That’s a tough pill to swallow. I hope and pray that none of you
have to go through a similar experience.
The reason my family has to be my voice today is because I’m writing this
letter from my prison cell in the Dodge Correctional Institution. I was
sentenced to spend 10 years of my life in prison, followed by 15 years of
probation after that. I’m allowed 3 visits a week from friends and family and
four 15 minute outgoing phone calls a week, please don’t take your freedom for
In conclusion, a smart person learns from his mistakes. But a wise
person learns from the mistakes of others. This is a real problem in Wisconsin,
and it doesn’t always just happen to the people with 2, 3, 4 prior OWI’s.
Sometimes you get a wake up call, and sometimes you don’t. Please be wise…learn
from my mistake.