Letters

Letters 07-21-2014

Disheartened

While observing Fox News, it was disheartening to see what their viewers were subjected to. It seems the Republicans’ far right wing extremists are conveying their idealistic visions against various nationalities, social diversities or political beliefs with an absence of emotion concerning women’s health issues, children’s rights, voter suppression, Seniors, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid...

Things That Matter

All of us in small towns and large not only have the right to speak on behalf of our neighbors and ourselves, we have the duty and responsibility to do so -- and 238 years ago, we made a clear Declaration to do just that...

An Anecdote Driven Mind

So, is Thomas Kachadurian now the Northern Express’ official resident ranter? His recent factfree, hard-hearted column suggests it. While others complain about the poor condition of Michigan’s roads and highways, he rants against those we employ to fix them...

No On Prop 1

Are we being conned? Are those urging us to say “yes” to supposedly ”revenue neutral” ballot proposal 1 on August 5 telling us all the pertinent facts? Proposal 1 would eliminate the personal property tax businesses pay to local governments, replacing its revenue with a share of Michigan’s 6 percent use tax paid by us all on out-of-state purchases, hotel accommodations, some equipment rentals, and telecommunications...

Fix VA Tragedy

The problems within the Veterans Administration identified under former President Bush continue to hinder the delivery of quality health care to the influx of physically wounded and emotionally damaged young men and women...

Women Take Note

I find an interesting link between the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby and the crisis on the southern border. Angry protesters shout at children to go home. These children are scared, tired, hungry and thirsty, sent to US prisons awaiting deportation to a country where they may very likely be killed...


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The Letter

Stephen Volas shares the anguish of passing time in a federal prison

Robert Downes - August 20th, 2012  


The letter from a drug rehab prison in Minnesota is a long one: 17 pages of handwritten script filled with tortured explanations, stress, and the stale hours of passing time in a federal prison with five years yet to go.

“It’s an odd, separated existence I have found myself living,” writes Steve Volas. “Rather disconnected, not quite what I ever had in mind with the ‘drop out and tune in’ theme. In a way, I think of it as a netherworld of sorts, away from the living, or some kind of after-dream world.”

Today, Volas, 38, lives in a four-man cell in the Federal Medical Center facility in Rochester, Minn., which provides medical and mental health services to male offenders.

It’s been a long fall for the music impresario from Grassroots Productions who once dared to dream great things for the defunct Dunegrass and Blues Festival in Empire. Back in 2005, Volas was featured in a cover story in the Express for his plan to upsize the festival, bringing former members of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead to Northern Michigan.

VOLAS & THE EXPRESS

The Northern Express had a congenial relationship with Volas, who was a perennial advertiser in addition to a source for stories about music and the festival. We were impressed with his initiative, especially since Volas seemed to have little experience as a concert promoter. Although the Dunegrass never seemed to draw a crowd of much more than 600, Volas delivered the big name performers in 2005 and followed up with bluegrass stars such as David Grisman and mystery-rocker Buckethead in the years thereafter. He had folk legend Richie Havens booked as a headliner in 2008.

But at the Express we wondered, how did Volas fund the festival, which never seemed to take off in a big way? He hinted at the time that he had made a killing in the stock market as the result of an inheritance. With the stock market in a rampant upswing in 2006-’07, it seemed a plausible explanation.

As is well-known in the region now, the 2008 Dunegrass was a financial disaster for dozens of vendors and performers who went unpaid, reportedly to the tune of more than $300,000. The afternoon of the festival, Volas got on the mike and announced that Richie Havens’ flight from New York had been canceled and the folk headliner wouldn’t be appearing. It was a signal that the festival was in deep trouble.

THE RAID

Volas disappeared from Northern Michigan after the 2008 debacle, but made headlines again in March 2010, when the Benzie County Sheriff’s Department raided the home of his wife, Venice, in Benzonia on the basis of a tip from drug associate Ralph James Hornsby, who had been arrested for possessing 250 plants at a nearby home. Deputies found what was initially estimated to be 1,500 plants growing as thick as a jungle under growlights in the basement of the Volas’ home on Love Street. It was the largest indoor pot-growing bust in Benzie County history.

Venice was arrested, as was an associate, Patrick Milligan, who was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison.

Steve Volas, who was living in Humboldt County, California -- the pot-growing capital of America -- was arrested soon after. Police reports at the time stated that he was using FedEx to ship psychedelic mushrooms and high-grade marijuana from California to Michigan. The proceeds were ostensibly to pay off Volas’s debts from the Dunegrass.

Posing as a FedEx employee, an undercover officer delivered one of Volas’s shipments to an address in Lake Ann. Caught red-handed, Steve and Venice signed a plea bargain, confessing to the manufacture of more than 100 marijuana plants at a hearing in November, 2010, in U.S. District Court. The final tally was 952 plants found in their basement.

Faced with the possibility of up to 40 years in prison, the Volas’s opted for lower sentences under the plea bargain. Steve and Venice received seven and five-year sentences, respectively, in federal drug rehab prisons.

The arrest and resulting prison term shattered the Volas family. Steve and Venice lost custody of their two sons and gave up their home, which they were purchasing on a land contract.

“Once the bust happened I didn’t know what to do,” Volas writes. “All our savings went to bail Venice out, leaving us with not a whole lot of money left. I was very much frozen by anxiety, fear, worry and the complete collapse of my reality. Along with being petrified by the possibility of those I love most and hold dear being put in serious danger and jeopardy, I was also impeded by a physical and mental dependency to opiates. I was really losing it, and very fast.”

WAITING & WONDERING

The letter on my desk at Northern Express has been a long time coming.

I wrote the Stephen and Venice Volas in prison in April, 2011, asking if they’d be interested in sharing their story in the Express. Venice, who was imprisoned in Lexington, Ky. at the time, replied in a matter of weeks, confirming that she and Steve were getting a divorce, and that she was working on getting her life back together. She said she might be interested in doing an interview when she is released from prison in the spring of 2015, but not at the present.

Venice has since been transferred to a minimum security women’s prison in Phoenix, Ariz. to take part in a drug rehab program that is expected to cut her sentence by a year or more.

But from Steve there was only silence and I gave up on hearing from him. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that he wrote back with the explanation that it had taken him seven months to put his feelings into words.

In turn, the letter spent five months lying on my desk as I struggled with what to make of Volas’s request for pretty much total control of any resulting story, including final edits -- a request that’s off limits at any newspaper.

The irony is that although it goes on for 17 pages, Volas’s letter seems to have little to say. At least four pages are taken up explaining that he spent months thinking about writing the letter, attempting a number of false starts. “In the end, I planned on taking our one week per year that the (prison) gives us in mid-winter to focus on completing the letter,” he writes, adding that he ditched that idea to struggle with several versions of his letter later in the year.

Volas writes about concerns for his sons, who were involved in a custody dispute. He spends several pages debating whether to share his story in the Express, worried that his family might suffer more than they already have in the telling of the tale. (Names and details of family experiences have been omitted from this story at Volas’s request.) He writes of talking it over with his dad, who encouraged him to tell his story. He spends a couple of pages detailing a mix-up with his probation officer in California, where he was also arrested years back for growing pot.

In total, the letter is that of a man with a great deal of time on his hands, and if there’s any recurring theme, it’s that Volas has struggled to overcome what he calls the “negativity” of prison life and the guilt of what he’s done.

But in between the boilerplate of niggling and worry, you get a glimpse into Volas’s experience in his long, rambling missive.

ROOTS OF A PROBLEM

“The history of how I got involved with marijuana and drugs goes back to my senior year in high school and that was the same time frame that I got into the counterculture,” Volas writes. “A mere year or so was all it took for TNT (Traverse Narcotics Team) to take notice of me, and since then, they sought after myself and Venice. We certainly had our run-ins.”

Ten years out of high school, Volas and his wife moved to California where they connected with the growers of Humboldt County. One theory is that they shipped plants from Humboldt to establish their grow operation in Benzie.

“…the collapse of the Dunegrass was the main reason we moved back to Michigan and got busted with so many plants,” he writes. “Plus, yes, I was mentally and physically dependent on ‘opiates,’ not cocaine, however, even though I had fallen into the start of a habit with it.”

It’s also clear from his letter that the Dunegrass Festival wasn’t supported by proceeds from the stock market.

“Yes, I did get an inheritance from my grandfather, but no, that wasn’t the way that I backed Grassroots, even though all that inheritance money did all go to the Dunegrass,” Volas writes.

NO WAY OUT

Through the years, people tried to help Volas overcome his drug problems. Court documents reveal that in 2009 Venice (who suffered serious drug dependencies herself) sought help from David Hendricks, M.D., who treats drug and alcohol addiction through Another Path in Traverse City.

Dr. Hendricks wrote the federal court in July, 2010, noting that Venice had “brought her husband to see me, hoping that I would succeed in helping him with a profoundly serious substance use disorder. It had been her hope that if this could be accomplished, she and her two children could be delivered from the suffering of the drug-centered domestic life created by her husband into a healthy life which has always been her wish. I regret that I failed in this effort, finding him resolutely blind to the true reality he had created for himself and his family.”

Others noticed on the eve of Dunegrass 2008 that Volas seemed increasingly erratic and out of control as it became clear that the festival was going to flop.

At the disastrous final festival, Volas had a heart-to-heart talk with bluegrass performer Peter Rowan, who advised him to get out of the marijuana business.

“He knew I lived in Humboldt County, so he had the gist that I was a grower,” Volas writes. “We talked for awhile about the way I had supported the Festival and the problems I had run into that depleted my financial safety net. His advice to me was to get out of the marijuana business, get out of that matrix, no matter what your intentions are.”

PASSING THE TIME

Eventually, of course, Volas got out of the growing business via the reality check of prison life. The Dunegrass & Blues Festival disappeared and has since been reinvented as the Sleepy Bear Music Festival under new management in Lake Ann.

Life in a medium security federal prison doesn’t sound all bad. Although Volas shares a four-man cell, he passes his time writing, working out, running, strumming his guitar, and even playing golf.

“When I was in county jail I re-found my joy and passion for writing,” he writes. “Since then I have used a portion of each day to at least journal, and to write some in-depth letters and do some creative writing projects.”

But most of the time, Volas seems to be reflecting on the past and trying to keep the negativity of his situation at bay.

In a holiday letter to his family, Volas wrote that he’s “growing, healing, trying to stay positive,” and making progress with his music.

“When I find myself slipping into a negative state, it helps me to reminisce about good memories that I have had and shared with folks,” he writes. “Often those memories include you all.

The letter from a drug rehab prison in Minnesota is a long one: 17 pages of handwritten script filled with tortured explanations, stress, and the stale hours of passing time in a federal prison with five years yet to go.

“It’s an odd, separated existence I have found myself living,” writes Steve Volas. “Rather disconnected, not quite what I ever had in mind with the ‘drop out and tune in’ theme. In a way, I think of it as a netherworld of sorts, away from the living, or some kind of after-dream world.”

Today, Volas, 38, lives in a four-man cell in the Federal Medical Center facility in Rochester, Minn., which provides medical and mental health services to male offenders.

It’s been a long fall for the music impresario from Grassroots Productions who once dared to dream great things for the defunct Dunegrass and Blues Festival in Empire. Back in 2005, Volas was featured in a cover story in the Express for his plan to upsize the festival, bringing former members of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead to Northern Michigan.

VOLAS & THE EXPRESS

The Northern Express had a congenial relationship with Volas, who was a perennial advertiser in addition to a source for stories about music and the festival. We were impressed with his initiative, especially since Volas seemed to have little experience as a concert promoter. Although the Dunegrass never seemed to draw a crowd of much more than 600, Volas delivered the big name performers in 2005 and followed up with bluegrass stars such as David Grisman and mystery-rocker Buckethead in the years thereafter. He had folk legend Richie Havens booked as a headliner in 2008.

But at the Express we wondered, how did Volas fund the festival, which never seemed to take off in a big way? He hinted at the time that he had made a killing in the stock market as the result of an inheritance. With the stock market in a rampant upswing in 2006-’07, it seemed a plausible explanation.

As is well-known in the region now, the 2008 Dunegrass was a financial disaster for dozens of vendors and performers who went unpaid, reportedly to the tune of more than $300,000. The afternoon of the festival, Volas got on the mike and announced that Richie Havens’ flight from New York had been canceled and the folk headliner wouldn’t be appearing. It was a signal that the festival was in deep trouble.

THE RAID

Volas disappeared from Northern Michigan after the 2008 debacle, but made headlines again in March 2010, when the Benzie County Sheriff’s Department raided the home of his wife, Venice, in Benzonia on the basis of a tip from drug associate Ralph James Hornsby, who had been arrested for possessing 250 plants at a nearby home. Deputies found what was initially estimated to be 1,500 plants growing as thick as a jungle under growlights in the basement of the Volas’ home on Love Street. It was the largest indoor pot-growing bust in Benzie County history.

Venice was arrested, as was an associate, Patrick Milligan, who was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison.

Steve Volas, who was living in Humboldt County, California -- the pot-growing capital of America -- was arrested soon after. Police reports at the time stated that he was using FedEx to ship psychedelic mushrooms and high-grade marijuana from California to Michigan. The proceeds were ostensibly to pay off Volas’s debts from the Dunegrass.

Posing as a FedEx employee, an undercover officer delivered one of Volas’s shipments to an address in Lake Ann. Caught red-handed, Steve and Venice signed a plea bargain, confessing to the manufacture of more than 100 marijuana plants at a hearing in November, 2010, in U.S. District Court. The final tally was 952 plants found in their basement.

Faced with the possibility of up to 40 years in prison, the Volas’s opted for lower sentences under the plea bargain. Steve and Venice received seven and five-year sentences, respectively, in federal drug rehab prisons.

The arrest and resulting prison term shattered the Volas family. Steve and Venice lost custody of their two sons and gave up their home, which they were purchasing on a land contract.

“Once the bust happened I didn’t know what to do,” Volas writes. “All our savings went to bail Venice out, leaving us with not a whole lot of money left. I was very much frozen by anxiety, fear, worry and the complete collapse of my reality. Along with being petrified by the possibility of those I love most and hold dear being put in serious danger and jeopardy, I was also impeded by a physical and mental dependency to opiates. I was really losing it, and very fast.”

WAITING & WONDERING

The letter on my desk at Northern Express has been a long time coming.

I wrote the Stephen and Venice Volas in prison in April, 2011, asking if they’d be interested in sharing their story in the Express. Venice, who was imprisoned in Lexington, Ky. at the time, replied in a matter of weeks, confirming that she and Steve were getting a divorce, and that she was working on getting her life back together. She said she might be interested in doing an interview when she is released from prison in the spring of 2015, but not at the present.

Venice has since been transferred to a minimum security women’s prison in Phoenix, Ariz. to take part in a drug rehab program that is expected to cut her sentence by a year or more.

But from Steve there was only silence and I gave up on hearing from him. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that he wrote back with the explanation that it had taken him seven months to put his feelings into words.

In turn, the letter spent five months lying on my desk as I struggled with what to make of Volas’s request for pretty much total control of any resulting story, including final edits -- a request that’s off limits at any newspaper.

The irony is that although it goes on for 17 pages, Volas’s letter seems to have little to say. At least four pages are taken up explaining that he spent months thinking about writing the letter, attempting a number of false starts. “In the end, I planned on taking our one week per year that the (prison) gives us in mid-winter to focus on completing the letter,” he writes, adding that he ditched that idea to struggle with several versions of his letter later in the year.

Volas writes about concerns for his sons, who were involved in a custody dispute. He spends several pages debating whether to share his story in the Express, worried that his family might suffer more than they already have in the telling of the tale. (Names and details of family experiences have been omitted from this story at Volas’s request.) He writes of talking it over with his dad, who encouraged him to tell his story. He spends a couple of pages detailing a mix-up with his probation officer in California, where he was also arrested years back for growing pot.

In total, the letter is that of a man with a great deal of time on his hands, and if there’s any recurring theme, it’s that Volas has struggled to overcome what he calls the “negativity” of prison life and the guilt of what he’s done.

But in between the boilerplate of niggling and worry, you get a glimpse into Volas’s experience in his long, rambling missive.

ROOTS OF A PROBLEM

“The history of how I got involved with marijuana and drugs goes back to my senior year in high school and that was the same time frame that I got into the counterculture,” Volas writes. “A mere year or so was all it took for TNT (Traverse Narcotics Team) to take notice of me, and since then, they sought after myself and Venice. We certainly had our run-ins.”

Ten years out of high school, Volas and his wife moved to California where they connected with the growers of Humboldt County. One theory is that they shipped plants from Humboldt to establish their grow operation in Benzie.

“…the collapse of the Dunegrass was the main reason we moved back to Michigan and got busted with so many plants,” he writes. “Plus, yes, I was mentally and physically dependent on ‘opiates,’ not cocaine, however, even though I had fallen into the start of a habit with it.”

It’s also clear from his letter that the Dunegrass Festival wasn’t supported by proceeds from the stock market.

“Yes, I did get an inheritance from my grandfather, but no, that wasn’t the way that I backed Grassroots, even though all that inheritance money did all go to the Dunegrass,” Volas writes.

NO WAY OUT

Through the years, people tried to help Volas overcome his drug problems. Court documents reveal that in 2009 Venice (who suffered serious drug dependencies herself) sought help from David Hendricks, M.D., who treats drug and alcohol addiction through Another Path in Traverse City.

Dr. Hendricks wrote the federal court in July, 2010, noting that Venice had “brought her husband to see me, hoping that I would succeed in helping him with a profoundly serious substance use disorder. It had been her hope that if this could be accomplished, she and her two children could be delivered from the suffering of the drug-centered domestic life created by her husband into a healthy life which has always been her wish. I regret that I failed in this effort, finding him resolutely blind to the true reality he had created for himself and his family.”

Others noticed on the eve of Dunegrass 2008 that Volas seemed increasingly erratic and out of control as it became clear that the festival was going to flop.

At the disastrous final festival, Volas had a heart-to-heart talk with bluegrass performer Peter Rowan, who advised him to get out of the marijuana business.

“He knew I lived in Humboldt County, so he had the gist that I was a grower,” Volas writes. “We talked for awhile about the way I had supported the Festival and the problems I had run into that depleted my financial safety net. His advice to me was to get out of the marijuana business, get out of that matrix, no matter what your intentions are.”

PASSING THE TIME

Eventually, of course, Volas got out of the growing business via the reality check of prison life. The Dunegrass & Blues Festival disappeared and has since been reinvented as the Sleepy Bear Music Festival under new management in Lake Ann.

Life in a medium security federal prison doesn’t sound all bad. Although Volas shares a four-man cell, he passes his time writing, working out, running, strumming his guitar, and even playing golf.

“When I was in county jail I re-found my joy and passion for writing,” he writes. “Since then I have used a portion of each day to at least journal, and to write some in-depth letters and do some creative writing projects.”

But most of the time, Volas seems to be reflecting on the past and trying to keep the negativity of his situation at bay.

In a holiday letter to his family, Volas wrote that he’s “growing, healing, trying to stay positive,” and making progress with his music.

“When I find myself slipping into a negative state, it helps me to reminisce about good memories that I have had and shared with folks,” he writes. “Often those memories include you all.

 
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12.23.2012 at 09:41 Reply

I could write a 17 page letter, but I can barely write one page...

Steven volas is a like 2-3 time narc. He and Venice both have participated in narcing over the years, since they were young. They are both bad examples of the counterculture. Trust me I knew them for years since early junior highschool and beyond. I eventually left the area because of their idiocy and never came back. The whole thing saddens me and I still wish them well. They messed up a lot of lives and a cool festival that my family uses to play music at. I will never really enjoy northern Michigan again and they are a huge part of the reason. I love ganja and think no one should be locked up for it. But these two were really scumbags beyond that and had it coming to their ego inflamed lives. Good memories shared with us all! I think back on the times I spent with these two and realize it was only spent because we lived in the same small town and had some of the same interests really if I had more to choose from it would have been different. He was a thief and would just use people up. And lie, boy he could lie. He basically brainwashed Venice when she was like 15 and he was 18, but she had it comin I guess. The sad thing is his dad mom and brother Tim are great people! The gardn of Eden was fun to work at... I could go on. 

But I won't, I've been keeping a lot of resentments inside for years. I don't live in NMich any more for like 15 years, the cops and my "friends" made me leave. Probably could have stayed if I made narc deals so I can golf for my pen stay. But I moved away and stayed away and watched and laughed from a distance, it's sad that my whole area I grew up in hot soiled by him, not just my life but every bodies! Trust me I know everyone up there, my family is big in the music and art scene up their. 

I just check up on the goins on from time to time, and this hit me.

14 pages of nothing to say makes sense. He was always full of himself to the nth degree yet had nothing.

merry christmas my homeland! I miss m22 

 

 
 
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