Nick, a veteran of the Marines, chills in his room at the Sausage Castle with his service dogs and Sexy Sushi. Photos by Stacy Kranitz. For more pictures, check out our complete gallery of photos of the Sausage Castle
In Florida, there are more than 1.6 million veterans, many of whom suffer from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. Like vets all around the country, the retired servicemen in the Sunshine State face significant hurdles in getting treatment from the US government, so a few of them have turned to the Sausage Castle in central Florida for help. Although the pay-to-party house run by sex-crazed weirdo Mike Busey is known for stunts like shooting eggs into buttholes and housing ratchet strippers, it has become a home for more than ten veterans over of the last five years who have found the Castle's wild lifestyle helps ease their challenging transition back into civilian life.
I witnessed this phenomenon firsthand when I stayed at the Sausage Castle for a weekend. In between pool parties and pony rides, I met Nick, who was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines. Since his service ended, he has struggled to cope with his PTSD and his return to America. But at the Sausage Castle, he found solace in the fact that it's pretty hard to feel like a weirdo in a house with residents named Ratchet Regi and Kinky Kace.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs, many say, has struggled to take care of returning soldiers, even as thousands of vets commit suicide every year. The horrible conditions veterans often face bother Mike, who makes sure that the Sausage Castle is always open to vets.
Nick has since moved out of the Castle (he used it as a halfway house), but when I stayed at the compound, he lived upstairs in a room with several giant service dogs he trained after war. On a warm Sunday afternoon, I sat down with Nick as he smoked pot by the pool to discuss the failures of the VA, how he's scared of himself, and how the Sausage Castle has helped him deal with his PTSD.
Nick shows affection for his dog outside the Sausage Castle
VICE: How did you wind up living here?
Nick: Craigslist special, no bullshit! I bought a house in Colorado, and then I came back here and I was visiting family. I want them in my life more than anything, but it's hard because they don't see me as who I am right now. They see me as who I used to be [before the wars]. I don't know if I'll ever be that person again, but I'm trying.
I was looking at some property 30 minutes away from my parents' house—close enough, but out in the country. Twenty-one acres out in the middle of nowhere, private road, just an outlet where I can be away from civilization. I didn't end up closing on the property. When that happened, I had just came back into town. I had nowhere to stay, and I was living in a hotel, and I didn't wanna live in a fuckin' hotel. I'm not a transient, a crackhead. I was on Craigslist, checking stuff out, and I came across this place.
I first looked at his website before I came over here though, and I saw the crazy shit that he does, and I was like, That's pretty cool. Then I watched the video where [Busey] took a homeless guy out on the town and showed him a good time and gave him some money. That just made me more inclined to come over here. Seeing that side of somebody touched my heart. I have a soft heart, believe it or not.
Do you like living here?
There's a diverse group of people, which is what I'm used to, being in the military. I get a sense of camaraderie here. I feel like I'm helping these people out. It seems at the end of the day like a family.
Last year, Mike spent roughly $500 buying veterans pizza on Veteran's Day. Photo courtesy of Mike Busey
How has combat effected your health?
I think a lot of it is the nerve damages that I have in my back. I'm not a doctor, but it's not rocket science. If somebody knows that they used to be a certain height, and they've lost an inch and a half… an inch and a half is a lot on a person.
Has the VA given you decent care?
I went through a process a little bit differently than most. I stayed in [the Marines] for nine years, so I was a little more senior. You would really think, in the big scheme of things, the people who are already out right now and aren't getting the benefits they greatly deserve, they would be the first priority of the VA system. The people who are still active duty, they're not so important. As soon as they get off their orders though, why wouldn't they immediately rise to the top as far as taking care of them? But as soon as they get out, that's when they're lost.
I've been told that I was crazy by the VA, but not one person in the VA has called me up to see how I'm doing. They were quick to throw the money my way. But they're not quick to find these people that are out right now—whether they want to be found or they don't, which a lot of them don't. They have the same mindset that I did when I got out, which was "move as far away as you can." If you look at my orders, getting out of the military, it said I was going to Anchorage, Alaska. That's how far I wanted to get away from here.
Nick plays with his dogs and Sexy Sushi
Why did you want to live so far away?
To get away from people.
Were you afraid of what you'd do to people?
Do you think the VA been ignoring veterans' mental health issues?
I would say that they're not going at it at the pace that they should. I have issues right now that I actually don't tell anybody. I've lost 40 pounds since I got out. I'm still cut, still somewhat in shape, but I'm nowhere near as fit as I used to be. The nerve damage that I suffer with now—the tingling of the feet, sciatica, erectile dysfunction (on some real shit)—it's not anything that I want to deal with. I walk, and it looks like I limp because my knees give out, they buckle. I've been out for three years, with the same issue, and I still haven't been to a specialist. I don't see that. I don't comprehend that. But like I said, at the same time, there are people out there right now that need the help more than I do. They're the ones who don't even wanna wear a Marine Corp T-shirt or show up to the VA. They don't even wanna be in the system. They wanna be off the beaten path. Off the grid.
Does the government spend more time getting you ready for war and not enough preparing you for life after service?
They don't do anything with you afterwards. The suicide rate is what it is. And you got these people who are falling off the grid that will probably never be found—ones that are out robbing banks, doing heroin, and killing people because they need that rush. It's just the nature of the beast. The ones that I miss the most are the ones right now who don't wanna think about it, and they just end it. They end their lives.
Do many veterans use weed to treat their PTSD and suicidal and homicidal thoughts?
There's no doubt in my mind. Most of them are probably using harder stuff, but at the end of the day, a lot of the medications that they put us on tend to make us go more toward using opiates and stuff like that. You don't function properly. You're not who you were. You're more like a walking zombie.
Why did you join the marines in the first place?
I sat there in my class in twelfth grade and watched [9/11] on the news. I sat there the entire day just wondering what kind of savage would want to do that to people—not just America, but people in general. It was kind of a decision me and a friend of mine made immediately: We were like, "We're going to war." We looked at each other and we knew. So as soon as I could, I got out of high school and six, seven months later, I was in the Marine Corps. I was deployed twice: once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan—two totally different deployments.
Why were they different?
A lot of stuff was just different. In 2003 we went over to go kill everybody. In 2006 we started to respect people a little bit. Then in 2008, 2009, it was a whole different mindset of combat. Then the job that I was doing the second go around wasn't "seek out and destroy." It was more like "preserve and protect." I was a personal security detail marine attached to headquarters at ISAF, so I got to hang out with a lot of dignitaries and generals. I was actually over there [with] Petraeus and McChrystal. McChrystal spoke his mind, and then Petraeus came in there and got caught up with his mistress. I was over there when all that was going down. It was a whole other mindset working in that area.
Did you like McChrystal?
Yeah, I did. I thought that anybody that spoke his mind about how shit was going down is an honorable man to say the least.
Knowing what you did and what has happened in your life, do you regret joining the Marines?
Sometimes. I've gotten into a couple bickering matches [at the Sausage Castle] about, "You should be proud of your service! You should be fuckin' held up on a pedestal! You should be happy for what you did!" But they don't know what the fuck I did. They don't know what really happened over there. So it's kinda hard to hear someone tell you that you should be happy about it.
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