What if you could take something extraordinarily difficult and use it to create life in a place most people don't think it can grow? Let me introduce you to an amazingly good hearted man named Mark. He's a husband of twenty seven years, a father to four stepchildren, grandfather to eight step grandchildren, and as I write this, has been a part of opening his family home for (and he became "Papa" to) six children that needed the love of a family to enjoy a beautiful life. Mark is a wonderful man who has wonderful people in his life to support him. His family adores him, his friends lean on him, and his community relies on a very specific set of experiences only he could provide. You see, almost thirty years ago, Mark was convicted of taking a man's life and has been in prison ever since. But his story of how that happened and the time he served are equally as important to the remarkable future he has in store. Mark will be getting out soon and he's changed a lot, while changing so many others, over the last three decades. He's reclaimed himself. Allow me to explain...
Mark came from an abusive home. One of drugs, alcohol, and even homelessness. His father was abusive and his parents parted ways at some very formidable years of Mark's young life. By the time he was eleven, Mark was institutionalized for acting out. After some intense psychotherapy, it was concluded that Mark was doing what little boys do in trauma. His home life was the source of that trauma and his environment was his source of angst. While clawing his way to adulthood, Mark found an opportunity toward freedom from his upbringing by enlisting in the Army, only to suffer a short lived career, sabotaged by his own drug use. By the time Mark was twenty one, the pieces for a tragic outcome were put into place.
One drug fueled day in July 1992, while associating with two other men who shared in the turbulent lifestyle, Mark agreed to help them rob another man. Mark's part in the event was to be another source of muscle. Little did Mark know, the man being robbed was going to be murdered at gunpoint. For his part and complicity, he received a sentence of 450 months, an exceptional sentence, for aggravated murder. As far as he knew, his young life was over. More trauma was to ensue behind prison walls.
Mark joined a prison gang to ensure his survival in his early years and just as quickly found it a burden to live with. After serving five years in Intensive Management Units for behavior he himself disagreed with, he started to think about how he could reclaim his life. He married his wife from behind bars and steered away from the conduct that came with the prison gangs. After one last haunting where Mark was caught in a series of events driven by the gangs and violence, Mark made the decision to seek safe harbor in a prison that didn't allow such behavior. This became his time to shine, nearly a decade ago.
While in an environment where he could find opportunities to become the person he never had in his life, Mark used this opportunity to help others do the same. He's remained well disciplined and compliant with prison policy. He has cowritten and instructed a program titled New Freedom, geared to free young men from the life of gang activity. He also wrote the curriculum for a release readiness course when the reality of a positive future started to materialize. This expertise made him a source of knowledge for the founding of a peer based outreach program titled Reentry Empowerment and Community Health (REACH). His skills as a mentor are unparalleled. He asked himself about what he would do to reenter society, then taught others to think about it also. This kind of thinking made him an asset to the Washington Dept of Corrections, Reentry Division, where he's spent the last three years helping to develop relationships with community stakeholders such as businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Mark's most recent endeavors are connected to state policymakers. With a program he and two other men developed called People Advocating Transformation, Healing and Solidarity (PATHS) he connects to legislators to provide meaningful input on the reality of prisons, pre and post release success, and how to reduce recidivism. All of this work at shaping lives for the better from within prison has given rise to his being hand selected by prison officials to mentor in a program called Men Facilitating Change that pairs him with other inmates in long term commitments, to foster change in themselves in all aspects. He's sought after for an incredible amount of guidance and hope. He's brilliant at what he does because he knows how far he's come. His focus is on ending crime and victimization while using his experiences and life's story to do it. He's done so well, the option of an early release may be on the horizon.
It's been twenty eight years since Mark came to prison, but that was a lifetime ago. Mark is a man of his family, his community and his future. But what does it take to restart his life after prison? With an amazing family, lots of hard work and an abundance of optimism, it takes very little. Today, Mark's life is reclaimed...
by Rory Andes
Extraordinary people leave prison. Embrace them....
Email at Jpay.com using Rory Andes 367649
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Rory Andes 367649
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272