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Tale of two ‘Marks’ shows life’s different paths

This is about two Marks. Each Mark has an impact on all of our lives.

Which one do we want living among us?

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Mark wakes up every morning at 5:30 a.m.

Like the rest of us, he takes care of his hygienic needs and then abides by his daily routine until bedtime.

The next day, like us, he does it all over again.

But Mark’s day is different from ours in one huge regard; Mark is a convicted felon.

Desperate for cash to feed his addiction to prescription pain pills, Mark robbed a convenience store at gunpoint.

The $117 in cash he carted from the store, along with a charge of possession of a firearm, bought the 21 year-old a five year stretch in a penitentiary.

Certainly, his crime must be punished. Most of us want him locked away forever.

But the reality is that, except for heinous crimes, most criminals are eventually released back to society.

So, the question is: what impact will Mark have on society once he is released from prison?

While in prison, he studies the criminal code with much interest. The long days, spent with hardened criminals, teach him about gang affiliations, better breaking-and-entering techniques, and the art of manipulation, to name a few.

And, believe it or not, he’s also able to feed his drug addiction while incarcerated… assuming he can pay the market value to obtain it.

When his five years are up, Mark is back on the streets as a free man. This time, armed with his newly acquired knowledge (and a better arsenal of both mental and lethal weapons), now 26 year-old Mark is able to commit four more felonies, racking up several more victims, before he is arrested and sentenced to prison again, this time for ten years.

At the age of 36, with his second sentence served, Mark is once again set free. The passing years have slowly embedded portions of wisdom into his brain and he now desires a crime-free life; he’s spent too much time behind bars.

But a few short months into his freedom, Mark cannot find a job. To employers, his prison record is a lofty, constantly waving red flag.

Desperate, Mark soon turns to the only diploma he has ever earned; the education he received in prison.

Five months later, two innocent people are dead and Mark is headed back to prison for life.

Pause

Most of us obey the law and never intentionally harm others. Most of us choose to do the right things in life and were taught from a young age the difference between right and wrong.

Some of us, however, have made bad choices that affected other people’s lives. Some of us grew up with role models that personified rebellion and wickedness.

And since we looked up to them, our lives mirror theirs.

I’m not making excuses for criminal behavior, just asking a question: Isn’t it better for us all if we educate non-violent offenders rather than simply lock them away and hope they come back to our neighborhoods as changed people?

Because they will be coming back.

Rewind

Let’s back Mark’s life up to the beginning of this story.

He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day, brushes his teeth, washes his face, eats breakfast, and follows his daily schedule.

This time, however, Mark is a resident at STAR Community Justice Center in Franklin Furnace. He’s still an addict and a felon, serving six months at STAR in lieu of the final year of his prison sentence for the armed robbery of the convenience store.

But now Mark is being forced to think about what he did wrong. He is being held accountable by his peers for breaking simple (and, to him, silly) rules such as talking under a silence contract, breaking structure, lying, and sleeping during the p.m. meeting.

He has responsibilities that, if not performed, negatively affect everyone around him.

He bucks at first, but eventually becomes accustomed to the structure of living a “normal” life; a life in which he thinks before he acts and takes responsibility for his behavior.

He’s performing learning experiences, such as conducting seminars to fellow residents about breaking rules and describing how that has affected him and others in the past.

He’s attending Thinking for a Change classes to learn to consider the consequences of his actions. He’s participating in substance abuse, anger management and relapse prevention classes, while also taking steps to earn his GED.

He’s also attending group therapy sessions that eventually tackle his pride and enable him to share his past, a childhood that involved constant violence and sexual abuse. Through these classes and groups, he’s beginning to realize that others have experienced the same pain as him.

He’s beginning to feel like his life really does matter, while also recognizing that other lives matter, too.

And he’s learning to treat others with respect through the use of assertiveness and empathy; tools he had neither been taught, nor cared to embrace, in the past.

For the first time in his life, he has a sense of self-worth. He begins to believe that his attitude towards life determines life’s attitude towards him.

He’ll graduate from STAR next Tuesday, barely 26 years-old and full of hope for the future. Who knows where his life will go from here?

One thing we know for sure, there’s a much better chance that we’ll never know the other Mark.

And those two innocent people … they’re still alive.

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.