How did you get connected to RS? I served over 40 years in prison and was released on parole in January 2016. My parole officers said Missouri would be a good place for a new start. My sister lives in Kansas City, MO and I needed a stable place to stay so I came to stay with her. My niece recommended me to Reconciliation Services. I needed a State ID, birth certificate and a social security number. They got me trained on the computer so I could apply for my documents. They also helped me get set up with email and work on the web for job applications. Before I started working they helped me with clothes, food pantry and to get a voucher for my eye glasses.
How old were you when you went to prison? I was 18 years old when I went in and 60 years old when I came out. Kansas has 10 different prisons. I spent time in most of them. They move you around. Lancing State Prison, KS was where I was released from.
What did you go to prison for? Murder one. A couple of guys I’d been skipping school with robbed and murdered a guy. It stacked up on me because they ran into my house to hide. They were at my house before the murder and after the murder, so I was charged too!
Tell me something about your life in prison? I learned plumbing, welding, how to sew clothes and how to embroider them. They paid us minimum wage. I also got a grade 12 education.
The worst thing I experienced was watching a guy get stabbed to death at the table where I was eating. He’d taken somebody’s property. When the owner confronted him, the guy claimed he’d made a mistake. He said he thought it was his property. The owner came into the kitchen the next day and stabbed him over and over with a knife. In prison you don’t want to be making mistakes with the wrong people. Just because something’s left unattended, don’t mean it don’t belong to somebody. You gotta leave it where it’s at. That’s the rules of the people. The guy that took the property either didn’t know the rules or didn’t care!
I kept myself to myself in prison. I didn't meddle in other people’s business. I kept quiet and went about my way.
Tell me about your early years. I grew up in Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO. I had 5 older siblings and 4 younger siblings. We looked out for one another. My parents divorced when I was 10. I dropped out of school in 9th grade and went to work. I mowed lawns, stacked groceries, cleaned the streets, shoveled snow and swept the side walks. The only thing I really loved was music. I played keyboards off and on.
What did it feel like to be free after 40+ years in prison? Weird! I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I kept losing my property. I lost my wallet at least 3 times. It felt like everyone knew everybody and nobody knew me. Like I’m at the bus stop and the same people gather at that bus stop everyday. They all know each other and then I turn up and everyone’s staring at me all suspicious! I knew they were wondering who I was and where I was from. In a lot of places I’d sense I wasn’t welcome. I’d feel the hostility so I’d put my head down and move on. I’m getting to feel my way around better. Now I just tell people I’m staying here in Kansas City with my sister.
What are you doing for work? After RS helped me with my ID and documents they introduced me to Resolve Staffing. I got my application filled in and I’ve been working for them at the Royals and the Chiefs. I got as many shifts as possible and I saved up all summer. I’ve just bought myself a Toyota Avalon!
What’s next for you? My hope is to stay alive as long as I can. Being part of the community at RS has been good for me. I’m doing pretty good through them. I’m feeling more stable. It’s good to see the same faces and know people want you around. People are like, “Hey Mark, how you doing?” I feel more relaxed now.
I’ve been studying for my GED and I’m about to take my test. I want a permanent job - eight hours a day or more, and I want a home of my own. Yeah, and I’d like to go see an Oprah Winfrey show!