MARK, CAFÉ COOK

I’ve been clean eight years. I guess my treatment program was the last 6 years in federal prison.

After 30 years of criminal activity I was finally arrested by the feds on numerous charges - bank robbery, weapons, methamphetamines - and sentenced to 75 months and basically toured the United States. Travelled 15,000 miles, ended up in New Jersey federal prison.  You’re out of touch in the New Jersey federal prison. There are 5,000 people there. It’s a dangerous, crazy place, especially being, like, the only person from the West Coast. I had some touch-and-go moments of being alive I’ll say, you know what I mean?

Along the way, maybe I just woke up. It’s been a journey. When you’re in an 8x10 box in the middle of the night with just your thoughts you can see that something jumped the tracks somewhere. You know what I mean? At least for me. I was like, this went terribly wrong somewhere.

I’m working without a net. Lost a lot of people while I was in prison. My grandparents raised me. They’ve passed away and you know, they always… I think they’d be happy now. I hope they would. I feel pretty good. But I’ve had some tests recently. My dad passed away this summer, and my cousin a week and a half ago so my family is getting thin, real thin. My brother’s still in the drug world I think. He’s doing what he does. My uncle is still where I grew up, in Longview. I talk to him, but we’re not super close. He outlived his whole family. I didn’t know what to say except I’m sorry and I love you. How can anything I say ease that? Besides being successful. At least he can see that. He’s one person who’s seen that I’ve kept it together, done my best. 

Dave’s (Killer Bread) has been the only thing there for me. I guess they saw something in me. I came here with nothing and nobody, and had to restart my life. I’ve had a lot of personal things unravel. This? This has been the only thing. The people here. They’ve basically been my family and friends. Financially, emotionally.

I work in the café. I take care of the employee’s food service – meals, snacks all that. I try to put a smile on everyone’s face every day. I’m self-appointed concierge or something. Because I was them. I know how it is. It’s kind of a culture shock especially for the people coming out of being incarcerated.  It was for me. They’ve got a lot of, maybe, self-doubt. I know how it is even just for a regular normal person. I try to welcome everyone here.

A few kind words can make a whole day.