“When I went to prison for the first time in 2011, experiencing the bus ride there, seeing the huge and menacing correctional officers with guns and viewing the guard tower was a scary and humbling experience. It showed me really how small I was in the grand scheme of life,” explains Mark S. It was his first and only time in prison, but it left an indelible mark on his psyche. “Had I not met my fiancée following that first stint, I probably would have gone back pretty soon. She saved me,” he recounts on Shirley’s Patio at Beit T’Shuvah.
But let’s rewind a bit. Born in Modesto, CA, Mark was part of a very strict evangelical Christian upbringing. “I was born on Saturday and in church on Sunday,” he laughingly recalls. But all humor aside, it was a stifling and isolating childhood. “Yeah, I was in church three days a week, and it was an intense experience; speaking tongues, testifying, dancing in the aisles, the whole deal,” Mark describes. Having difficulty making friends, Mark missed out on many of the activities most children take for granted during their upbringing. “I’ve never had a Halloween in my life. That was a big thing for me,” he recalls.
By the time he was a teenager, Mark and his older brother had already started drinking alcohol to rebel against their stifling and rigid parents. And by the age of nineteen, Mark had discovered his drug of choice–heroin. This would begin an almost twenty-year dark and perilous journey that also saw Mark contract Endocarditis (a heart infection) in 2008, have several jail visits, attend numerous rehab facilities, and, as related earlier, go to prison in 2011 for cutting off an ankle monitor.
His addiction also had a devastating impact on his parents. With his mother standing firmly beside her youngest son and his father severing ties with him, Mark’s parents ultimately divorced. However, there was a bright and beautiful light that entered Mark’s life around this time. As mentioned previously, Mark met his fiancée, Anita, shortly after he was released from prison. “She’s been my rock. She has stood by me and remained loyal through all the crazy highs and lows of my addiction,” Mark says. Mark is also very close to his fiancée’s children, Emmanuel, eighteen, and Elizabeth, 10. In fact, it was Anita who ultimately introduced Mark to Beit T’Shuvah.
“Just getting here made me feel comforted. The love was ‘oozing’ from the walls,” Mark explains with that big smile he’s so known for at BTS. In fact, it’s been an experience like no other when it comes to Mark’s many attempts at sobriety and recovery. “Never in my life have I had so many counselors to aid me in my recovery. And BTS is also responsible for getting me the necessary medical treatments that ultimately led to curing my Hepatitis,” Mark thankfully relates. But Mark has also contributed mightily to the community as well. A member of the Social Distance marathon team, Mark completed his first half marathon this past June. He’s also a member of the gardening group and has served as a house monitor, helping residents keep up with their daily chores.
But perhaps his proudest accomplishment was as the organizer of the several ping-pong tournaments held at Beit T’Shuvah this past spring. “Putting those tournaments together made me feel good about myself and also made me feel closer to the community,” he proudly recounts. Along with his commitment to his recovery and the BTS community, Mark is contemplating a return to school to finish his training and certification as an electrician. He loves working with his hands and can be seen around BTS fixing sprinkler systems and an occasional dryer or two in the laundry room.
Of all his accomplishments, the most important outcome of his time at Beit T’Shuvah involves his relationship with Anita. Having gone through couple’s therapy while at BTS, Mark feels closer and more connected to her than when he first arrived at BTS. He’s in no rush to leave his beloved community at Beit T’Shuvah. Still, one thing’s for sure, when he does spread his wings and fly back into the outside world, Mark is ready to take what he’s learned and experienced at BTS and soar high into the next chapter of his already eventful and powerful story.