A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Mentoring programs complain about the lack of adult males. So one took a chance on Marc Plaskie.

Plus, she's good with kids, confident and assertive. With kids, she knows exactly what to do and what to say to make them feel better. It was something she learned from her mother, who was a kindergarten teacher -- when to be stern, when to be loving, how to set boundaries. "I've always felt that if you give people the things they need, they can blossom," she says. Anne liked working with the Virginia family but disagreed with the father's parenting style. The contention grew until she quit and moved to Chicago to live with a friend. Unable to find a job in the freezing Midwest winter, she became severely depressed.

Anne had been at the hospital for two weeks when Marc arrived in April 2003. His body was wracked by drugs and alcohol, and he didn't come out of his room for the first two days. After he emerged, Anne saw him in the day room, by the pay phones, leaning in his chair against the wall like all tough guys do, holding a deck of cards. Wanting to be friendly, she walked up and introduced herself. He was playing Spades. She asked why.

"I'm just seeing how the hands come out," he replied.

Marc Plaskie's resumé includes years in jail -- and a 
year as a successful mentor to Juliana and her 
Anthony Camera
Marc Plaskie's resumé includes years in jail -- and a year as a successful mentor to Juliana and her cousin.

They talked a lot over the following weeks while playing dominos or Uno. She asked questions about his past, and he answered in detail.

"It was like a television show or movie come to life," Anne remembers. He showed her the bullet wound still healing on his left calf. He described the depressed, unincorporated area northwest of Chicago where he'd grown up. He talked about how he became a drug-delivery boy at the age of ten and how he was regularly using those hard drugs by the time he was twelve. Marc routinely ditched junior high and graduated into the ranks of one of Chicago's most notorious biker gangs. They ran drugs, guns, scams and robberies across the city and beyond. At sixteen he had a brand-new Lincoln Town Car that he couldn't drive because he didn't have a license. He was in and out of juvenile detention, had overdosed more times than he could count -- but he also had more money than he could hide and what he thought was respect. He was smart and big and never hesitated to beat the shit out of anyone, so the honchos made his job "head of collections." When federal prosecutors finally picked the whole pyramid apart and police scooped up all of the gang members in a series of dramatic raids, Marc was spared severe prison time, mostly because he was still underage (a few months from eighteen) and because prosecutors were more interested in frying the higher-ups.

One day, Anne asked Marc if he had ever had to "hurt anyone." It was the only question he didn't answer.

Still, she was amazed by his openness. The group-therapy sessions were voluntary, and unlike the other men, Marc always sat in. Not only that, but he talked. A lot. He asked questions. He struggled to understand the mother who'd belittled and hit him, the father who'd ignored him and was always gone, the physical and sexual abuse by family members. The anger -- he held it and squeezed it until his nails dug into his skin. He hated the anger. He hated himself.

There is a year in his early twenties that Marc can't even remember, lost forever in a haze of heroin and drink. During this period, when police showed up at his mother's house on a domestic-dispute call, they encountered Marc, obliterated and out of control. With all of his parole violations, he was finally thrown in prison. There the revelations came slowly. While at one detainment facility that receives new prisoners, he saw guys from the neighborhood coming in who had been released on parole just a few days before. It was like they knew no other way of life beyond the revolving door of prison and crime.

Two years later, Marc was released. At age 25, he vowed never to go back. He got off the hard drugs, slowly stopped hanging out with other felons and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Then his mother died.

"So I stocked up on three bottles of Valium and three bottles of Vicodin and just popped as many pills as I could at the funeral," he remembers. "And I made it about six months after that, just white-knuckling it but emotionally spiraling out of control and knowing that no amount of marijuana, no amount of Vicodin, is making me feel better." He hit bottom again, resumed old criminal habits and nearly drank himself to death.

Anne watched Marc weep openly in more than one group-therapy session. She knew that this was someone who desperately wanted to change his life and had the potential to do it. All he needed was someone who'd support and nurture him. One night, just before lights out, Marc and Anne talked quietly in the eating area, the one part of the facility that afforded anything resembling privacy. He shuffled and rambled. She could tell that he wanted to kiss her. He looked at the ceiling.

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