By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"And he didn't!" Anne recalls. "I'm used to making bad choices and being with guys who take advantage, so I'd never really had that happen before." The next day, in the sunroom, he did kiss her. And when Anne was discharged from the hospital, they made plans for Marc to move to Colorado Springs someday. "I was like, 'Okay, whatever. See you when you get there,'" Anne recalls.
One month later, Marc showed up on her doorstep. They married that fall and moved to an apartment in Denver. Anne found a job as a nanny for a family in the Congress Park neighborhood. Marc stayed sober and held a job as a landscaper, his only skill outside of crime. But he was sick of it. For the first time in his life, he thought about college and a career. But with a resumé that was more likely to make people call the police than call for an interview, that seemed impossible.
Jen, the mother of the young kids Anne worked with, sees Marc a lot. "And it was a little bit scary at first, knowing his background," she says. "But we got to know Marc as a very compassionate person and as someone who was both rough and tough on the exterior, but also very teddy-bearish around our kids." Jen suggested that Marc try working with troubled teens because "he knows how tough the world is and how it can be to face those challenges that kids experience."
But this was much easier said than done. Marc began calling different organizations, but no one wanted to assume the liability of allowing an ex-con into their program. The only person who didn't see it as an immediate deal-breaker was Meyerhoffer.
He met Marc in a restaurant, and remembers that he was "totally nervous and very serious. He had letters of reference from everybody he'd ever met before." They talked about Marc's options. Would he realistically be able to get a paid job in the social-work field? Probably not. Technically, Marc was still a recovering addict; what if he relapsed? Even becoming a volunteer mentor was problematic. If something went wrong, it could potentially sink the whole program.
Meyerhoffer discussed it with his boardmembers. They reviewed the records of Marc's crimes back in Illinois. They put him through their interview screening process meant to weed out deadbeats and pedophiles.
In the end, Meyerhoffer went with his gut.
"Part of the core of these programs is giving people the opportunity to change their past," he says. "We're trying to change the kid's past. Why can't we allow adults to change their past?"
Chuck E. Cheese's, that strip-mall mecca of animatronics theater and greasy pizza beloved by kids and scorned by parents, is the natural destination for Anne and Marc's first excursion with Juliana and Michael. Marc and Anne feed tokens into Skee-Ball and video games and watch the kids dart between the machines, investigating every bing and flash.
Michael wants Marc to help him with the basketball game. He wants Marc to watch him jump in the ball pit. He tugs Marc's hand toward the prize counter. Marc loses sight of Michael. Peering into the indoor playground, he tries to distinguish the boy from the other kids clambering through the sky tubes. Hearing a knocking, Marc looks up to see Michael waving from behind the domed Plexiglas. "Marc!" the boy yells. "Look!"
Family members say that Michael harbors a great deal of anger over his mother's death -- although Marc and Anne don't see this during their time with him. Michael may be hyperactive and hard to manage at times, but he doesn't defy authority figures or act aggressively toward other children. When confronted by a bully, he's more likely to acquiesce than react violently. His misbehavior seems rooted in a strong desire to connect with adults and gain their approval.
Like most kids in the mentoring program, Michael has grown familiar with the topography of loss, with both parents vanishing from view as if mysteriously swallowed up by the earth. In late 2004, just before he was paired with his mentor, Michael was featured in several newspaper articles about the discovery of his mother's body. One photograph in the Rocky Mountain News featured the boy staring at a picture of his mother. He occasionally speaks of her, although he was very young when she went missing, and his memories of her are vague and few. He rarely talks about his father.
In the program's training sessions, mentoring volunteers are instructed in techniques to develop bonds with their mentees while still maintaining boundaries. Meyerhoffer calls it a quick primer in "Social Work 101." Mentors are there to listen and offer encouragement, not to be therapists or surrogate parents. Some children will seek to "sabotage" new relationships, employing pint-sized defense mechanisms against the painful cycle of loving and losing guardians. Trust can be a hard-won commodity, and the price is consistency and reliability. But Meyerhoffer is also amazed by how willing some kids are to connect with new mentors. "They just want so bad to have some sort of itty-bitty normal piece in their life," he says. "The minority of the kids in this program are kids who have sabotaged for one reason or another. But the majority still have the love and the trust and the understanding of what adults truly mean to them."