A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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

Marc has also been finding some of the structure he needs. In February he got his first salaried job ever, as a market researcher with a Denver company that specializes in audio and web communications. His boss, Trevor, says that Marc stood out as a natural salesman.

"Let's put it this way: Compared to other people we had in his position in the past two years, he's probably 500 times better than they were," he says. "He just has such a huge energy. And my personal insight is that I think he's trying to make up for lost time."

Trevor has acted as a kind of mentor for Marc, showing him the appropriate way to act in certain business situations and helping smooth over some of Marc's more abrasive tendencies. "Well, I think it's an experience thing that he hasn't necessarily had in the rest of his life, a balanced approach to communications," Trevor says. He helped Marc celebrate his first year of sobriety, taking him out to lunch at the Rocky Mountain Diner. "I think it was at that point where he realized he had accomplished some significant things and now was like, "Okay, now that I'm in a normal pattern of life, I can address what's next.'"

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.

For Marc, the next step is enrolling at Metropolitan State College in Denver in August 2005. Marc talks with Trevor about his options for a major. It's a matter of priorities, his friend says. Marc can choose to study something he loves, like history or sociology, or find something more practical and financially secure, such as business or technology. This is one of the first serious discussions that Marc has had about his future that doesn't focus on drugs and crime. It's been about twelve years since he was last in a classroom, and Marc is nervous about the schedule and his classes. He's worried about his job and paying rent. By the time weekends come around, he's exhausted -- and getting Michael and Juliana sometimes feels like another obligation bearing down on him.

"Because I can be just so pissed off by Friday and really not want to go and be like, "Oh, my God, this is one more fucking thing I got to do today,'" Marc says. "And then we get in front of their house and Michael comes running out the door, and it's like, 'All right, this is why I'm doing this.'"

From the air, the maze traces an intricate pattern of three flowers and the words "Denver Botanic Gardens" and "Chatfield."

"Chat...field," Marc says, turning to Anne and explaining that "chat" is the name of the leftover rock dug out from mines. "I think it means the reservoir was built with old mining tailing." Always the history buff, he becomes momentarily lost in this notion.

The maze is deceptively difficult and can take as much as an hour to navigate. On this hot, dry October afternoon, they occasionally run into other groups of maze wanderers, staring at the ticket stubs that feature a small overhead shot of the labyrinth.

Juliana is not here today. Her father was recently released from prison and is living at a halfway house near Stapleton. He's allowed to spend time with his family on weekends, and he's taking Juliana shopping today. So Marc and Anne invited Michael's eleven-year-old sister to come with them. Crystal is in fifth grade and plays for the Annunciation girls' basketball team.

On the thirty-minute drive to Chatfield, Crystal remained aloof, but her face brightens as the day goes on. At one point, while Michael waves a corn stalk like a sword, Crystal jumps on Marc and demands a piggyback ride.

Marc notices how both kids hunger for the physical gestures you usually get from an older brother or father. Crystal hooks her arms around his biceps, and he hoists her into the air. He has been jogging and lifting weights regularly. Since January, he's lost over forty pounds. His waist is smaller and his shoulders have grown. He recognizes their tugs and calls for attention -- it's the same yearning he once felt to wrestle and tussle with his dad. But Marc is careful to maintain the program's boundaries on proper and improper contact. He is not their father, after all. He's their mentor.

"Michael," Marc shouts. The boy is running down a corridor that curves beyond sight. "Slow down!" Michael stops and stands, picking kernels off his cornstalk. Anne tells the kids that they can take turns choosing which direction the group will take, but they must stick together. No one knows where they're going, anyway.

"I think we've already been here," Crystal says.

Marc kicks at an ear of corn and it bounces along the dirt path. He wonders if the efforts he's made with Michael will have any long-lasting effect. "The one thing that concerns me is that when he gets older, he's not going to have the kind of independence and intelligence it takes to stay away from all those temptations," he worries. "There were plenty of situations where I got manipulated and taken advantage of, and that's my fear with him."

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