I encountered Mark while on a regular photo walk in downtown Winnipeg a few days ago. As I made my way along the street I noticed him sitting on a bench. Seeing his tattoos I said hello and began talking rather candidly, first about his tattoos followed by some generic chit-chat. I took a photo – and was greeted with some curiosity and slight trepidation. When asked why I wanted his photo, I replied that I’d like to get his story and understand, firstly, about the variety of tattoos on his neck, face, arms and hands. As I sat down beside him, he started opening up about his past and the various struggles he’s endured throughout his life up until this point. Out of respect for Mark, I have edited down the story he told me to include only a few elements from our discussion.
He soon revealed that he was a former prisoner at one of Canada’s toughest prisons – having served over 25 years for a variety of crimes including murder. Although I was somewhat surprised, I didn’t feel uncomfortable because of this revelation. I instead asked some more questions including why this happened and was it something he felt regret for. Mark later revealed that the small teardrop tattoo near the base of his left eye symbolized murder – but with regret.
Prison life began at a young age for Mark, starting in his later teens. He described moving up the rungs of prison life as a form of graduation; having served time in juvenile detention, minimum security and finally reaching the maximum security environment. When I asked what it was like on the first day of serving his sentence – he replied that it was “the most terrifying moment of my life, something that you can never imagine and that no television show or movie could prepare you for.” On TV it is glamorized, while in real life, you are always targeted and the stress of constantly knowing you could be beaten severely or killed in an instant weighed heavily on him.
These days Mark works for a local manufacturing company and is married. He says each day is a struggle; sometimes with a lot of sadness and pain while other days he feels grateful for being able to maintain his spirituality and accept the wrongs he’s committed. Finding a deeper connection to religion while in prison had an important impact on his being able to persevere and move forward with his life, albeit slowly at times and not without continued problems.
When asked what his favourite photo was, he said this one because “I look happy, like a decent person”, which I thought was a great thing to say and a nice way to wrap up the conversation.