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After MLK: One Author’s Walk to Freedom and Beyond

Three years ago, I received a call from Mark L. Baynard, an aspiring author in Montgomery, Alabama. His story’s compelling twist dropped me into a chair. Mark’s family “collectively” wasted more than 100 years in prison. He bluntly related the challenges he overcame after his own release. Then he divulged how he exhorts others to join in the journey to end the cycle of crime and prison in our communities.

We shared a friendly networking conversation about the genre of memoir, indie publishing, professional editing, and book promotion. In February 2015, Mark released 100 Years: A Journey to End a Vicious Cycle (accessible with his other publications on his Amazon page).

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These days we face a divide in our country. However, Mark communicates a unifying voice and practices positive actions. As a youth advocate in a state-run facility, he works closely with students to instill structure and discipline in their lives. Mark is also the founder of the youth mentoring program U Can (formally known as the Universal Community Advocacy Network). The mission resonates in the motto: “Reaching our youth before our youth reach prison.”

“We go into schools and work with their at-risk population,” says Mark. “Our goal is to reach our youth before they end up in prison. We teach anger management and conflict resolution skills. We also teach a number of social skills.”

Last fall, I met Mark in person—along with his family, friends, and readers—at a book signing (100 Years II: Truth Be Told) organized by Mejah Books in Claymont, Delaware. He later shared some profound observations. Where love, light, dialogue, and hope exist, unity can follow.

1. Why did you end up in prison?

I was raised in Wilmington, Delaware, along with my siblings, by my single mother. I also visited my dad and other siblings in Alabama each year. My mother was a very hard worker. She worked two low-paying jobs to raise her five children. Even though she didn’t earn much money, my mother raised me to be respectful to others.

During my teenage years, I began searching for meaning in my life. Having low self-esteem, I started experimenting with marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs. I eventually started selling drugs and living the lifestyle that goes along with it. Due to the choices I made, I ended up going to prison. I was released after serving a two-year sentence. But I returned to selling drugs and making unwise choices. Within a year, I was back in prison for drugs. I served 13 years before being released.

2. What motivated you to write your first book?

I was on a mission to make the best of the rest of my life. I moved to Alabama with my dad and his side of the family in search of a fresh start. I still had restrictions, as I was required to meet monthly with a probation officer. Though the bars and fences were not visible, I understood that my probation could be violated at any moment. Before leaving Alabama, I was required to get permission. I remained on probation for an additional eight years until I petitioned the Delaware courts for complete release.

I had a desire to help our youth from making the same mistakes I made. I also spent a lot of time reflecting over my own life and how to make improvements. One of the things that stood out to me was the many family members who had been in prison. The names that came to my mind were my younger brother, my dad, and a few of my cousins. I would share this information with my small circle at my dad’s shop.

One day I wrote the names next to the prison time served by each of us. Our family easily passed 100 years. Then I knew that I needed to write this in a book that would help others in similar situations. Shortly after, I started writing 100 Years: A Journey to End a Vicious Cycle.

The interview above occurred shortly after Mark’s book debuted.

3. How did your book impact others?

There have been several individuals who have told me that my book helped them during their difficult moments. Others told me that they can relate to my story, as they have family members in prison. There was a 14- or 15-year-old student at the facility where I work, and I allowed him to read 100 Years. After reading the book, he came to me in tears and expressed that his dad and his older brother were in prison. He explained that he did not want his younger brother to follow in his footsteps. He said that he was going to make changes in his life once he was released.

4. Why did you release a second memoir, 100 Years II: Truth Be Told?

There was much more that needed to be said after I wrote 100 Years. As I attempted to end the cycle of prison within my own family, there were a number of police shootings of black men. In most instances, there were no charges against the officer, or it led to an acquittal. Black-on-black crime continued. The murder rate continued to rise in Chicago and other major cities in the country. I thought it was necessary to share my perspective on these issues.

5. What does the word “identity” mean to you?

I think that identity is probably the most important part of an individual. The scriptures teach us that we were created in the image, or identity, of God. That is a great feeling; it makes people feel they can accomplish anything.

On the other end of the spectrum, you will find the exact opposite. They may feel a sense of having no value. Low self-esteem may be a character quality for that person. If people don’t value themselves, they are more likely to put their lives in dangerous situations. They will eventually jeopardize the lives of others.

They are less likely to believe that they can accomplish their goals. In their minds, options are few, and hope is sometimes lost. Crimes, drugs, prostitution, and other things become an option. Instead of trust, there is betrayal. Anger and hate will slowly replace things such as love. We live in a society where these things are readily available to the hopeless. An individual can lose hope one morning, and those things will be immediately available before the afternoon.

In using the word “identity,” I would say that I have grown into a man who lives with purpose and a desire to help others. I will take a direct quote from my book 100 Years II: Truth Be Told (page 84):

“I am a father, a son, and a husband. Being a husband comes with a great deal of responsibility. The goal of a marriage is to grow into a concept of being one with our significant other. In order to achieve this goal, each of the two individuals must practice understanding as it relates to everything. Being a husband has allowed me to grow into being a better human being. I look forward to continued growth as I continue to learn. As I have grown, I have now become an author.”

6. What themes focus your current work?

My motive is geared towards getting individuals to take responsibility for their actions. I encourage others to strive to be better human beings. I also encourage others to think about consequences and rewards before making a decision. I take interest in all that concerns the African-American community, and I write about those things. Black-on-black crime, police brutality, high prison rates, and high crime rates are all issues that are close to my heart. I write directly from my heart about those issues. I am honest about what I write, and I attempt to walk the things that I talk.”

Today Mark lives with his wife and daughter in Montgomery, Alabama. He received an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Ashford University in 2012. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Faulkner University in 2014. He is now pursuing a master’s degree in Justice and Public Safety at Auburn University at Montgomery. In 2015, Mark released the book These Are Your Flowers, which highlights the importance of letting our loved ones know how much they mean to us while they are living.

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15 Comments

      1. T.K. Thorne

        Montgomery is my home town! Birmingham is doing a Violence Reduction Initiative I think Mark would find very interesting. I’m waiting for results to come in and then would like to write an article about it. Hoping it has some positive results. Gov’t is experimenting based on this book: DON’T SHOOT: ONE MAN, A STREET FELLOWSHIP, THE END OF VIOLENCE IN INNER-CITY AMERICA by David M. Kennedy.

  1. marybostock

    What a special man and what an honor you have to be able to talk with him, listen to his story, and help him pass his message on to others. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Catherine Hamrick

      Thanks, Mary. It is an extraordinary story and quite a moment of synchronicity that Mark and I should cross paths in Alabama and Delaware. It’s not about celebrities. It’s about special people like Mark who work day by day, person by person, to strengthen their communities. That’s what makes America great to me.

  2. Karen Lin

    Great! His great purpose is to help others. Laudable. I’m impressed that he was able to take 100 wasted years into lemonade. Thanks for bringing him to our attention. Love this kind of story, gives hope in a sometimes frustrated time of the world. Staying out of prison is in great part education and the importance of family. I have hope things will turn around in the communities where prison is too often a part time residence. 😦

  3. Dan Hise

    We need a million more like him. He certainly has the street cred to be effective. I can think of no more important mission when I contemplate the future of our multiracial country, especially this week. O tempora! O mores!

  4. Bea dM

    Very inspiring story, considering what we’re reading about the US these days. I like the second Martin Luther King, Jr quote: democracies that don’t educate and teach” intense and critical thinking” are a danger to themselves.

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