Inmates: Don't do what we did
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
CHAMPION -- Listening to inmates from Grafton Correctional Institution talk about their mistakes hit home for 18-year-old Chad Stevenson.
"When I did things, I never thought that I was going to get into trouble either," said the senior in the Occupational Work Experience program at Trumbull Career and Technical Center.
He's had brushes with the law and could face time in a state Department of Youth Services facility if he gets in trouble again, he said.
"I'll definitely think twice," Chad said.
Inmates Paul Brown, 31, and Steven Marks, 39, told TCTC students Friday morning about how the mistakes they made, including involvement in alcohol and drugs, resulted in the crimes for which they are incarcerated.
Brown, a 1990 Liberty High School graduate, is serving a 2-to-10-year sentence for robbery, two counts of aggravated vehicular assault and fleeing and eluding.
Marks originally was charged in Cuyahoga County with aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, breaking and entering and grand theft, but pleaded to a reduced murder charge and began serving a 15-year-to-life sentence when he was 15.
"I've been locked up for the last seven years," Brown said. "Growing up, I never planned on this being my future."
Brown had a good life growing up -- supportive parents who taught him right from wrong, a nice house in the suburbs.
Where he went wrong
He started partying in high school, ignoring his parents in favor of friends and was suspended a few times for his misdeeds.
Upon graduation, he headed to Columbus to live with his brother and attend Ohio State University, but he never registered for classes. He preferred to drink and get high with friends.
One night at a party, he smoked crack -- something he swore he'd never do -- and he liked it. He started stealing checks from his brother, and his mother made him come home where the partying continued.
His girlfriend got pregnant, the two married, he swore to clean up his act, and his parents bought them a house.
The promise didn't hold.
One month after the birth of his second child, Brown robbed a woman of her purse and car keys in the parking lot of a Belmont Avenue store. He led police on a high-speed chase, causing a four-car pileup in which two police officers were injured.
He was sentenced to prison.
His wife remarried in 1999, and his children now have another man's name.
"I asked my wife, 'How come you don't bring Courtney to see me?'" Brown said. "She said, 'She doesn't want to see you. She's ashamed to have a father who's a carjacker. She's ashamed to have a father who's a crack head.'"
Brown blames only himself. His mom and dad continue to visit him regularly. The friends he "dogged" his parents for no longer have anything to do with him
When he is released next year, he hopes to complete his degree at Ashland University and become a part of his children's lives again.
Effect on listeners
Kevin Perry, 17, a senior from Lakeview who also is enrolled in OWE, was moved by Brown's story.
"I thought it was sad," he said. "I hope he gets his kids back."
Bristol senior Jason Ashick, 18, agreed. Jason, also in OWE, has been in trouble too.
"It made me think about the things that I've done," he said.
Marks, the other inmate, reiterated Brown's cautions to the students.
"It only takes one time," he said.
Marks grew up in an abusive home and ignored his mother's instructions to stay off the streets. He started drinking, using drugs and became part of a gang.
He started off using someone else's credit card at the mall and eventually moved on to crimes with guns.
He didn't have any dignity or self-respect, Marks said, his voice breaking. The crimes for which he is serving time brought his arrest.
In prison, he earned his GED, then graduated with honors from Ashland through classes at the prison.
Marks urged the students to look to God, not drugs and alcohol, when times are difficult.
"Don't make the choices that I made," he said. "Get off that track. Give yourself a chance."