You may have heard about Mark Ramiro in the news. Late one night in July 2014, he was with several friends – all high on drugs. They were filming stunts in the basement of his South Baltimore home, until things went fatally awry. Mark’s friend of 15 years, Darnell Mitchell, strapped on a bulletproof vest and asked to be shot in the chest. But Mark aimed inches too high, and the bullet hit Darnell just above the vest. Mark rushed his friend to the hospital, but it was too late.
Mark came to Helping Up Mission in June 2015. He had already successfully participated in several short-term recovery programs, but he was still awaiting sentencing, and constantly wrestling with the trauma and shame of what he had done. In March 2016, Mark Ramiro was sentenced to 4 years – but he went to prison with 9 months’ clean time and, more importantly, a new perspective on his past and his future. Our chaplain, Vic King, spoke with Mark in jail.
Both my parents worked all the time to put food on the table, so I was pretty much on my own with my friends. I didn’t really know who I was, because I looked Filipino, but I talked and carried myself more as a West-Baltimore American. I just went with the flow. I started experimenting with alcohol and weed in middle school, and by 9th grade I was a real heavy weed smoker.
When I was 21, I went to art school in PA and got a degree in fashion marketing. I was making and selling t-shirts, doing tattoos, and filming music videos for local rap artists. But I started using pills – Percocets, Oxys, Opanas, Benzos – and it started affecting my whole character. And that led to my friend’s death.
You came to HUM on house arrest. What was it like at first?
Well, I broke the record for the longest restriction in Helping Up history (laughs) – it was either HUM or going to jail. So when I first got there I was upset; I didn’t want to be there. But I found Pastor Gary and Mike Rallo interesting. Pastor Gary would make me write the character quality of the week on the board every morning, because of my artistic skills.
I got real close to different guys. Mike is the security guy at the 23 desk, and they put me there for work therapy. We didn’t talk much at first. But he’s a giver, always helping other guys, and I would just observe him. Then we started talking. He trusted me for some reason, and that meant a lot to me. He could tell when I was going through stuff.
What aspect of HUM’s program helped you the most?
For me, I liked the spirituality – reading the Bible, praying, talking, meditating. A lot of times I would slip into the chapel, and sit in the corner where nobody could see me, and just think.
So how has God helped you in the midst of all this mess?
He’s helped me in trying to forgive myself, helped me not blame other people for my own screw-ups, helped me be open with other people, to talk with people. A lot of times in my life, I was antisocial. Maybe it was my character or maybe it was due to my drug addiction, I don’t know. But I try to follow what I’ve seen.
Before your sentencing, you were able to meet with your friend Darnell’s family. What was that like?
It was emotional, but it was good. It broke the ice. They were upset at me, which they have every right to be. I can’t be mad at that. For what I did, they were upset, but they were open, and they were forgiving. They hugged me a bunch of times. They told me how it hurt them, how it affected them. I apologized – words can’t express how sorry I am.
Describe your transition from HUM to prison.
Court was nerve-wracking. You pray for the best and expect the worst. I got nine years with five suspended. God works in mysterious ways, and I think he prepared me for that. Nobody wants to go to jail. I don’t care who you are, this place is not for anybody.
It was different from 2014 when I came here; it just felt different. I’m happy. Not to say I’m happy to be here, but I’m cool. I know this is temporary. I don’t know what the Big Man’s plans are for me, but this is part of it. This was like the icing on the cake to set things straight. And I think this is Him testing me too… Is this kid going to turn his back on Me? Is he going to lose his faith? Is he going to give up?
I still pray, frequently. I was reading the Gospel of John this morning. I think my faith in God kept me together. ‘Cause if you knew me then, and if you know me now, you could tell. I’m in the system… and I’m cool. I know it’s temporary. Walking around with a chip on your shoulder is not going to help. At all.
What are your hopes for life after prison?
I’m going to get a job, stay sober. I’m going to continue to do my artwork – paint, draw, hopefully open a t-shirt business. I want to tell people my story – the mistakes, the drug addiction – and see if I can help someone.
What would you want people to take from your story?
Be yourself, be honest. Have faith… because you have to lean on something beyond yourself. If you put yourself first, and you think it’s all about you, then you’re already lost. Stay clean, stay drug-free. I know it’s cliché to say, but it doesn’t lead anywhere but jail or death. God didn’t give you the blessing of life to waste it and to get trashed every day. You weren’t put on this earth for that. I’m happy to wake up every day, open my eyes and breathe.