Justin Marc, a formerly incarcerated Santa Cruzan who has made poetry a centering force in his life
Justin Marc, a formerly incarcerated Santa Cruzan who has made poetry a centering force in his life.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Opinion from Community Voices

I had never been arrested for anything. But I got addicted to crack and woke up in jail in Santa Cruz at 50.

Justin Marc, a second-generation Santa Cruz milkman, spent 19 months in jail in Santa Cruz for check fraud, fueled by an addiction to crack. While incarcerated, he found his voice as a poet. He was released two years ago, on Aug. 31, 2021, and has been sober for four years as of last week. Here, in both video and written form, he tells his story, often in rhyme. “That’s how words come out in my thoughts,” he says. “The rhyme is automatic.”

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My name is Justin Marc and my story is true,
how I let a broken heart take away all I once knew.
I grew up with all the advantages of life: a nice home, a family that loved me, even though alcoholism and addiction was in my family tree.

I was safe and happy,
I was a second-generation milkman
and worked hard to build a great reputation.
Like any kid, I had issues I had to deal with.
Problems feeling inferior in school and size and weight,
but I want to cut to the chase
and tell how and why I fell.

I was in a loveless marriage, I was lonely and sad.
I knew I picked the wrong woman for me, but in the first month, my now ex-wife was pregnant.
I didn’t want my daughter not to grow up without a father in the home.
After 12 years of loneliness and my wife’s lack of interest, I came to the conclusion that I don’t need to be married to be a father to my girl.

All those years my ex was spending time with my close friend, but not with me.
I left her and she married him a month or so after.
I was so depressed I sought drugs to fill the void.
I instantly became addicted to crack, lost all my life savings, and couldn’t get myself back.
A $20-a-day habit grew as I needed more and more.
I got up to an $800-dollar-a-day habit.

I was lost, broke financially and spiritually,
became an absent father because I didn’t want her to see me in my shame.
I started check fraud when my three jobs weren’t enough to sustain my addiction.
I couldn’t seem to quit no matter the cost.
I knew the fraud would catch up at some point.

The person I stole from I loved. Such a horrific crime.
I called a friend I truly trusted and she helped save my life
because she knew I was worth it.
I got myself to meetings about three times a day, got a great sponsor and did all 12 steps.

I had eight months clean before I got incarcerated for my crimes.
I had never been arrested for anything. Then I woke up in jail in Santa Cruz at 50.

Don’t kid yourself.
I could get anything in jail I wanted, from booze to any drug I wanted.
But I already knew I wanted to help others like me.
I was sentenced to four years, eight months in jail, which really means half.
I chose jail over prison, so I could have my family visit, but COVID hit and that was the end of that.

Justin Marc, a formerly incarcerated Santa Cruzan who has made poetry a centering force in his life
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

I signed up for as many classes as jail would allow, but two somethings were missing from my life: Practicing my faith and the recovery principles from AA, NA and CA. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous.)
So I checked with my sponsor and looked into it and found that I could run meetings because I did all the steps the right way.

He sent me literature I needed to hold a proper meeting and I followed it to a tee.
I got up every day at 4 a.m. and watched pastor and Grammy winner Steve Furtick, and pastors T.D. Jakes and Ron Carpenter. I took notes and looked up the passages and studied it.

I decided to also start a Bible study at Rountree, the men’s jail in Watsonville.
I asked for permission to have a private room to practice my faith and also hold separate sobriety meetings.

I announced to inmates that I was holding meetings and several people made fun of me and mocked and teased.
But I didn’t care, I was doing it for me, and others like me.

I started alone, then another, then another came, until I had about 24 regulars in my meetings twice a week.
And 18 regulars in Bible study every single day.

That continued to the day I left, about 19 months later.
I then started AA and NA in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking people in jail.
I got Spanish literature and they took off with it, too.

I’m very proud of all that, but there is more, too.

I took all the time I had and worked on myself.
I did the best I could with my health.
I couldn’t get important meds I needed for my neuropathy because the jail didn’t give them. I could have had them if I was in prison.

Jail food wasn’t diabetes-friendly, which made it hard to eat well.
Those were some challenges along with bullying and violence by others.

When you are doing good work, others want to bring you down and that’s a fact.
I tried to rise above it and stay focused on myself, which leads me to how I met my very best friend: poetry.

One of the blessings I got back was my mind. I discovered the power of poetry class (held by Renee Winter as well as several instructors she brought in via Zoom).

I was able to write out — instead of act out — which helped me keep a promise I made to my daughter to get out — as soon as I can.

Several times I was called out to fight, no matter what they called me, I wouldn’t bite
What I did instead was write, write, write.

I had a lot to say and did.
I grew in confidence and skill. Now, I have taught poetry at a rehab and my dreams of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor are coming true.

Justin Marc is a former milkman who spent 19 months in the Santa Cruz County Jail. He currently works at Janus of Santa Cruz as a treatment technician and is training to be a counselor. There, he teaches addicts to write as a tool for recovery. He has lived in Santa Cruz his whole life. He has spent two years without being rearrested, which allows him to return to the jail as a visitor. He is planning to return as a leader of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.