Three decades. That was how much time Mark Merriweather spent behind bars. During that time, he had helped prepare many returning citizens to face their new world. When it was his time to come home to his family, he realized he needed help too.
“The world is a whole different place. And to prepare yourself to come into this world is impossible from inside of prison.”
Mark entered prison as a teenager and returned to the world as an adult. Knowing he was out of touch with the current society, he reached out to the ARCH program for assistance. “So, you need somebody out here, who knows the progression of society in order to help you readjust and reattach into the world in a positive way… And there's no way anybody can know what they're going to run into when they get out here.”
Having started the groundwork for his own return, the ARCH program assisted Mr. Merriweather to get his identification in order for him to start work and restart his life.
However, Mr. Merriweather needed more than just an identification to go through the challenges that he was about to face.
“Wendy and Vanita, I mean, Vanita, that's my sister… and Wendy, she's... like a good friend. These are the people who represent the ARCH program. You can help a person with everything they may need but that ear, and that guidance, that mentorship is more important than anything else; that connection with God, that connection spiritually with what the world is; that understanding of what you're walking into. There's no way anybody can ever replace that. Just having those ears and that respectable, dignified and spiritual advice and guidance is priceless."
Apart from having a job, shelter and other basic necessities, (which he described as being “tremendously blessed”) Mr. Merriweather has also gotten the opportunity to speak to college students in universities like the Ohio State University and Franklin University in Columbus about life behind bars, his return, and the constant reminder of how much technology has changed – an experience he described as a “culture shock.”
While incarcerated, Mr. Merriweather gained an associate degree in small business and entrepreneurship and was later involved in a program called “RESET.” He helped returning citizens formulate business and marketing plans and sustain their entrepreneurial spirits. He later took and transformed the program into what he called “Bars to Business.” He also taught, “how to write a business plan; how to understand the business plan; the proper way to express yourself through words in a business plan so that you don't give people like five pages of what you want your business to be and whatnot." Mr. Merriweather also states that, "you can break it down quickly and succinctly into two paragraphs. That's called the executive plan.”
He has since graduated 50 people over two years.
“I see the ARCH program as a wonderful asset for people coming home, I really do. Just the compassion. Let me say this, there are a lot of programs out here for people getting out of prison, a lot of them. But a lot of them are just on paper and will just give you paperwork, there is no one-on-one contact with a real person. There is no spirituality behind what they're giving you. They're giving you a packet and say, 'have a nice day,' because it's all about money.
"This is about saving lives. This is about helping people reacquire the ability to live in a world that they might not know. That's what the ARCH program does.”