Mark Gilbert joined the Nexus family when he was 23. As an adolescent, he drifted into drinking and drugs, then theft. For six years, he was in and out jail, always running, always chasing elusive dreams.
It was a vicious cycle. "I’d get high feel good, go out and do something stupid, then regret it. I got to the point where I hated life…”
Then he heard about Nexus from a cellmate who was sent there. After two days, he came back to jail. “I couldn’t make it,” he told Mark, “But you’d probably like it.” Mark was tired of running; he wanted to turn his life around. So, he decided to try it.
Taking a Leap of Faith
His first contact with Nexus was the family interview where all the residents and staff meet an incoming resident for the first time and decide to accept or reject him. That scared Mark. He’d been rejected all his life.
He expected to be bombarded with psychiatric analysis, and asked why he had committed his crimes. Instead, he was asked what assets he had and how he needed to change. He was accepted by a show of hands and welcomed into the family.
From that moment, Mark felt at home at Nexus. “It was what I’d been looking for all my life some place where I fit in. I could be myself there. I was always afraid that if I was myself, no one would like me. I never had the chance to find out.”
Mark started work in the kitchen, washing pots and pans. Eating together, working, and sharing responsibilities with other brothers, he really did feel part of a family. “I felt like Nexus was the warmest place in the world. I knew the people there would do anything for me, anything that they could.”
Understanding His Emotions
As a family member, Mark began to build relationships, which wasn’t easy. He had never been able to communicate with his parents because he kept his emotions locked inside. On the streets he had been a longer, acting tough to be accepted and to survive. At Nexus, he discovered that acting tough was just a front for many of his friends: “the guys who acted toughest had the biggest hearts.”
In group meetings, Mark had to learn to share his feelings openly, even if it was painful at times. Being committed to a group meant caring and often confronting. If someone steps out of line at Nexus, the brothers convene to discuss the problem. The offending resident is questioned, and sometimes shouted at to break down his defenses so that he can help himself-a concept called “hard love.”
At Nexus, Mark found out that he couldn’t walk away from problems. “You can snowball anybody for a while, but you can’t fool a group of people who have been doing the same thing all their lives.” Through group sessions and one-to-one counseling, Mark was forced to face up to the consequences of his actions and work out solutions. As he progressed through the program, he gained more self-confidence and assumed greater responsibility.
Re-Entering the Community
As resident director, he had to give orders rather than taking them. One of his jobs was waking up the brothers in the morning. At first it was difficult for Mark to express anger: “I didn’t think you could yell at people you cared about.” He had to shout to get the brothers out of bed which he was afraid would cost their friendship. He was surprised when they thanked him for getting them to work on time. They didn’t resent his firmness; it made them respect him more.
For his third phase project, Mark decided to use his skills as a contractor to renovate some of the unfinished rooms in the Nexus facility. He supervised a staff of four brothers who plastered and painted for several weeks. To get the job done, Mark painted all night with one brother, whom he later hired in his own construction business.
Like most residents, Mark found that re-entry into the community was the toughest phrase of the program. Without the security of a highly structured support system, it was hard to be independent and deal with problems alone.
Putting His Life Back Together
As Mark started to put his life together again on his own, he returned to Nexus from time to time to visit and to sit in on support groups. That kept him from falling back into his old pattern of destructive behavior and reinforced the new stability in his life.
After he graduated from Nexus, Mark stopped drifting and put down roots. He married and established his own contracting business. He had always dreamed of having a wife and kids and living on a farm. Now he does.
Mark uses what he learned at Nexus to keep his own family close and happy. When tensions mount in his marriage, problems are discussed openly so that bad feelings don’t build up. “My wife and I have our differences,” he says “but we are honest about most things. It’s a good working relationship.”
As a father, Mark had earned the respect of his two children by being firm. It hurts when he has to discipline them, but he knows that sometimes you have to hurt someone because you love them. Hard love.
Nexus didn’t solve all of Mark’s problems. He admits that he has learned more since he left than when he was there. “If you ever get out and think you’re cured, that’s your downfall. You’ve always got to have help from other people.”
“I felt like Nexus was the warmest place in the world. I knew the people there would do anything for me, anything that they could.”