By Clark Haken - March 2011

Sun glanced off the chain-link between his feet.  I reminded myself to slow down; he was forced to take small steps because of the shackles.  He hadn’t seen the sun for 60 days—not one glimpse of the outside world.  For his sake I was glad the sun was shining as he turned his face upward and smiled.  We made our way into the courthouse flanked by police.  They let me walk right next to him.  He mattered to me and they knew it.  Already I was dreading our goodbye. 

Nearly a year had passed since Mike walked into my office.  His story was astonishing.  He showed no signs of lying but I doubted.  Over the next few days I discovered more about Mike.  His story was real.  An 8 page rap-sheet beginning when he was 9 years old.  Boy’s-homes, countless arrests, jail-time, prison-time. . . you name it.  I like him right off the bat. 

I liked his laugh, the way his eyes turned to slits when he smiled.  I liked his brutal honesty with me—often too much information.  He ate like a horse at my kitchen table.  Strings of outrageous profanity came out of his mouth like poetry.  He’d grown up on city streets; gang-life was his life.  He was a survivor who desired positive change in his life.  He stayed out of trouble for 9 months—longer than he’d ever managed before.

But staying out of trouble can be tough when trouble’s what you’re used to.  I wanted structure for Mike.  I wanted quality people around him.  I wanted accountability.  I so wanted someone, anyone, to notice when he did something right—to catch him being good.   All things he’d never known.  Instead, his tattoos set him apart.  No car and no
license complicated finding a job.  A background check on Mike would scare the daylights out of most employers.  Truth, love and self-control were missing. . . and when that’s the case trouble is sure to follow.  It was simply a matter of time.

It was after midnight when the police called.  I made coffee before they arrived.  Had I seen Mike?  Had he come to me?  Was he with me?  I shook my head.  I knew he’d run and he did.  Weeks went by.  Then, he called.  Mike was careful with his words; he didn’t want me responsible for knowing where he was.  But I knew.  Others knew as well, and after a time he was arrested.  All of this so senseless—a continuing senseless pattern he’d known since adolescence.  He’d never known anything different.

We’d visit twice a week separated by a glass partition.  He drew me pictures, amazing pictures.  Mike could draw anything.  Astonishing talent.  We talked about what he’d do when he got out.  He’d put his talent to use and settle down.  Two and a half years wasn’t that long; it would go quickly.  He’d tell me he was going to be alright.  I’d tell him he mattered to me.  Sometimes he’d cry through our visits.  Sometimes I’d cry driving home.

I remember sun reflecting on the snow—and my heart being heavy like lead.  The orange jump-suit made his hair look so black as he leaned his head onto my shoulder; the cuffs and shackles made me angry.  A police car was coming to take him to prison.  I assured him I’d visit.  He told me not to worry.  I told him he mattered.   They drove him away.  I drove home. 

Mike writes once a week.  As do I.  He pours out his heart.  I tell him he matters—everybody matters.  Yup.  He matters to Jesus and he matters to me.

ATLAS Board Members

  • John Van Diepen - President
  • Deb Kosters - Secretary
  • Gary Hielkema
  • Steve Swensen
  • Brad Jensen
  • Peg Van Kley
  • Kathleen Osterman


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