7/9/08 Project Jason Presents "A Mother's Day Miracle, Missing for 14 Years" Part V
When you first laid eyes on Mark after all these years, what was your reaction/how did you feel? How about other involved family members?
When I first saw Mark, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was so happy; my wish had come true after all of those years of worry. I gave him a big hug, told him I loved him and then I noticed I couldn't stop staring at him. And Mark seemed happy to see me. He had his cat with him, he was about 20 - 25 lbs underweight, weatherworn, appeared older than his age, he was a little hunched over and it was obvious he needed good nutrition. Right-away my motherly instinct kicked in. I wanted to feed him and comfort
His youngest brother was with me. He hadn't seen Mark since he was 6 years old. So, he didn't really know Mark. But Mark certainly remembered him and was amazed to see his little brother now grown.
About two weeks went by before Mark was ready to see other family members. His dad and Mark's brother (a year younger than Mark) came to the house to visit Mark. By then, Mark had gained several pounds. He had begun to have a softer appearance, he looked healthier and was no longer hunched over. His dad and brother thought he looked very good and they could hardly believe he was finally home as well.
His next visit will be to see his grandpa.
How is he doing? Does he say much about his experiences? Do you know how he
survived? What was day-to-day life for him like?
Mark is doing very well. Mark has only mentioned a few things regarding his
experiences. He mentioned sleeping near raccoons and alligators. I do believe he pan-handled some in order to survive. Overall, 2 families in Florida had taken him into their home. The first family took him in before a Missing Person Report had been filed, so I didn't find out about this family until later. I really believe both families saved him.
He was in very poor shape when they began to help him. According to the St.
Petersburg family, Mark had a routine. He had a favorite coffee shop he went to most days. He visited a store which had comics. He went to his P.O. Box each week during the past 2 years. As a homeless person, he slept in the woods and swamps.
Do you worry that he will leave again?
Everyday I worry I'll get up in the morning and he'll be gone. It's a terrible feeling, but I have to have faith it won't happen.
Tell us about his cat. What significance did the cat have in his journey and
as a companion?
The cat is a well-tempered, loving and beautiful black cat. The cat was Mark's companion for 10 - 11 years. There were times when Mark would keep the cat with him during the day on a leash. And the other times, the cat was kept in a comfortable-size cage. Mark speaks to the cat in a special voice and it's obvious they are very bonded to each other.
The cat had become sick and I believe this helped to encourage Mark to come home. I arranged for Mark to get the cat to a veterinarian and the cat was treated for a couple of problems. But, the cat has a tumor and the future is not very bright for her. Mark is in serious denial about this problem and I have been gently working with him to get him to understand the cat needs to go to the veterinarian again. I just don't know how Mark will handle any bad news. If anything happens to the cat, I'm concerned Mark may leave.
An additional note: Vicki told me today that the vet is certain the cat has an aggressive form of cancer. Test results are pending. This is a very serious concern, as it would be important to buy as much time as possible for Mark to gain trust with the family, and for Vicki to help get Mark prepared to lose his companion of so many years.
I understand that Mark is an artist. Is this one way for him to communicate
and express his feelings?
I do believe Mark expresses himself through art. He spends a lot of time drawing and writing. His art is unique and I am always amazed at his endless ability to create. And I am always amazed at what he creates.
Can you explain in layman’s terms what type of mental illness he has, how
that manifested itself in relationship to his disappearance? How is it being
He was diagnosed with a mental illness just prior to his becoming a missing person. I had been trying to get him help, but he left in the middle of the night from the place that was trying to help him. One of the symptoms of his illness is paranoia, which creates a real problem. He doesn't want to take a pill of any kind, because he believes someone is trying to harm him. Another symptom he has causes him to want to keep on the move because he may believe something or someone is after him.
He's not receiving treatment yet. This is a very challenging area. First, he had to have time to trust our relationship. I am hopeful we will be able to move forward in this area soon.
What do you think prompted him to finally make that call and want to come
home? How did you feel when he told you?
Hopefully, I had planted a seed in his mind that he needed to come home. I sent a letter, with money for food, every week for 1 year and 11 months. I always said how much he was missed, and loved and asked him to consider coming home. I would tell him, all he had to do was simply call me and I would make the arrangements to get him and his cat home.
But it wasn't until his cat became ill - then I received the phone call saying he wanted to come home. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. It seemed too good to be true.
How did you cope during the years he was gone, especially in the timeframes
when you had no idea if he was dead or alive?
I coped in many different ways during Mark's disappearance. There were times I had to bury my feelings, otherwise, my feelings would be too painful. There were times when I went into denial. At times I thought he must be dead. Other times I would wonder if he was out there somewhere living a very normal life. And then for years, he would be the last thought I had for the night and the first thought I had when I awoke the next morning - worried if he had food to eat or a place to sleep. I never did find a perfect way to cope.
Was it amazing to you that a family would take in someone like Mark and then go
the extra mile to try to figure out his identity?
I am still amazed how a family would take a homeless man with a cat into their home and then treat him like a member of their family. And then to research and find out he was a missing person was the turning point.
How are things going with Mark today? I’m sure it’s quite an adjustment for
everyone. Talk about that.
Things are going okay with Mark today. We have some serious things coming up, such as getting Mark to agree to go to the doctor. Getting Mark's cat to a veterinarian will also be challenging. His youngest brother lives at home and it has taken a few weeks for him to adjust and really understand Mark's situation. Mark is physically healthier now and that is helpful because I believe he feels better. I believe we have all adjusted at this
point and I believe Mark is trusting his new environment.
We find that older cases were not handled as they are today. There were also
very few resources for help with a missing adult years back. When I first
met you, you had not spoken with anyone in 11 years who knew and understood
what you were going through, which I found amazing and sad at the same time.
Talk about this and changes you see in today’s resources.
For all of those years I felt very alone. I knew very little about the topic of missing persons or endangered (mentally ill) missing persons. And the fact I couldn't get a Missing Person Report filed only added anger to my sorrow. I had contacted various government agencies, only to end up going nowhere.
Finally, I decided to do another internet search late one night and Project Jason came up. I went to the web-site; sent an e-mail describing my situation and 30 minutes later I received a phone call from the Founder of Project Jason. That is when things began to change for the better for me and my son.
Today I believe there are some excellent resources available for those with a missing loved one. When my son became missing, there were no resources available to my knowledge. And thanks to organizations such as Project Jason, the public and law enforcement have become more educated on the seriousness of missing persons. Also, I think the media has improved somewhat. At least some cases of missing persons have appeared on national television.
What advise would you give to a family of a missing person, especially one
who has been waiting for the answers for a long time?
Today there is a channel of support available. It's there to be used. This will help the family to be proactive, organized and involved in the search of their missing loved one. Being proactive and involved will help with the feeling of hopefulness. But for me, the ultimate hope came from my faith in God.
Did you ever feel anger at Mark’s disappearance, or was it reasonable in
your mind because of the mental illness? What were the primary emotions you
dealt with, and how did you work that out?
I certainly felt anger about Mark's disappearance, but never angry at him. My anger was at law enforcement refusing to do their duty. I dealt with many emotions during Mark's disappearance; sadness, fear, denial, depression, and finally hope. Had I been able to get a Missing Person Report filed early on, and if I would have had access to valuable missing person resources, I would have been hopeful many years earlier.
What changes need to be made in our legal system which are reasonable
changes that would have possibly brought Mark home much sooner?
Improved outreach to homeless persons. An effort should be made to seek out mentally ill homeless persons, especially since they don't understand they are homeless and that they are a missing person. All missing persons cases are equally important and it should be mandated that all law enforcement nationwide file a Missing Person or Endangered Missing Person Report within 24 hours. Also, Law Enforcement should have a list of resources to give the person(s) who file the Missing Person Report.
If an Endangered Missing Person Report had been filed years earlier, my son may have come home in 2 years versus 14 years later.
Note: The giving of resources to families of missing person is mandated in the Campaign for the Missing proposed law. Law Enforcement must also take the case.
How can you explain your feelings now that he is back home in relationship
to the feelings when he was gone? Is the old pain something you can’t ever
forget? Is that overshadowed with joy or other positive feelings now?
My old feelings of anxiety, worry and fear have been replaced with anxiety, and worry mixed with hope that he will finally have a chance for an okay future. There are days I feel such a strong sense of relief he is home, I have to take some private time and just cry.
I won't ever be able to forget the old pain. My strong joyful feelings today aren't even able to erase the old pain. It's still very vivid and I do worry he could become a missing person again.
What comes next with your life now and Mark?
Getting help for Mark is a priority. Finding a way for him to utilize his artistic ability is something I hope will materialize for him.
No matter how long a person has been missing, there is always hope. Hope remains until the truth is revealed.
We at Project Jason are blessed and privileged to have been able to assist Vicki and play a part in her Mother’s Day Miracle.
We have high hopes for Mark’s recovery, and for miracles to take place for other families of the missing.
There is always hope.
Kelly Jolkowski, July 9, 2008
Project Jason would like to thank Vicki for sharing her story with all of us. We’d also like to thank Robert Lowery, now mayor of Florissant, MO, and Libba Phillips of Outpost for Hope. Each played a very important part in our Mother’s Day Miracle. They are true examples of heroes who exemplify Project Jason’s philosophy:
“All missing persons are loved by someone, and their families deserve to find the answers they seek in regards to the disappearance.”
We also cannot forget to thank the two families in FL who took Mark in, especially the family who cared so much that they didn’t give up on finding Mark’s true identity, and thus his home. I feel fairly certain that there are few who would do the same.
Even though it was a long time coming, “earth angels” were there to help guide a son back into his mother’s arms.