A lifelong motorcyclist, Marlin has rarely felt nervous to ride. That changed the summer he and his wife Erin traveled from Minnesota to the roads that snake through the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Though the peaks and valleys offered a stunning view, skirting the edge of a steep cliff on his bike made Marlin tense. The couple made it home safely that day, and Marlin is still grateful that he didn’t take the journey alone. After his own treacherous past, he knows there is strength in community.
A ROUGH ROAD
Marlin began riding with his dad at a young age. Early on, Marlin caught an interest in auto and motorcycle repair while helping in the garage.
“I learned a lot of very good practical things from my dad,” says Marlin. “But I also learned how to drink. In my earliest memories when people were having fun, there was always alcohol in their hand.”
Marlin got drunk for the first time at age 6. He liked how alcohol made him feel. It washed away memories of being lonely and seeing his parents fight, at least briefly. But his addiction grew. Over time he also experimented with LSD and cocaine, all while struggling with school and relationships.
By his early 20s, Marlin was a husband and father straining to keep his family together.
“Nobody wanted me around,” says Marlin.
At one point, Marlin lived with his uncle, the only person left who would drink with him. Then his uncle’s tragic death left him feeling even more alone.
Marlin lost interest in alcohol when he discovered a new outlet: meth.
“I thought it was like a gift from God, some sort of magical potion that cured everything,” says Marlin.
Soon, he was regularly using and selling meth. New friends flocked to him when he had a bag of it in his pocket. He felt accepted and significant knowing people wanted him around.
“I felt like I was good at selling drugs and fixing cars,” adds Marlin. “Those are about the only two things that I ever excelled at.”
Marlin’s lifestyle led to several felony drug charges, jail stints, and finally prison.
Sometimes he attended Bible studies in jail, because they were co-ed, but he mostly wanted to socialize. At every meeting, he also was reminded of the Jesus he heard about as a child in church.
Marlin had always had faith, but he had no idea that that same Jesus had a purpose for his life.
“I believed for a significant amount of time that God created me to be an example of what people shouldn’t be,” says Marlin.
Marlin had always had faith, but he had no idea that Jesus had a purpose for his life.
A HOPELESS CYCLE
In 2007, after another prison stint, Marlin tried to move forward. He joined a long-term recovery program, Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and volunteered at church. He made sure his kids attended youth group.
But beneath the surface, Marlin was living in pain and isolation. He struggled being a full-time dad without a steady job. His children’s mother relapsed after several years of sobriety. His own father was terminally ill. Life only seemed to get darker, and Marlin blamed God.
“I was doing all the things that I felt, in my mind, God should have been blessing me for,” says Marlin. “So, I turned my back on Him and decided that life was easier when I was numb and high.”
When the allure of Marlin’s old ways returned, he dove headlong into using and selling meth again. Meth deadened the pain, but it also robbed Marlin’s joy. He felt self-hatred and little else.
After a decade living free, Marlin was arrested and headed back to prison.
"God put this burden on my heart to be a path paver instead of a stumbling block maker."
MARLIN’S MIND SHIFT
Marlin entered Minnesota Correctional Facility asking, “God, where are you?”
It didn’t take long for him to get the answer: Though Marlin had been running for a long time, God had never turned His back on him.
Soon, Marlin enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy® at Lino Lakes, a yearlong life-transformation program he had joined during a previous sentence but never finished.
The Academy guides incarcerated men and women on a journey to transformation in the context of a supportive community. Using holistic curriculum and compassionate coaches, the Academy enables participants to examine their worldview and replace criminal thinking with renewed purpose.
Away from the distractions of the world, Marlin found space to focus on his relationship with God.
“I read where Paul says in Philippians to be content in everything,” Marlin remembers. “I was content in knowing that I was in relationship with Christ. He was working in my heart. If that’s the place I had to be to hear Him and be in relationship with Him, then I was content with that.”
Marlin practiced biblically based life principles like integrity and responsibility and discovered a peace he’d never known. Of all the Academy’s benefits, Marlin appreciated the people most. After graduation, he stayed on as a clerk and continued to absorb the wisdom of others.
“It was the relationships with the staff and the one-to-one conversations,” says Marlin. “We had mentors and volunteers that would come in. Having a sounding board to help me process what I was learning was so helpful and necessary.”
The Academy ignited in Marlin the desire to do more—to be a more devoted father, to live as a productive citizen and good neighbor. Finally, he began to see his God-given purpose in serving others.
“God put this burden on my heart to come out and be successful,” says Marlin, “to be a path paver instead of a stumbling block maker, which I had been for most of my life.”
The Academy ignited in Marlin the desire to do more—to be a more devoted father, to live as a productive citizen and good neighbor.
A LIFE OF PURPOSE
When Marlin was released in 2018, he was desperate for support in recovery and reentry. He went from the prison gates to the front door of Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. His first job was a paid internship with their outreach department.
From there, Marlin joined FreedomWorks, a faith-based reentry organization founded to help Academy graduates transition to life on the outside. He served as program manager of a 163-bed facility in North Minneapolis and led Celebrate Recovery (CR) meetings every week.
Marlin says CR still encourages him in his own walk, which still has a fair share of bumps. Now, Marlin knows his identity and hope come from Jesus.
And Marlin knows that hope does not disappoint. One of his greatest regrets was hurting his children, and now, their reconciled relationship is a treasured gift. He has even reconnected with his oldest son, who was uniquely affected by Marlin’s past choices.
Marlin now serves as director of reentry services at Damascus Way, which helps provide housing and support to people in reentry or substance abuse recovery. He also advocates for policy change in the justice system.
“I was an auto mechanic and a drug dealer for most of my life, and now I’m managing a budget and supervising people,” says Marlin. “God equips me to continue to do the work.”
Today, Marlin is more than eight years sober and lives in Minneapolis with his wife Erin. He has six children and six grandchildren. It’s been several years since he graduated from the Academy, and Marlin still strives to live by the Values of Good Citizenship daily. His passion is to help others to do the same.
In community, Marlin has found a safe place to serve, to grow, and to move through grief and other challenges.
“God just takes what the world would throw away and turns it into something beautiful and meaningful.”
FINDING TRUE FREEDOM
When he isn’t spending time with others, Marlin still loves to drive his motorcycle. In some ways, those rides mean more to him now than ever before.
“It is freeing,” he says. “When you've spent a number of years incarcerated and you're able to get away from there, and it’s almost like a form of therapy, in a way.”
Once a man who coped with life by numbing out, Marlin is finally living free—and nothing compares to the feeling of knowing Christ.
In community, Marlin has found a safe place to serve and grow.