This is the first chapter in a three-part series on Marlon’s story.
Marlon grew up on a farm in Sarnia, Ontario and spent much of his time in Port Huron, Michigan. He’s quick to point out that he never lived more than 20 minutes from the Blue Water Bridge over the St. Clair River, which serves as an international border between the U.S. and Canada.
“When I tell people that I’m originally from Canada, they’re all — ‘Canada! Ah, now that explains it,” he said. “‘That’s why Marlon’s so nice!’”
As an only child, Marlon was responsible for a good bit of cooking at home, but that’s something he enjoyed, so he wouldn’t call it “work.”
“I grew up cooking — I loved it,” Marlon beamed. “I used to cook for fun. I would cook for the church dinners. My mother and grandmother brought me to church and Sunday school.”
When Marlon gets on the topic of his mom, it’s clear to see his love for her.
“My mother had me at 16 and graduated from high school early,” he said. “[She] went on to get her degree in sociology. She was a caseworker. Then Detroit Edison, a coal facility, needed minorities that were women. My mother was the first woman heavy equipment operator for Detroit Edison. … She worked her way from the bottom, all the way up to management. … She was a black woman going from [down] here to a six-figure job. But she always told me, ‘no matter how we live, you’re no different than anyone else.’”
Marlon and his mother moved to the U.S. when she married his stepfather, an even more blessed individual when it came to finances. In Marlon’s words, the family was “really, really wealthy.” It allowed Marlon an opportunity to focus on something he loved: baseball.
His mother made sure he stayed down to earth, encouraging him to volunteer for Salvation Army and Adopt-A-Kid programs during the holidays. Giving back kept him humble, and the giving didn’t stop there.
“I was always giving away my Tonka toys as a kid because that’s what she taught me,” he said. “She would ask, ‘where are all your toys going?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh! Well, little Johnny has them, because he didn’t have any toys.’ … To this day, I have no real value on material things. They come and go.”
Swing for the Fences
When Marlon was growing up, baseball was his life.
He played center field most of the time, and his talent took him all over the country; even to Puerto Rico, as part of a travel league from ages 12 to 18.
When he graduated from Port Huron High School, Marlon was drafted in the 28th round to the Cincinnati Reds. Despite his talent, he “didn’t think he was ready for all that,” so Marlon went to the University of Missouri instead.
“I went to Missouri for three years and found the dark side of college sports,” he said. “I played centerfield the first and second year. Then I got injured and addicted to morphine.”
Marlon paused to add, “I rarely talk about baseball unless it’s to help someone. … Other than that, I’m going to tell you about my journey. That’s more important. Because my journey is all about God. That’s the most important thing to me.”
His stepfather’s family owned multiple companies, so Marlon always had easy work to do for good pay. By the time Marlon was in his twenties, he was managing underground sewage planning and other odd jobs. He was making good money and traveling often: from Vancouver to Los Angeles and everywhere in between. But by that point, it wasn’t about the money — it was about supporting a habit. His drug of choice was crack cocaine.
Shock and Awe
“When my mom got sick with cancer — first diagnosed in 2007, it came back in 2009 — they couldn’t do anything,” Marlon said. “I remember her last days. She’s on the bed, and I’m playing my guitar while she’s slowly passing away.”
For Marlon, losing his mother was earth-shattering. Marlon lost his moral compass and his habit began to take complete control.
“I fell further into my addiction and depression,” he said. “I did not want to live. … I was doing that much [drugs] to where it would have killed someone else, but it didn’t happen to me. … So then I got into drug-dealing.”
Marlon was eventually spending more than $50,000 a month on product to sell. His habit was at it’s peak, and such a criminal life only reinforced his desire to die. And his wish was nearly granted.
In 2010, Marlon was involved in a big drug deal gone wrong. While riding in a van doing 60 down the highway, a gun was held to his face. He had to make a quick choice, and chose to jump.
“The guy in front was like, ‘give us the money right now!’ And the last thing I remember was a silver gun right there,” he said. “I can’t tell you how or why I jumped out of that van at over sixty miles per hour.”
A Long Walk
The incident was reported in the Port Huron Times Herald, with a headline that read ‘Bloody man thrown from vehicle.’
At the crime scene, a bystander told reporters that “it looked like his head was dunked in a bucket of blood.” Marlon spent four days on life support, three months and 21 days in a coma and got 54 screws in his face. But he was alive.
Later, Marlon recounted a miraculous experience he had on the roadside that day.
“There was a lady who stopped for me,” he said. “I remember a lady caressing my head. She said, ‘Marlon, you’re going to be okay. God is with you. God will always be with you.’ It was so comforting. … I don’t know who this lady was, and her name wasn’t in the article. The detective said, ‘she didn’t want you to die alone.’”
Alone was exactly how Marlon felt in his heart. And after five months of rehabilitation in the hospital working hard and staying clean, he returned to his addiction. Not long after, Marlon was slapped with a felony drug warrant, got spooked and went on the run.
From Port Huron to Tempe, Arizona and out to Sacramento, California, Marlon was running from the consequences of his actions for three long years.
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