mark watson

This university dropout turned his life around in prison. He’s now working on his PhD

Mark Watson was wished by Halifax police for a string of thefts and robberies in early 2008 when he informed some relations that he would flip himself in, on one situation.

“I stated, ‘If Justin — my cousin — brings me to this crack home that I learn about, let me get excessive another time after which I promise you, I am going to allow you to take me to the police station after that,'” stated Watson.

On the police station, Watson, then 23, was arrested by a classmate from highschool.

“I mainly thought my life was over at that time,” he stated.

That fateful day was the end result of years of battling drug habit and committing crimes to help his behavior, however Watson’s prediction was fallacious.

Watson on the Atlantic Insitution maximum-security jail in Renous, N.B., in early 2009, left, and early 2010. He was solely allowed out of his cell through the day if he labored or went to highschool. He selected faculty. (Submitted by Mark Watson)

He spent nearly three years incarcerated, however since his launch in 2010 from the Atlantic Establishment, a most safety jail in Renous, N.B., he is earned a neighborhood school diploma, an engineering diploma, a grasp’s diploma and is now engaged on his PhD in electrical engineering.

Watson works full-time as an embedded techniques engineer and teaches part-time at Dalhousie College in Halifax, a college he dropped out of a number of instances. Dalhousie was even the situation of one of many crimes that led to his incarceration.

A drug-fuelled crime spree

The incident was written about within the Feb. 21, 2008, version of the Dalhousie pupil newspaper, The Gazette. In line with the article, the sufferer was strolling via the campus on Feb. 12, 2008, round 9:30 p.m. AT when somebody tugged on his laptop computer bag and demanded it. The robber had a knife and the coed complied.

“Police reported 4 related robberies inside two days that week,” stated the article. “All of these victims reported matching suspect and getaway automobile descriptions — a white male in his 20s, about 180 kilos and almost six ft tall, fleeing in a beige four-door automobile.”

Earlier than Watson was arrested on Feb. 15, 2008, a Halifax Regional Police spokesperson made a prescient remark to The Gazette.

“Normally when there is a string of robberies like that, they stem from an habit,” the spokesperson stated.

On April 28, 2008, Watson was sentenced for 2 thefts, 4 robberies and two break and enters. He was sentenced to 37 months in jail.

How the difficulty began

Watson stated his struggles started in Grade 10 when he began hanging out with a brand new crowd. An solely baby, he stated he all the time longed for acceptance from his friends. He remembers making a aware resolution to “underperform” at lecturers — he thought his new buddies would take a look at him in another way if he did nicely.

Watson skipped courses, smoked pot and took capsules comparable to Valium, bought medicine and stole from fellow college students. He was expelled in each his Grade 10 and 11 years at Sir John A . Macdonald Excessive Faculty — now referred to as Bay View Excessive Faculty — in Higher Tantallon, N.S.

The varsity’s vice principal for a part of that time was Jeff Lewis. Watson stated Lewis expelled him on not less than one of many events.

prison drawing
It is a drawing Watson did of his cell on the Atlantic Establishment. (Robert Brief/CBC)

“That broke my coronary heart,” stated Lewis. “That was the very last thing I wished to do at the moment for him.”

Lewis spent nearly three a long time in schooling earlier than retiring earlier this 12 months.

“I actually assume that we’re getting higher in schooling at seeing the essence of what that child can grow to be, as a substitute of creating up our minds about who they’re simply due to the circumstances that they are in on the time,” he stated.

A vice principal’s message

Lewis stated when college students have been struggling academically, he’d typically discuss to them and will shortly decide what they have been able to, slightly than what their grades stated.

He stated he had mature conversations with Watson and will inform he had “higher-level considering talents.”

“Once I labored with mother and father and college students in disaster at highschool, I might all the time say to them, ‘Pay attention, your baby has the essence of no matter it’s to do nice issues, and our job is to proceed to imagine that and never let up on the concept that that baby has potential,” stated Lewis, who later wrote a reference letter to assist Watson get into college.

“And simply because they are going via what they are going via as we speak simply does not imply that 15 years down the highway, issues aren’t going to look an entire lot totally different.'”

mark watson and his parents
Watson is proven along with his mother and father, Bernard James Watson and Roz Watson, in December 2010. This was the primary time he noticed his mother and father since he was launched from the Atlantic Establishment. (Submitted by Mark Watson)

For his Grade 12 12 months, Watson pulled issues collectively. He credit his first relationship, a woman he was with for a few years, for serving to preserve him keep on observe. His grades confirmed drastic enchancment and netted him an award for many improved pupil.

After Watson graduated highschool in 2003, he enrolled at Saint Mary’s College in Halifax. By the top of his first 12 months, his relationship was over. He began utilizing cocaine.

The subsequent few years had recurring patterns: combating drug habit, going to highschool and dropping out of college — with Watson bouncing backwards and forwards between going to Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie — and dealing in building when he wasn’t at school.

‘The start of the top’

In the summertime of 2007, Watson enlisted within the reserves. Away from house for a number of months, he cleaned himself up and was feeling nice. He once more enrolled at Saint Mary’s.

“I got here house on the finish of summer season and I obtained proper again into my previous methods with cocaine,” he stated. “And ultimately, I attempted crack for the primary time and that was type of the start of the top for me.”

Homeless for a time, he’d sleep within the staircase of an house constructing in Fairview, N.S. He’d rob individuals and steal to pay for medicine. In February 2008, he was apprehended after the Dalhousie incident and incarcerated on the Burnside jail.

Watson’s mother, Roz, vividly remembers visiting him there. The person in entrance of her wasn’t the kind-hearted child who would rescue flies and spiders from their home and place them exterior.

“I keep in mind driving again house on the Bedford Freeway and simply praying to God. I used to be like, ‘Take my life proper at this level or no matter,’ if it means placing him heading in the right direction,” she stated.

Watson additionally hung out on the Springhill jail, a medium-security facility close to Amherst, N.S., however was despatched to Renous, N.B., in July 2009 after he was suspected of being concerned in a violent jail incident.

Whereas he was within the maximum-security jail, Watson was confined to his cell through the day. But when he labored or went to highschool, he’d have the ability to get out of his cell, so he selected faculty.

Discovering solace in calculus

On the primary day of sophistication, the instructor seen Watson had a flair for math and gave him a calculus textbook. Watson nonetheless has the e book, which has the phrases “Atlantic Insitution Faculty. Renous, N.B.” stamped on it.

Jail life wasn’t clean for Watson. He typically obtained into fights and can be positioned in solitary confinement for weeks at a time. Every time in segregation would start with him not having any of his private possessions with him. After a day or two, he’d be given his belongings.

“I used to be all the time wanting ahead to getting my math textbook … greater than the rest,” stated Watson.

His relationship along with his mother and father was fractured.

“They have been just about at their wit’s finish,” he stated. “They have been nonetheless accepting my cellphone calls although.”

Watson nonetheless has the calculus textbook a instructor gave him on the Atlantic Establishment. The textbook helped change his life. (Robert Brief/CBC)

Watson made the choice in Might 2010 to remain in solitary confinement so he would not get in any extra hassle.

Obsessive about math, Watson would examine in his cell. His dad, Bernard James Watson, would reduce up textbooks for different topics and mail him the pages to make use of for classes on chemistry and physics.

Watson apologized to his mother and father for what he put them via over time and vowed he was going to place his life again collectively.

What the parole board stated

A parole board doc famous Watson’s behaviour modified as soon as he completely moved to solitary confinement.

“File info signifies that you’ve got made some admirable adjustments in your behaviour, perspective, motivation and dedication to vary,” it stated.

“Actually, it seems that you’ve got adopted a complete (sic) totally different character. You have got not too long ago positioned a variety of power in your launch plan and have expressed regret on your victims.”

Watson obtained out of jail in late 2010, lived in a midway home in Saint John, N.B., and resumed working in building. He instantly met a lady with a four-year-old son; the couple married in February 2011.

Whereas Watson wished to go to college to review math, he did not assume that will enable him to assist present for his household. His spouse, Janelle, steered he as a substitute get an engineering diploma from New Brunswick Group School. He cherished this system and graduated on the high of his class, however stated the content material was simply “scratching on the floor.” He wished to dig deeper.

Rejected by Dalhousie

Watson utilized to the engineering program at Dalhousie, the positioning of a lot of his life’s missteps. He was turned down.

“I used to be heartbroken,” stated Watson.

However Watson’s dad had an in. A repairman with Sears, certainly one of his shoppers was the then-president at Dalhousie. Watson stated his dad made a plea to him and the choice was overturned. He began the engineering program within the 2013-14 tutorial 12 months.

The subsequent few years for Watson have been a mixture of faculty and an ever-growing household. With Janelle commonly taking maternity leaves, cash was tight. They moved in with Watson’s mother and father on a few events, dwelling of their basement.

“I used to be 30 years previous with three youngsters and dwelling in my mother and father basement. I felt like a failure,” he stated. (He and Janelle now have 5 youngsters.)

mark watson
Watson is proven on this picture from the 2013-14 tutorial 12 months at Dalhousie College throughout his first 12 months of engineering. He was initially denied admission however his father made a private enchantment to the college’s president. (Submitted by Mark Watson)

By 2017, Watson was almost executed his diploma, however he was dealt a significant blow. His father was recognized with renal most cancers. Roz Watson stated when her husband obtained the prognosis from docs, he targeted on one factor.

“His first query was, ‘Do you assume I am going to make it till April or Might when my son graduates?’ That is all he cared about,” she stated.

“He by no means as soon as complained about his destiny or the truth that he was dying. Nevertheless it bothered him that a lot that he was not going to be there to see Mark graduate. That was his important concern. That was unhappy.”

Bernard James Watson died in December 2017.

bernard james watson mark watson
Watson and his dad at a Dalhousie occasion in early 2017. His father was quickly recognized with most cancers and did not stay to see his son graduate from college. (Submitted by Mark Watson)

Through the roughest elements of his teenage years and early 20s, Watson’s dad all the time informed him he was able to extra and wanted to use himself. He additionally inspired him to go to highschool.

“Though I gave up on myself and I gave up on my future, there was all the time that concept behind my head that I might do extra and that was due to him,” stated Watson.

Bernard James Watson wouldn’t get to see his son graduate from college on the high of his class. He additionally missed out on Watson working with a satellite tv for pc communications firm as an embedded techniques engineer, in addition to Watson beginning an engineering PhD and instructing part-time at Dalhousie.

“He did not find yourself attending to see how this story ended,” stated Watson.

Roz Watson stated when her husband died, he knew his son was on the proper path.

mark watson s family
Watson is proven along with his spouse, Janelle, and their 5 youngsters. This picture was taken in 2020. (Submitted by Mark Watson)

“We’re simply so grateful that in the long term he did select the proper strategy to go along with his life,” she stated.

Tabitha Bainbridge taught Watson in highschool. Regardless of his struggles, she was optimistic he’d flip his life round. What gave her religion was he was vivid, compassionate and he’d stick up for different individuals. She stated if somebody was late to class, he’d be the primary to assist the individual stand up to hurry.

‘The overcoming does outline who he’s,’ says former instructor

A instructor for nearly three a long time — all at Sir John A./Bay View — she’s saved in contact with Watson. She’d prefer to see him inform his story to college students.

“He has come to phrases with what he did and he realizes that it does not outline him, or not less than the unfavourable elements do not outline who he’s,” she stated. “The overcoming does outline who he’s.”

Mark Watson stated he informed his story within the hopes it will assist somebody who’s in a tough place or feels they are not reaching their potential.

Requested what he would inform somebody who was in an identical place to him, he stated: “You must go all in. You must reduce all ties to your previous and it’s a must to be 100 per cent dedicated. And for the lengthy haul, like, it is going to be a protracted highway and it takes that sustained constant effort.”


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