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‘The Castle’ depicts new lives of former inmates

Jules Becker | 11/29/2011, 6:09 p.m.
“The Castle” cast members (from l to r): Latanya Jones, Lonnie Farmer and Mark Gibson. Larry Buckley

After 25 years, Mark Gibson is returning to the theater in a play that mirrors his own transformation.

On Dec. 8, at Babson College’s Sorensen Center for the Arts in the Off-Broadway hit “The Castle,” the 42-year-old African American Bostonian will be playing the role of Ken Harrington, a nonviolent, ex-offender whose turn-around resembles his own. With the help of an area-based organization called Venturing Out — which is holding the staged reading as a benefit — Gibson has been able to move from an eight-month sentence for drug possession to a successful career as an entrepreneur. In fact, as the head of OnthaMark Productions, his own marketing and public relations company, Gibson has also become a busy mentor for local at-risk youth. Recently Gibson spoke to the Banner about his transformation and his on-going mentoring.

“There are a lot of parallels between Ken and me, “he offered. “Ken was in for nonviolent crime, and so was I.”

Gibson was able to turn things around thanks to SPAN, Inc., a Boston nonprofit corporation that helps people who have been in prison. Gibson gave particular thanks to the Boston office of Venturing Out, the nonprofit group that provided him with a concrete and practical approach to becoming a businessman. During the organization’s 12-week entrepreneur program, he “learned how to prepare invoices and create a business plan to take to a bank.” Gibson was such a good student that he was able to help those fellow trainees who were experiencing difficulties with the homework and specific demands of the program.

“I would give it (the program) an urban twist to help them out,” he explained. “I re-taught the course to help them understand.”

This kind of mentoring has blossomed into an on-going service to budding younger entrepreneurs. “It’s a way of paying it forward and giving back,” he observed.

At the beginning of this year, Gibson started an online T-shirt company called Boston Apparel with a 21-year-old business partner named Nelson Summers, who was put on probation for selling drugs.

At the same time, Gibson has been helping James Avenue, a 20-year-old local rapper who has developed a following of about 3,500 fans with such original numbers as “The Prelude.”

“I helped him (James) get out of the gang element,” Gibson said.

Gibson is also working with a new entrepreneur named Ariel, who was placed on probation for drug trafficking and has been creating a video production company.

“I like to consult,” Gibson admitted. “I’m a caretaker at heart. Most people at risk are into instant gratification, and I like to help them turn things around.” Mentoring has become as much of a passion for him as his own work. “I’ve been mentoring since I’ve been out,” he explained. “Anybody can do it if they have the determination and drive. I’m a good listener and a good caretaker.”

Gibson feels just as strongly about “The Castle” and its interwoven monologue structure. “I do like it (the monologue form) because the words are living,” he said. “Each character (Ken, as well as three other characters with similar stories) is going through a journey.”

As for the message of the play, he said, “I just want the audience to go away knowing that people can change.” Much like the “A”  for adulterer in the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel “The Scarlet Letter,” Gibson reflected, the CORE report and an ex-offender’s past “still linger like a scar. We’re constantly wearing that scar.”

Gibson is dedicating his performance Dec. 8 to Pastor Ruth Ann Darby, who saw him play Walter in “A Raisin in the Sun” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (where he studied psychology and theater for a time). She also encouraged him to be an actor.

Gibson’s own ventures continue to expand. Mark is shooting a documentary about inner city youth called “Was I Born This Way?” which he will be submitting to the American Black Film Festival next year.