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Citizen Mark: The Best-Known Man You Never Knew

The tumultuous life and ultimate redemption of Mark Seeley

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Christmas was in the air, but there was little peace on Earth for Mark Seeley.

The call to 911 from a downtown Boise merchant stated that a man--Seeley--was causing a disturbance in a woman's clothing store, and owners wanted him out. Seeley later told police that he went into the store to offer to wash some windows, but the store owner thought he was panhandling. In either case, things weren't going well.

"I remember Mark being really loud, almost incoherent," said Boise Police Lt. Tony Plott, recalling the Dec. 15, 1994, incident, which attracted more than its share of Christmas shoppers.

To de-escalate the conflict, Plott said his primary objective was to have Seeley voluntarily leave the store, otherwise, the merchant could press charges. But Seeley was having none of it.

"I came up behind him," Plott said. "The easiest hold for me was to grab him around the chest and shoulder area. Otherwise, he could have taken a swing and I could have caught a punch."

Things went downhill: Seeley was put into a headlock, handcuffed and transported to the Ada County lockup, where he was booked on a charge of disturbing the peace.

Christmas defined much of Seeley's tumultuous life, starting with being born on Dec. 26, 1960. Some Christmases were better than others--he asked the love of his life to marry him on Christmas Eve 2006--but as a young man, he spent most of his holidays haunted by the loss of his father, John, killed in a 1966 helicopter crash in Vietnam.

In between the ugliness of his 1994 arrest--just one in a string of run-ins with Boise police--and when he passed away a few days after Christmas 2012, Seeley's widow, community leaders and even Boise police all agreed that they had come to know and love a man whose life would not soon be forgotten.

In spite of his diagnosis of severe bipolar disorder, Seeley became an author, advocate for the disabled, homeless and veterans, and even a candidate for the Boise City Council.

Many citizens say they knew something about the man, but most didn't know it all.

A Father's Son

"My father's voice went silent when I was 5 years old," Seeley wrote in 2008.

Long before he began writing about his father--a practice he didn't start until into his 40s--Seeley dreamed of being a newspaper writer, preferably writing about politics or sports. He even claimed his own publication, The Seeley Tribune, at the age of 11.

"I think this picture was taken when he first began writing," his widow, Laura Seeley, told BW, pointing to a glossy black and white photo of a bleach-blond kid wearing a "PRESS" hat with a No. 2 pencil tucked behind his right ear. "Word got around to the local little league that Mark was such a good writer so they asked him to write for the Tri-City Scoop in Rockland, Calif. He was paid $12 a week."

But baseballs were put up on the shelf one early summer morning when two military officers came to the door to tell Alice Seeley that she was a widow; the CH-47 her husband was co-piloting in Vietnam had crashed.

"Every few weeks I would close the door to my room and wet my pillow with my tears, looking at a favorite photo of him and crying," Seeley later remembered in a book he wrote about his father. "The memory of that final hug goodbye would pierce its way through my weakened defenses and leave me sobbing uncontrollably."

Seeley grew up too fast. As a 17-year-old, and still receiving a monthly payment from the Veterans Administration, he spent a lot of time at a local Denny's restaurant, hanging out with grown-ups, getting a taste for cigarettes and coffee.

Ultimately, Seeley's mother moved her family back to Boise, her hometown.

Laura

"We met when we were both students at Boise State; it was in the Morrison Hall dormitory," said Laura Seeley. "I was Laura Aldous back then. It was the fall semester of 1982. I was studying information science and, of course, Mark was studying journalism. He eventually changed his major to political science."

Laura said she and Seeley just "clicked;" nothing romantic, but they were really good friends. They would sit in the lobby of their dormitory and talk the night away.

"We were just pals," Laura said.

But their relationship was put on hold--for 22 years.

"I left Boise State after that semester back in 1982 and didn't come back," Laura said. "We lost touch."

That is until 2004, when Laura walked into a Boise Walmart to buy some roof sealant. She stepped up to the hardware counter and saw a familiar face, albeit two decades older.

"I said, 'You don't remember me, do you?' He said, 'I sure do. Remember Morrison Hall?'" Laura said. "It was quite a story. By then, I had been married and divorced and Mark had never married."

But in the 22 years between their first encounter and their Walmart reunion, Seeley had drifted across the West, working as a ski lift operator, cashier, trash collector and room service waiter. He looked back on the years as what he called a "tsunami of bad luck, karma, circumstance or just whatever-the-hell-it-is that rules fate in people's lives."

In early 1994, Seeley's still-undiagnosed mental illness was raging, and even though he sought out some personal counseling, he had a major falling out with his mother. She went as far as placing a restraining order against her son.

"I was instantly homeless with $3.17 to my name," he wrote years later. "Why I remember that exact amount, I do not know."

Seeley slept on the streets of Boise, spending occasional nights in shelters, including Community House (now the River of Life men's shelter), which had opened in November 1994.

It was also in 1994 that Seeley first walked into Boise Weekly. He began writing letters to the editor about homelessness and editors encouraged him to become a semi-regular columnist--which he did for the next 13 years--writing often about Boise's homeless, and even more often about veterans.

But his own demons continued to haunt him. Seeley later admitted that he often thought of killing himself by jumping from an overpass onto a Boise freeway, "So I would kiss a trucker's windshield and die that way instead of splatting like a tomato on the freeway pavement." He survived, hour to hour, day to day, by asking for odd jobs at downtown businesses.

That's when he walked into a woman's clothing store at Boise's Eighth and Main streets in December 1994, leading to a three-day stint at the Ada County Jail and triggering a bone-deep hatred for the Boise Police Department.

An Arresting Personality

"Yeah, that's when I first met Mark," Plott recalled of the arrest at the downtown store. "And from that day forward, I saw him quite often over the next several years, getting in trouble or having run-ins with other officers."

The worst of it occurred shortly thereafter.

"I heard both sides of that story," said Plott, referring to an incident that occurred just days following Seeley's arrest at the clothing store. "But one thing was clear. After the incident at the Community House, he didn't have any use for police."

There are conflicting reports of what exactly happened that December night at Community House, but all sides agreed that there was indeed a disturbance at the homeless shelter and again, Seeley was asked to leave the premises. In a scuffle between Seeley and police, one officer was knocked to the ground, suffering a knee injury that later required surgery. Throughout the melee, Seeley continued to refer to his father.

"My father did not die in Vietnam so that you could call me a piece of shit," Seeley said he shouted at police. He also admitted to kicking out the plastic divider between the front and back seats of a police cruiser.

Seeley's recollection of the story was being arrested, being called "a piece of shit" and the memory of his father being disrespected by a police officer. The arresting officer has since died.

"But there was some reason to believe that the officer--who was also a veteran--asked Seeley, 'What do you think your father would have thought of you acting like this?''" said Boise Chief of Police Mike Masterson, who joined the Boise Police Department 10 years after the incident. "But in retrospect, it really doesn't matter. Mark perceived the police as his enemy and he was hostile to us for years after that."

Plott said he tried to develop a rapport with Seeley, but with little success.

"Mark started making some threats to the department. He would say things like 'I'd like to take one out,' and believe me, he wasn't talking about a date," said Plott. "I wasn't really sure which way to go with this. I just knew that something had happened to Mark and I was beginning to understand how much his dad meant to him."

A dangerous dance between agitator and law enforcement continued for more than a decade--some years were better than others--but Seeley's relationship with the police department was rocky at best.

the $18 guy

A ray of hope came back into Seeley's life Nov. 6, 2004, the day Laura wandered into the State Street Walmart, where he had recently been hired as a hardware clerk.

"I remember it like it was yesterday. That night, we went to the Sockeye Grill, where you could still smoke at the time," Laura said. "Mark smoked two packs a day, I still smoke about a pack a day. We went to a hockey game after that, and the next time it was a movie. We dated for about two years."

But Laura was more than Seeley's girlfriend. She became his advocate and partner. She also helped Seeley run one of the most unique political campaigns in Boise history. Seeley decided to challenge then-incumbent Boise City Councilman Vern Bisterfeldt in the November 2005 general election.

"I was his treasurer. I helped him manage the entire campaign fund, which totaled $18.43," Laura said. "Do you remember back then? Mark was known as the $18 Guy."

Seeley's campaign platform had one big plank: advocating for Boise's homeless community.

"He picked up a coffee mug one day and he looked at the saying, 'Be the change you want to see,'" Laura recalled. "And he said, 'I can't sit here. I've got to do something.' People would hand him a few cents here, a dollar there for his campaign, and that totaled $18.43."