The whole neighborhood was afraid of him and he felt like a god. Then everything changed.
Marek Sidło grew up in the Niebuszewo district of Szczecin, a city in northwestern Poland. His childhood was not the easiest. His father was addicted to alcohol and the family’s financial situation was difficult. Due to the lack of prospects, Marek’s mother went to Czechoslovakia.
“Dad spent all the money on alcohol. There were days when we were hungry. Then, the robberies started. He would come home and say, ‘God my Lord, I will only break one commandment: Thou shalt not steal,'” Marek recalls.
As a child, he attended church and prayed the Rosary. Over time, however, he stopped believing in goodness and in the existence of God. Still, “I associated the altar with a sense of security,” he explains in an interview with Aleteia.
When he was returning from Sunday Mass one day, he met his friends in front of the block where he lived. They asked where he was coming from and he answered that he was coming from church. They were surprised and burst out laughing. Marek was embarrassed. He promised himself that he would return to church later, but for the time being he would abandon his religious practice.
Marek’s father was drinking more and more, often not even buying the basics they needed. Sometimes he beat his son. One day Marek stopped turning the other cheek. “I hit him when I was 18. I had a great hatred for him. Alcohol was my god. By then, I was already extremely addicted to various stimulants,” says Marek. But the worst was yet to come.
The whole neighborhood was afraid of him. He became the king of the “juma” (criminals who crossed the border into Germany to steal high-value goods and smuggle them back into Poland) in the neighborhood.
He sold stolen goods at the municipal market, where he had several stalls. He was making good money through his crimes. He bought a car, and even hired a personal driver. He reacted to stress caused by his lifestyle through fights and getting high. “My life was a big void. I was running away from myself. I loved animals, but I became aggressive with my dog; I used to kick it and had no control over what I was doing,” he says.
When someone told him to his face that he had changed, he would cut off contact with them. The rest of his friends looked up to him as a leader. One of the friends who stole for him called him “god.” “God’s bad, I’m good,” he used to say in reply. Business was booming, and he started using more powerful drugs. “I became a terrible materialist, a thief, a smuggler, and then … a murderer,” Marek explains.
From bad to worse
His colleagues used to tell him he was good and empathetic, but he was spiraling into more and more violence. One day he went to one of his debtors to collect money. He set fire to him for fun and then extinguished his flaming clothes. When his in-laws wanted to borrow money from him, he told them where they could steal it.
Marek’s involvement in the juma continued for 10 years. He kept crossing the German border and stealing. He even created a special group that specialized in this and enlisted his friends and acquaintances in its ranks. On the way back to Poland during one of these trips, a car accident occurred. Marek miraculously survived, thanks to the driver who revived him. He recovered from his injuries and got back on his feet. It seemed to him as if he were the king of life whom no one and nothing could threaten.
When he found out that one of his friends was having an affair with his then-wife, he went crazy. He drank and took drugs to forget the humiliation. “I was furious and wanted to kill myself,” he says. Overwhelmed by stimulants, he decided to kill his wife’s lover.
He took a knife and left his house in search of Marcin, the friend who had betrayed him. On the way, he met some acquaintances. Among them was Marek’s close friend, also named Marcin. The young man was walking with the group and joking. Marek, hearing the laughter behind his back, became even more aggressive. He could feel the hatred growing inside him.
“In this frenzy, I thought they were laughing at me. I also remember one of my friends shouting that they had to run away, because I was coming for them,” he recalls. Everyone else ran away, but Marcin stayed, wanting to calm down his friend. Marek put his arm around the man’s neck as if to hug him, and plunged the knife into his heart. As he died, Marcin forgave Marek. “(He) wasn’t supposed to die,” Marek admits today. “He had always been a good, smiling, pious man,” he adds. When Marcin died, he forgave the one who hurt him, showing him mercy.
Twelve years for murder, and a confession
Marek murdered his friend on July 26, the exact day of his mother’s, and his friend’s mother’s, saint’s day. He was charged and sent to prison with a 12-year sentence. He was harassed and taunted along with the other newly-arrived prisoners.
Marek thought the only form of defense against these bullies would be to fight, and to kill one of the worst bullies. He wanted to be a hero. He even got a plastic knife and sharpened it so he could defend himself during the attack. He kept becoming more aggressive. Then one day, for some reason, he decided to open the Bible.
There, he found a significant passage: “The poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him …” (Ps 34:6). He began to wonder who he had become, and he looked back honestly and clearly on his life up to that point. He promised himself that he would go to confession, and that was the turning point in his life.
He fell to his knees before the priest, looked at the crucifix, and confessed his sins. After the priest’s words, “And I forgive you your sins,” Marek looked Jesus straight in the eye and began to weep. He returned to his cell and thought intensely about his life. He felt in his heart that God really loved him and had always been there for him.
Revenge for the affair
His wife’s lover was soon sent to Nowogard prison, where Marek was being held. Marek wanted revenge, but the priest told him to pray for him instead. “Then I realized that he was a young man whom I had ordered to drive and steal together with my wife, and to drink alcohol. I realized that I was guilty of who he was, and that I had hurt him,” Marek recalls.
The men would cross paths in the visiting room without making contact, but one day they finally stopped to talk. “God did it. I asked him if we could talk. He apologized to me, and he was shaking with nerves. In the end, it was I who told him I was sorry,” says Marek.
After a few years, they met again. “Marcin apologized to me because he was under the influence of alcohol, and he asked me to talk. Then he said that what I told him in prison was true, that I had changed,” he emphasizes.
“Nothing is impossible for God.”
Marek decided to be a different man. Friends told him he was crazy; they didn’t believe in his transformation.
He finished school and became an addiction therapist. He worked in the “Tulip” foundation, which helps ex-convicts. Recently, he started working with the “Oficyna” Association and is an addiction therapy instructor. He visits prisons and juvenile detention centers and gives his testimony. He spends time with the men with whom he was in prison. He has also worked in a hospice. “For God, nothing is impossible,” Marek says.
Years later, Marek forgave his deceased father. “With God, curses become blessings. The real hero in my life is Jesus Christ, and the strongest person isn’t the one with the biggest muscles, but the one who folds his hands in prayer,” he explains.
From Fatima to Lourdes
Marek also works for the “Dobrego Łotra” (“Good Thief”) foundation, whose patron saint is St. Dismas. He’s a member of the Divine Mercy Pilgrims community. A few years ago, he made a pilgrimage from Fatima to Lourdes; in total, he walked more than 1,800 miles.
Miracles happened along the way. “The Holy Spirit told me that I would be on this pilgrimage for 40 days. And, in fact, after 40 days, my shoes were stolen in Paris. From there, I went with two friends to a place near Paris, to the Sisters of Nazareth. I started to worry about how I was going to get back home because I had little money left. I didn’t know if it would be enough for a ticket,” recalls Marek.
Conversion is a daily struggle
He started to have doubts and worries. Suddenly, he realized that he’d walked more than 600 miles and that his fears were unfounded.
“I went to church and gave it all to God. When I came out of Mass, a nun came up to me and told me that she had found me a sponsor. She told me to go and thank him because he’d bought me a ticket,” Marek explains.
It turned out that the ticket was bought by Mr. Hieronim, an 89-year-old Pole living in France. The old man also handed Marek 200 euros and thanked him for meeting him on his way. “I was surprised because I came to thank him and he thanked me, too.”
“This situation made me think that wherever God is, there will be two people thanking each other,” says Marek. He adds, “Conversion is a daily struggle with yourself, with sensuality, with the temptations of the body, but the experience of God’s presence in life builds my humanity and shows me what is most important.”