Like many couples, my wife and I settled in to watch a little television after dinner. Scrolling through the various Netflix offerings, she stopped on “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” The documentary chronicled an Australian man’s journey through the United States as he embarked on an intensive juice diet. Over one hundred pounds overweight, Joe Cross suffered from a debilitating autoimmune disease and had zero energy. His sedentary office job didn’t leave much time for working out. The guy was tired and out of shape. “How about this?” asked my wife.
Like Joe Cross, I too had a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Like Joe, I was tied to a desk throughout the day. Like Joe, I was often tired after work. Admittedly, I could lose a few pounds. A panic crept over me like a dark storm cloud. It slowly dawned on me. Was this a setup? Was my carefree fastfood lifestyle in jeopardy? A snackfood purge was now likely. Would I have time to hide the Oreos? What about Halloween candy? Would I even get my Cadbury Eggs next Easter? Sure enough, the next day I found myself trailing my wife out of a Bed, Bath & Beyond lugging a juicer. We were now one of those couples. We were juicing. There was no way denying it. We were hippies.
Surprisingly enough I got used to juicing and began embracing the idea. Each morning I would throw in an assortment of fruits and vegetables into our gleaming new blender. I had more energy. I no longer had the longing to take a nap at 2 PM. My urge for fastfood waned. I slept better. I actually found myself wanting the nutrition I gleaned from vegetables. It was an odd feeling. I was a steak and potatoes kind of guy. My idea of vegetables was ketchup. Fruits came in the form of Orange flavored soda. I began seeking out juice bars after court. I found that they were few and far between. In New Britain, I had to travel to West Hartford or Rocky Hill. Nothing was close. Thankfully, a little place opened up a few wingtipped steps from the courthouse.
The Sweetwater Juice Bar opened across the street from New Britain's City Hall. I stopped by Sweetwater after finishing up a case in New Britain Superior Court. The sounds of classic Fugees filled the colorful juice bar as I entered. The owners kids were behind the bar singing and bopping to the music. I glanced at a wall full of healthy choices with names like "Kale'n Em Softly", "Smooth Avocado" and "Buff Daddy" Sweetwater also offered paninis, wraps, salads and breakfast bowls. I was greeted by the friendly owner Mark Schand. "First time here?" he asked.
Mark is why I chose to write this article. I had noticed one of the drinks named after John & Linda Thompson. Partners in life and law, the Thompsons had fought a decades long battle to release a man from prison that was wrongfully convicted of murder. That man was Mark Schand. If there were wheels of justice, they had run over this man. In 1986, a young woman named Victoria Seymour was shot outside the After Five Lounge in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was an innocent bystander who found herself the fatal victim of a drug-related robbery. From the beginning, Mark Schand had proclaimed his innocence. His now wife testified that he was with her at her beauty salon in Hartford miles away. Despite the evidence, Schand was convicted and would spend the next 27 years in prison. Well, 26 years, 11 months and 25 days to be exact. Mark has the stats tatooed on his arm. He would watch his children grow from behind bars. His wife Mia would stand by him throughout the decades.
Schand made the most of his time behind bars. He took college classes. He maintained a garden. He sought out healthy foods. His devoted wife drove hours to visit him. Mia continued to remind their kids that their father was an innocent man. When new evidence emerged regarding the shooting, Hampden Superior Court Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder granted Schand's motion for a new trial. A witness recanted his identification of Schand. Others came forward stating he was not at the After Five that night. Centurion Ministries got involved. They work with lawyers to raise and disburse funds for falsely convicted defendants. The group located 5 additional witnesses that the prosecution or defense never interviewed. One witness testified that he thought he would get a break on his own breaking and entering case if he identified Schand as the shooter.
The day finally arrived. Mark walked out of a Springfield, Massachusetts court house as a free man. His charges were exonerated. His wife Mia took him out for lobster. He learned to use an i-Phone. He learned to drive again. In January 2018, he would start another chapter in his life. A dream deferred for almost 27 years. He was a business owner. He opened the doors to the Sweetwater Juice Bar.
If you are ever in New Britain, I encourage you to pay them a visit. You'll be glad you did.
You can find the Sweetwater Juice Bar & Deli at 60 W Main St, New Britain, CT