Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion This Sept. 25 photo shows the word "Agony" spray-painted on a cement pylon beneath the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge in Kenai.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion This Sept. 25 photo shows the word "Agony" spray-painted on a cement pylon beneath the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge in Kenai.

Display of remorse follows display of agony

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct Massera’s plea. He plead guilty to a misdemeanor, not a felony.

A man who spray-painted the word “agony” throughout central Kenai has plead guilty to a criminal mischief charge and will be sentenced in mid-October.

Mark Massera, 33, was released from prison on Thanksgiving Day 2014. After acquiring five alcohol and vehicle-related misdemeanors since 2000, Massera had been convicted in July 2011 of a DUI and a class C felony: failure to stop at the direction of an officer. Among the harsh new experiences that incarceration and release brought him, Massera said one caused him particular pain: sobriety.

“Since I was about 11 years old I’ve dealt with drug-abuse problems, alcoholism,” Massera said. “Being clean, you really have to feel your feelings. For a guy who hasn’t done that in that in a long time, sometimes it’s tough. You don’t know how to do that.”

After leaving the enforced sobriety of prison, Massera said he tried to stay clean by attending aid programs and volunteering at Central Peninsula Hospital’s addiction center Serenity House, where he had previously been treated.

“I had been stumbling in recovery for over a year,” Massera said of the time before his sentence. “I went to jail, and I was faced with that decision again: I can either pick myself up, or I can get comfortable with this kind of lifestyle — the revolving door in and out of jail, becoming extremely institutionalized.”

In spring 2015 Massera spray-painted “agony” on several pieces of private and public property in Kenai.

“When I hit that spot where I picked up a can of spray paint, it started with me just doing art at home on canvas,” Massera said. “I was doing stencils and stuff like that, and I thought they looked really cool, and a lot of people loved them. At some point I strayed from just doing stuff on canvas… I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing. But at the time I just didn’t want to get high. So I chose — not a positive coping technique, but it was better than me going and using.”

When asked why he used the word “agony,” Massera said “there could be a million reasons. The big one was: I felt a lot of pain in my life at the time. It was kind of coping with a word.”

“In those moments looking back, I think I must have been so scared,” Massera said. “I didn’t want to lose my recovery — I was just acting on the extreme of that behavior, not thinking too much about consequences. Or really even looking at a bigger picture of ‘oh, this is somebody else’s stuff.’ A lot of the things I thought I was tagging were just concrete walls and stuff, and I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. But I think it was because I was stuck in my own little world.”

Massera said he didn’t recall how many structures he had painted during his “short-lived tagging career.” A probable cause statement presented in the case’s court file, signed by Kenai Police Inspector Paul Cushman, lists eight locations in Kenai that were spray-painted with the word “agony” and one with the word “norph.” These properties include a dumpster enclosure behind Louie’s Restaurant, a semi-trailer belonging to Weaver Brothers trucking company, and the underside of the Warren Ames Memorial bridge over the Kenai River. Kenai Parks and Recreation director Bob Frates made the first complaint to police on April 9 after discovering the “agony” graffiti on picnic shelters in Kenai’s city-owned park strip, according to Cushman’s statement.

“It sounds like such an immature, such a childish thing to do,” Massera said of his graffiti. “…When I got in trouble I had a lot of people tell me I was stupid, or ask me how old was I. There was something about it that I couldn’t explain, just in the experience of doing it. There was a release I was getting when I was doing it. I’m not saying it was right for me to do. It was just what I was doing at that moment.”

The statement shows that on May 6, troopers received an anonymous tip through the Kenai Peninsula Crime Stoppers Facebook page, which described Massera being seen in an area shortly before graffiti was found there. On May 7, Cushman went with probation officers on a search of Massera’s house, during which Cushman interviewed Massera. Cushman wrote in the statement that Massera denied involvement, but afterwards confessed when the search found artwork in the home resembling his “agony” and “norph” graffiti.

In Cushman’s May 7 statement, he wrote that three property owners had given estimates of the damage caused by Massera’s graffiti totalling $5,505. Management at Louie’s Restaurant declined to comment, and Frates of Kenai Parks and Recreation did not respond to requests for comment.

On May 18 Massera was charged with criminal mischief for damages over $750, a class C felony. Massera plead guilty to a class A misdemeanor in a hearing on Sept. 17, at which Judge Charles Huguelet also suspended a $1000 fine associated with the charge. Now Massera faces the possibility of a 20-day prison sentence, which may be commuted to community service when he is sentenced on Oct. 14.

Although Massera is legally barred from contacting the owners of the properties he painted, he was able to arrange through his lawyer to speak at a Kenai City Council Meeting on Sept. 16, at which he gave a public apology.

“Obviously, words only go so far, so I know I need to make a living amends,” Massera said to the council. “…As well as trying to clean up my wreckage, I know that there’s probably still some of that stuff (graffiti) out there. I know I still have a lot of legal stuff going on, but at the end of it, which will probably put me somewhere next spring or summer, I would like to volunteer, help clean it up, or help clean up something else as well.”

In a later interview. Massera said he had previously worked as an industrial painter in an oil field, and that this experience could be put to use for graffiti removal.

“I know how to take paint off, I know how to put it back on,” he said.

Released to a third-party custodian, Massera is continuing to work his current job at Bailey’s Furniture World in Soldotna while awaiting sentencing. Asked how he would respond to returning to prison, Massera said “all I can do is what I’m doing right now.”

“If I get put back in jail for a long time, I know they have (addiction support) meetings in there,” Massera said. “So I’ll just attend meetings. I’ll keep to myself, which might get lonely, but realistically — I’m dealing with my past right now.”

Massera said he is still following his interest in art and wants to work in several mediums, particularly tattooing — but not spray-paint.

“Just to be safe,” he said. “Last time it started innocent and didn’t end up so well. I just don’t want to repeat a mistake. That’s called insanity.”

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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