Trooper Mark Nytko usually patronizes the Alvarez in Cherry Valley. But since he lives in Roscoe, the new Alvarez there became an easy choice for our chat. I ordered pork tacos. Mark was decisive: chicken fajitas.
Hes just as confident about performing his job as an Illinois State policeman. This tall, fair, handsome man has serious eyes with a steadying effect.
When you stop people, are they respectful? I began.
Yes, very seldom do I have any problems with people.
Are you aggressive?
When I have to be. You have to know what youre dealing with. I do not take any disrespect from people. Im respectful to them; if they cross the line, then all bets are off.
Whats the most fulfilling crime-stopping you do?
Its hard to tell because its pretty much every day. Whether you stop a person with a gun in their car or whether you stop a drug dealer with a large amount of narcotics. Who knows? You think, well, maybe you saved someone today from using that stuff.
Do you get involved with their families?
Sometimes I probe try to find out their background, what kind of person they are, what kind of home they come from. Sometimes its so shocking when you call a parent: Can I call your mom to pick you up? They say, OK, go ahead, she wont care.
The parent often says, Cant you charge him with something so you can keep him overnight in jail? I look at this kid and think, no wonder this kid is here on the street.
Whats the solution? I asked.
It all boils down to family life, he said.
Mark knows about family. He was 16 when he arrived in Chicago on a September Thursday in 1974.
I was born in Poland, about 80 kilometers east of Krakow, he told me. I was brought up under Communism, but at home I knew better than what the officials at school said. Parents and grandparents told me different.
Mexican guitar music filled Alvarezs dining area, but I was captivated by the Polish accent, the surprising story unfolding. He paused briefly for a bite of sizzling chicken or bell pepper. But he was intent on continuing. He had important things to say.
When I was in school I listened to the version of history that this teacher had, totally opposite with what my parents and grandparents taught me, or (what) they went through. For instance, my grandfather was part of the underground fought the Nazis, he explained.
After the Polish army fell in World War II, when the Nazis invaded Poland, a lot of officers got captured by Communist Russians about 10,000 executed by Stalin, he continued. My grandfather was able to escape (but) somehow the Gestapo found out about their organization, he said.
Under some kind of torture, they were able to get all the names of all the conspirators from this one person, and overnight they rounded up 236 of them, including my grandfather, he continued. They arrested them and eventually transported them to Auschwitz. A few months later, my grandfather was executed there in Cell Block 13.
He asked me, I dont know if you have ever visited Auschwitz, but you should. I think everybody should.
How did that change you? I asked.
When youre a kid, you think everything is beautiful. Then you listen to adultsnot reading a book or watching a movie. I had an eyewitness.
His aunt survived three concentration camps.
What they did to them every day, how they made them stand out in 10 below zero, in an outfit like P.J.s and wooden shoes made them stand out there for 10 hours at a time, and they didnt care if they dropped dead. You were there basically to diethey didnt care, he said. I realized how evil people can be to one another, what one person can do to another.
This has affected how you do your job? I asked.
I understand when I come across a lot of people, and there are more and more people who are from former Communist countries. I can understand why theyre so distrusting of police, because I can still remember what the police over there were like.
Youre more forgiving?
Yes. I can relate to them, he said. I know why they are like that, because their life over there was hell, and the police there wasnt to protect them but to keep them in line.
Here, youre the good guy? I said.
He smiled. Yeah, I like to think so. And, This job doesnt pay much. You have to love this job you have to sacrifice but thats where dedication comes in. You have to remember why you took this job.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.