Throughout his life, Koch’s lead attorney has witnessed the devastating results of overcriminalization on the lives of others. Now he’s helping lead a broad coalition from across the political spectrum to do something about it.

Mark Holden’s Koch business card reads “General Counsel.” But his title could just as easily be “Bridge Builder.”

These days Mark is building bridges between traditional political opponents on both left and right. From senior members of President Barack Obama’s staff to Republican leaders in both houses of congress to community activists at the grassroots level, he is assembling a coalition to reform our broken, ineffective criminal justice system. And if you ever get the chance to sit down with him one on one, the first thing you’ll notice is the rapid-fire passion with which he argues his position.

Mark and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President of the United States

“The U.S. makes up just 5% of the world’s population, yet has 25% of the world’s prison population. One in three adults in this country have a criminal record. One in 100 are in prison. One in 14 children have a parent that’s incarcerated. If you’re African American, it’s one in nine. And children who grow up that way are much more likely, obviously, to have their own issues. There are as many people in this country with a criminal record as there are with a college degree. It’s really indefensible.”


Mark explains the roots of over criminalization.

Mark speaks with the conviction of a man on a mission. For more than 20 years he has lived in Kansas, yet his Worcester (which he pronounces “Wus-ta”), Massachusetts, accent still rings thick. It was in that working class hometown that he first experienced criminal justice issues, up close and personal.

“I’ve been immersed, in some way or another, with prison issues and criminal justice reform my whole life. I once worked as a janitor alongside guys on a work release crew. When I was at the University of Massachusetts, I worked in a prison during summer and winter breaks. I saw a lot of the kids that I’d lost track of in junior high and high school who had ended up behind bars,” Mark remembers.

“Yeah, there were some really bad people in there that need to be away from us. But I also saw a lot who were just really poor, really uneducated and being warehoused. I’m not saying they were victims, but once you are incarcerated, in this country particularly, it’s very difficult to resume a normal life when you get out. It made me realize, as they say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ The only difference really, between them and me, was my parents.”

Mark’s parents were strict. But, most importantly, they were involved. They stressed the importance of education and accountability.

“They kept me on the straight and narrow. I realize if it weren’t for them, I easily could have got caught in the system – anybody can. I mean, it’s just a matter of what you do, when you do it and who sees you.”

“We have a two-tiered society. And if you’re wealthy and connected, you get a much better deal than if you’re poor – particularly in our criminal justice system.”

After earning his law degree, Mark joined a Washington, D.C., law firm. He met his future wife at work, married her in 1990, and in 1995 answered a job opening for an in-house attorney at a company in the heart of Kansas called Koch Industries. Soon the Holden family, with two young children in tow, headed west.

“We settled in and had two more kids. And then, you know, life just went on and here we are,” Mark muses, smiling.

Throughout his career at Koch, Mark has seen firsthand the enormous power wielded by our criminal justice system, as well as the financial burden of defending oneself against it. He believes our system makes it extremely difficult for a poor person to defend themselves against charges or accusations.

“We have a two-tiered society. And if you’re wealthy and connected, you get a much better deal than if you’re poor – particularly in our criminal justice system. If you want to help people improve their lives and remove obstacles to opportunity for the least advantaged, and if you believe in individual liberty and freedom and justice, and you care about your community, and you have a moral passion, there’s no other position you can take other than being for criminal justice reform.”


Mark speaks about Koch's involvement in this issue.

Mark then delivers his closing argument.

“If we reform the system and we get it back to where it should be, going after real crimes, I believe that’ll make a better society for everyone. I’m a realist, I’m pragmatic. But I am optimistic that we can make some changes so we’re not just putting people away because they’re poor and uneducated. If we can reach them early and show them a positive path, it’ll make a difference. Every child wants to succeed and every child wants to be loved.”


Mark's thoughts on inmates returning to society.

It made me realize, as they say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”