Pubdate: Thu, 24 Nov 2005
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2005 The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Author: Dan Rodricks
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Thanks to those who try to make life better for all of us by making 
life better for themselves. There are still too many homicides in 
Baltimore - though, at 242, not as many as the 259 last year at this 
time - and too many men and women addicted to heroin and cocaine. But 
there are people among us trying to get to a better place in their 
lives, away from the addictions that create the drug market that 
begets so much of the violence, and out of unemployment, crime and 
prison. We should praise and thank them for their efforts, against 
tough odds, because therein lies the progress of a city, a state and 
a nation - one man, one woman at a time.

Kenneth Johnson An East Baltimore resident, Johnson used heroin and 
was involved in its sale for many years. He did this while 
maintaining legitimate jobs, including one as a roofer. Arrested 
several times in the 1990s, he spent at least six of his 43 years 
behind bars for drug distribution.

When he first contacted The Sun in June, Johnson said he had been out 
of prison for several months, had stopped using drugs and wanted a 
job. Like many of the city's recovering addicts in their 40s, Johnson 
had a difficult time getting hired because of his background. But he 
expressed determination to stay off the streets. "I can't do that 
again," he said of prison. "I can't go back there."

A reader took an interest in Johnson and, through many telephone 
conversations, became something of a mentor to him. He helped Johnson 
connect with the Baltimore development company of Struever Bros. 
Eccles & Rouse. In late summer, company officials conducted four 
interviews with Johnson before giving him a position as a maintenance 
man at one of their many properties.

Johnson, who lives with his mother, has been on the job now for 
nearly two months. He goes to a regular meeting of others in recovery 
and keeps in weekly contact with the man who helped him land the job. 
"Things are going well," Johnson says. "And I'm back in touch with my 
family, my grandkids."

Craig Wright "You know what makes me feel normal?" Wright says. "Just 
going to the market, shopping for Thanksgiving, and coming home with 
groceries. It doesn't mean much to other people, but it does to me, 
more than ever."

Wright, 35, had sold drugs and used drugs for several years. He went 
to prison for it, the last time in the late 1990s. He got out in 2001 
and had a series of what he considered dead-end jobs. He enrolled in 
the STRIVE Baltimore program to get help as an ex-offender in the job 
hunt. In September, he and five other former drug dealers went to 
work for a company called TLC Excavation. They make $10 an hour as 
site laborers.

"It's the first job I've really been content with," says Wright, who 
praises the company for giving him and his co-workers a chance to 
prove themselves reliable. "I'm really thankful for the job. I'm 
thankful that I'm not out on the streets, rippin' and runnin', 
looking over my shoulder to see if the police are gonna lock me, or 
someone's gonna kill me. I wake up with peace of mind. And my mother 
is proud of me. She's not worried about whether her son is going to 
wind up in a grave or in prison."

The job with TLC came with a bonus for Wright - a co-worker 
introduced him to a woman named Tonya Carroll. They're an item now.

"Craig is a hard-working, focused man with goals and structure," 
Tonya Carroll wrote in a note to The Sun last week. "I was not 
looking for a relationship in all of this, but I must say I would not 
trade these wonderful days for nothing.

"We all wanted to say thank you. Mr. Tim and Ms. Linda, from TLC 
Construction, deserve a standing ovation for their commitment to 
these men. They pick them up for work. They provide structure, and 
they respect them as men. They treat them like family."

Gerald Patterson Since the summer day when he first contacted The 
Sun, Patterson landed and lost a job he liked at a supermarket 
warehouse in Southwest Baltimore. The position was great, Patterson 
declared in August, because it paid better than his former job at 
Jiffy Lube and provided medical benefits after 60 days. What he 
didn't know was that warehouse supervisors were clocking and scoring 
how fast he picked and loaded items for delivery. Apparently, 
Patterson didn't work fast enough; he was a couple of points short of 
a passing grade.

Told he could give it another try after a 10-day interval, Patterson 
has reapplied for the warehouse job.

In the meantime, he's working for his brother's new home improvement 
company; Patterson likes the work, thinks it might turn into something lasting.

At 37, Patterson was last incarcerated four years ago, and last sold 
drugs in 2002. He and his wife live in West Baltimore with 
Patterson's grandmother. One day, when work is steady and they can 
manage to save some money, they hope to own a house.

"I'm thankful just to be alive and trying to do the right thing," 
Patterson says. "And I have my wife, and she supports me. I'm out of 
prison, I have prospects now. I'm not going back to the street. 
Things are gonna be all right."

Andrea Frazier She called here in summer, desperate for treatment for 
heroin addiction. The man she lives with called, too. They were 
frustrated with the long wait for help. Some window had opened in 
Frazier's thinking and she was reaching through it, and what she 
needed was someone to immediately take her hand.

She entered a residential treatment center in West Baltimore, but 
left there after a few days, convinced she wasn't getting the 
attention she needed. When I spoke to her in September, she sounded 
grouchy and confused. By October, however, Frazier, 38, had been 
through successful treatment at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, 
and sounded upbeat about her recovery.

Paul Howell Unlike most of the men and women who contacted The Sun 
for help this summer and fall, several years - nine, to be precise - 
had passed since Howell's last incarceration. That increased 
considerably his chances of landing a job. Still, he had had 
difficulty finding a position he considered "steady and substantial."

Because of his past in Baltimore's heroin-and-cocaine underworld - 
"Stealing and selling drugs, trying to support my habit" - Howell, 
53, says many employers did not trust him. "People were scared to 
give me a chance," he says. "And my family was always afraid I was 
gonna slip back to my old ways because I didn't have anything substantial."

On a referral from The Sun, Howell landed a job with the Time Group, 
a property management company with clear and stringent policies on 
the hiring of ex-offenders. That Howell had not run afoul of the law 
in nearly a decade worked in his favor. He now reports at 8:30 a.m. 
daily and works in maintenance at one of the company's properties in 
the Baltimore area. He's happy with the work, and the company is 
pleased with him.

"They were very understanding when they hired me," Howell says. "I'm 
employed with a good company. My wife and my family are proud of me. 
I'm trying to be a responsible husband to my wife and a responsible 
father to my children."

Chuck Waters Waters, who turns 42 in a couple of weeks, knows he's 
lucky to be alive. He was once embedded in Baltimore's drug culture, 
selling heroin and cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s, when the city's 
drug-related homicide count was even worse than it is today. Waters 
survived the killing streets. He went to prison, smartened up and got 
out of drugs for good 10 years ago.

Unfortunately, one of his nephews followed in his footsteps, and that 
young man's journey ended tragically. Someone shot 24-year-old Ricky 
Waters on West Pratt Street at 1 a.m. on a winter Saturday a couple 
of years ago. His death was reported in three thin paragraphs in The 
Sun, one of 271 Baltimore killings in 2003. "He was caught up in that 
life," Chuck Waters says, referring to the same life he once lived - 
but managed to escape.

Waters has been clean and steadily employed since shortly after 
leaving prison in 1997. He remains grateful to Alan Hess, who gave 
Waters his first job as a maintenance man at properties in West 
Baltimore. "He gave me a chance and trusted me," Waters says. "I 
worked for him for four years and moved on with his blessings."

Remarried and the father of two children, Waters managed to buy a 
house in Northeast Baltimore a couple of years ago. He has worked for 
a manufacturer in Halethorpe for six years. He joined a Pimlico 
church "to keep my promise to God that I made in prison."

"I'm thankful for my life, my family," he says. "I'm grateful for 
knowing God better, so I can serve God better. I'm no longer a menace 
to society. I'm grateful to my family. I had a lot of people praying for me."

Waters believes that ex-offenders, once drug-free, deserve 
opportunities to prove themselves in the workplace. "But they must 
remember," he says, "when making a promise to the system, to their 
mother, family or God, they must be honest and not return to their 
past life of drugs and crime."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman