Dear Baltimore drug dealers

With that salutation began an appeal in this newspaper for the men andwomen selling cocaine, heroin and marijuana in Baltimore to ease up for thesummer. Quit the guns, give them a rest. Peddle the powder and weed, if youmust. But don't re-up the inventory. Chill in the season of steamed crabs andbeer, cold watermelon and shaved ice.

Sun columnist Dan Rodricks' open letter June 9 to the salesmen in thisvast, lucrative, illicit industry was a pitch for a little peace and quiet inBaltimore neighborhoods, a plea to stop the turf battles that too often end upwith blood in the streets. His crazy, ridiculous - those are his words -proposition offered dealers a prescription for a civic duty that couldpossibly save a few lives. Theirs and others.

Aren't you tired of it too?

Since Mr. Rodricks asked that question three months ago, more than 250people have contacted him: drug users and dealers, mostly men, theirgrandmothers and relatives, recovering addicts and other citizens willing tohelp. Rather than push dope for $50 a day, most involved in the drug tradesaid they wanted a real job. They wanted out of a dead-end life because theywere too old for the pace, too weary for another prison stay, too fearful ofthe competition, too embarrassed to face their kids.

What began as one writer's appeal for a summer moratorium on drug-turfshootings has evolved into a campaign to rally support and jobs forex-offenders.

In one telephone conversation after another, enough to fill a stack oflegal pads, Dan Rodricks heard from guys looking for a way out. The more whotalked to him, the more columns he wrote, offering his readers a stark yetpoignant view of his callers and insights on how they could be helped, onestep at a time, one man at a time:

"People think we [sell drugs] to just come outside and be tough or hard. Wedo it to survive. Right now, there isn't much food in my mother's house."

"I have four children. I got to find some way to help with my family."

"It's time for me to step up to the plate and show our young ones that[drug dealing] ain't cool anymore. And one time before I leave this world Iwant to hear my mother say she's proud of me, instead of shakin' her head andasking, 'Why you keep selling that poison to your people?'"

The Rodricks columns - more than two dozen - have profiled several callersand their sorry pasts in the game and in prison, emphasized the need foraccessible, available drug treatment, suggested jobs for ex-offenders,implored government to do its part, and showcased the public and privateprograms such as Moveable Feast, STRIVE Baltimore and the Maryland Re-EntryPartnership that help train and employ ex-cons.

What's encouraging and instructive has been the public's response, oneperson at a time, to the Rodricks drumbeat. At least 14 ex-offenders whocalled Mr. Rodricks found jobs with private businesses; 13 others found workthrough Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake; 24 entered a Goodwill jobtraining program. The Sun columnist has passed on possible job opportunitiesto others, and others still tell him of more job leads.

This is networking at the most basic level and scale for a group ofBaltimoreans desperate for a second chance and eager for an opportunity toprove themselves worthy of it.

Goodwill and others are pairing ex-offenders with empathetic employers,partnering that should be replicated, one business at a time. Some businessowners have taken the initiative themselves. Guys are loading brick, doingexcavation work, busing tables, working as a cook.

Kevin Gambrill, 39, found himself two jobs. His heroin addiction helpedsend him to prison, but once released, he got some drug treatment, returned tohis family and, through a Rodricks tip, landed his initial job at Bo BrooksRestaurant in Canton.

Dealers and users have a choice to make, as Mr. Rodricks put it: Live ordie. If they choose to live, theirs will be a life of fits and starts, ofstruggle to stay clear of the poison, of recovery and its winding path, ofrewards, however small.

The public's choice is not so stark, but the imperative should be to helpthose who want help. A criminal record shouldn't automatically barex-offenders from a job. Let's give them a choice other than returning to thecorner this fall. A decent-paying job can keep them out of the game. It canhelp support families too long neglected. It can make a difference in the lifeof a city if more individuals take one step at a time, for one man at a time.

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