Why they sell poison, and why many can't stop

This man, 29 years old, isn't done. "I'm still hustling, till I get a job," he says. "But it's getting hard out there. The police are picking up names, making it very hard out there, putting a lot of pressure on us."

(Like Sean, he did not want his full name or photograph used with this column. )

For a time, Donyell had a $9.60-an-hour job cleaning floors at a hospital. "I put my all into it," he says.

But what happened to this job?

"I lost it," he says. "I had asthma problems and I missed too much time."

So he returned to selling dope.

Donyell is a soft-spoken guy, disarmingly pleasant, almost serene. You might never take him for an drug dealer with two weapons convictions. Why does he continue to sell?

"I live with my mother and I got two kids," he says. "We got to eat."

But he claims he'd rather support his family with a real job again. He'd like to be an electrician. He figures he needs between $400 and $500 a week.

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

Taj Shaw

Shaw, 28, started selling the poison when he was 13, and stopped when he went to prison for the last time. Released six years ago, he got married and fathered two children. He and his wife, a city employee, bought a house in Northeast Baltimore.

"You got to understand how hard it is for guys to find a job out here," he says.

Shaw had some luck, according to the resume he handed me yesterday. For most of the last six years, he worked in kitchens at three institutions in Baltimore, one of them a private club.

But whenever he applied for higher-level, better-paying jobs, he says, his criminal background haunted him.

So, a few months ago, he decided to go into business with his older brother, Gary. They did a little catering, employing Taj's cooking skills, and then started S&S Landscaping, utilizing Gary's experience in groundskeeping. Yesterday I found the brothers out in the heat, cutting grass and whacking weeds at homes along Frankford Avenue, sweating it out on a muggy morning in Baltimore.