BALTIMORE'S drug cancer has eaten away at people, families and whole neighborhoods for more than three decades. It has affected the entire region in some way and, considering the thousands of citizens involved in this problem, seems intractable, a lost cause.
Decriminalization is not the answer. No one I know believes heroin and
cocaine are going to be made legal anytime soon. The war on drugs didn't cut
the demand for dope, but it certainly gave us the highest per capita
incarceration rate in the world. Thousands of offenders in Maryland, and the
majority of those who return to Baltimore from prison each year, are involved
in drugs in some way. We spend $24,000 per inmate per year now, and our
recidivism rate is 50 percent.
But we could get out of it.
Here's what we do:
We continue to spend money - and more of it - on drug treatment throughout
this state, and particularly in Baltimore. We need to reach a point where
every person addicted to drugs, insured or uninsured, gets treatment when
they're ready or when the drug court judges send them there.
Treatment on demand brings more recovery. More recovery means less demand
for cocaine and heroin. Less demand means, eventually, fewer drug dealers.
Fewer dealers means less killing. And all that means Baltimore gets to shake
its reputation for heroin and homicide. Families benefit. The whole region
Meanwhile, the culture of corrections needs to change; we need to break the
ineffective and dangerous warehouse system. The Ehrlich administration should
expand its comprehensive offender re-entry efforts to prepare thousands of
inmates for a healthy return to society.
Reformed dealers and recovering addicts, lost for years in the drug world,
need help finding themselves, their skills and decent jobs. The governor, who
enjoys the Maryland business community's attention, needs to challenge the
private sector to step up and consider hiring ex-offenders.
Otherwise, we're wasting a great human resource in our midst and doing
nothing but pushing an expensive revolving door.
We can make a big dent in the drug culture. A lot of people seem primed for
More than a 100 Baltimoreans have contacted The Sun during the past six
weeks to express a desire to get out of the game. They called for help finding
the full-time jobs they believe will keep them from returning to the streets.
Brief profiles of some follow. Companies or individuals interested in a job
application from any of these men - or getting more information about the
quiet, effective programs that focus on helping ex-offenders - should contact
me at 410-332- 6166, or by e-mail at dan.rod firstname.lastname@example.org.
At 37, Patterson says he hasn't been incarcerated in four years, hasn't
sold drugs in three - "I'm too scared to do that now" - and has been trying to
do the right thing as a father of five children in West Baltimore. He worked
for Jiffy Lube before taking a job with another company that went out of
business. He hasn't had any luck returning to automobile maintenance, but
would like that kind of work again. "I've done some construction, and I have
carpentry skills," he says. "I worked for a demolition company, too. I can do
a lot of things."
A one-time user and seller of heroin, Hairston, 43, is assistant house
manager of a recovery center in West Baltimore. He says he's been clean for a
few months and feels ready to get back to work. He has experience in home
improvement and in cooking.
On home detention and living with his parents in Baltimore County since
Dec. 1, Bell, 39, is likely to be released early next year. He's in his third
year of recovery from a heroin addiction; his last criminal conviction was for
burglary. "I'm a very hard worker who got hooked on heroin," Bell says, "and
my life went to hell." He is allowed out of home detention for a job. He says
he is experienced in welding, concrete finishing and metal fabrication.
Living with his mother and stepfather in East Baltimore, Cunningham is 18
"and trying to stay out of trouble." He says he has a juvenile record and that
his most recent offense, from earlier this year, was a drug charge. Cunningham
seeks a custodial or warehouse job. I suggested he secure his GED.
He managed to work for 14 years as a cook while supporting a heroin habit.
"But I started stealing to pay for my heroin," says Gambrill, 39, explaining
how his streak of steady employment ended. He served more than 3 1/2 years in
prison for theft and returned to West Baltimore, his wife and four children a
year ago. Gambrill takes methadone each day to control his heroin dependency.
He is still unemployed but earnestly seeking a fresh start in a restaurant
An East Baltimore resident, Johnson is 43 and started snorting heroin 20
years ago. He became involved in its distribution, too. That led to five
stints in prison, the last one six years long. He was paroled 18 months ago,
and he says he's clean. He wants to return to work as a roofer.
"It's hard to get a job and take care of my family," says Wright, 36, about
his search for work. Wright's record includes drug and handgun charges, the
last one in 1998. Released from prison in 2003, Wright had a job at a
supermarket warehouse in Jessup until May, when he was arrested on an
outstanding warrant for an old motor vehicle violation. He spent three days in
Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Facility. Though relatives called his
employer to explain his absence, Wright says, he lost his job. "I wish I had
that job back. At least they were willing to give me a chance. ... I can do
just about anything. I learn fast."
Married with one child and a grandchild in his care, Peterson is 46 years
old and supervisor of a parking lot that will be closed in about six months.
"I'm going to have to find something new, and I don't care what it is, as
along as it's steady," he says. Peterson once sold drugs, but says he got out
of that business seven years ago. "I just want to be a productive person," he
says, "and go forward, not backwards."
Prison won't heal Baltimore's blight, but helping out its victims would
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