Taking family's pain public takes courage, and a lot of love

DEAR NICOLE Sesker: Your stepdaddy must love you a lot. He's the police commissioner of Baltimore, and yesterday Baltimore and the world learned what you, the commissioner and some of his officers have known for a long time --- that you're a heroin addict.

Your picture appeared on the front page of The New York Times, and The Sun had a story about how your addiction might have influenced your stepdaddy's approach to policing. Now you're receiving even more news media attention.

It must be shocking and embarrassing to go from shadows to spotlight. Most drug addicts or dealers do not want their full names and photographs published.

Leonard Hamm is a tough guy, and as police commissioner, he speaks bluntly and even loudly about things. And he finally spoke out about you - perhaps because he loves you.

He could have stopped caring long ago. But looks like he didn't, Nicole.

Hamm might have seen this as the last, best way to get you to change. Arrests haven't done it. Having to sleep in abandominiums hasn't done it. Maybe your stepdaddy thinks a public appeal will bring you home.

Or, because of his frustrations with you, he might be thinking - as so many of us are these days - that we've gone way too long in trying to arrest our way out of this intractable drug problem. It's time to try a different approach.

If you feel used, Nicole, so be it. This might be the first time a man used you for the public good. Your stepdaddy is showing some leadership here.

If Baltimore is ever going to be a world-class city, it needs more treatment on demand for the thousands of uninsured and underinsured addicts who live here.

We need more jobs for recovering addicts and ex-offenders.

We need to stop abiding the loss of thousands of potentially productive and responsible citizens.

We need some kind of all-out reach-out to addicts and dealers to leave the "other Baltimore" and take part in our second renaissance. There's a big, new city happening here, Nicole, and you're missing it.

Tell me this: Why do they have all those doctors doing research at Johns Hopkins? Why does Dr. Ben Carson spend hour and hours in surgery? Why do we have paramedics?

It's because we believe in life. Hours and hours of effort and billions of dollars go into saving and protecting people. That's what a good society does - it promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In Baltimore, that means we help sick people get well again. With our great hospitals, there might be no better place for that.

The problem is, when it comes to drug addiction, we built prison cells when we should have been building more clinics. We still need more money to treat the thousands of addicts who contribute to all sorts of crime, from suburban break-ins and robberies to inner-city prostitution and homicides.

Nicole, here's a news flash:

You can live a better life. You can get help. It might take some time - too much time, if you ask recovering addicts and substance abuse counselors - but it's there.

Call the hot line your stepdaddy's staff set up to get dealers and users out of the game: 443-984-7217. Ask for Sonya Moore or Ruth Santiago.

Call the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems: 410-637-1900. Tell the person who answers the phone that you want and need a 28-day in-patient program, and make sure you tell them to take your name and number. Demand that they call you when a treatment slot opens up. Get your name on a list.

If you don't get results, call me: 410-332-6166.

A woman named Adrian did a couple of weeks ago. She said she was ready for treatment for heroin addiction.

She had to wait two weeks, but she stuck it out and called me from Bayview the other day to say that, after detox and rehab, she wants help in finding a job.

I'm going to hook her up with some of the employers who have called to offer jobs to ex-offenders or adults in recovery. If that doesn't work, then Adrian will enroll at Maryland New Directions for Women (410-230-0630) or the Caroline Center (410-563-1303). Both help women get a new start and a job.

Adrian isn't the only woman now in treatment after calling here.

A heroin addict named Debbie went to Tuerk House the other day. Her longtime boyfriend, a fellow named James, says she's doing fine and will be in Tuerk House for 28 days.

"We lived together for 10 years," said James, who is retired from Bethlehem Steel and works as a security guard. "But a year ago, I told her she had to leave, that we couldn't go on this way anymore.

"She went and lived with her sister. Then, this summer, me and her were thinking about getting back together. But I told her that if we were going to be together, she had to get herself together, and she had to stay together. So now she's in treatment. I think she really wanted it this time."

It was James who picked up the phone to find treatment for Debbie. Why? "Because," he said yesterday, "I really love this girl a lot."

PHOTO GALLERIES