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Calling all those who said they needed help

Dan Rodricks

September 22, 2005

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You know who you are. Kenneth, Leon, William, Joseph and Walter. You know why I'm calling your names out in print today. And Arthur, Tina, Gordon, Andre, Tory and Shawn - where are you?

Give us a call.

Last we heard, you were all looking for help. You all recently contacted the coordinator of a Baltimore program that tries to pull ex-offenders (former drug dealers, drug addicts) out of the horrid cycle of jail-to-street-to-jail and get them into something better - something like a good job, something like a decent life.

But Chip Reis, the program coordinator, hasn't heard from you for a while.

So what's up with that?

I mean, you called once; you obviously needed help.

Unless you all found jobs with great pay and benefits in the last few weeks, I can't imagine you're suddenly living large.

In fact, it's easier to imagine the worst - that you've drifted back to the life you wanted to leave or surrendered to frustrations with all those companies that do background checks and won't hire people because of their felony convictions for drug possession.

Maybe you've settled for a lousy, temporary job again.

Or maybe you're just sitting at home in the middle of the day watching your stories.

I hope I'm wrong.

So call and tell me I am (410-332-6166). Or call Reis, the job placement guy who offered to help you (410-837-1800, ext. 130) and who is now wondering what happened to you.

Good ole Baltimore.

We've got something like 635,000 citizens, and it's been reported several times that one out of 10 or 11 of us are addicted to heroin and/or cocaine.

You take that number - or, take it down to the lower range of the official estimates, something like one in 15 - and you add those who never did dope but sold it, add those in recovery, add those of us in the city and suburbs who've been robbed or had their houses or cars broken into by hopheads looking for property they could turn into cash they could turn into drugs.

Bottom-line that, and you've got one fat swath of the Patapsco Drainage Basin population affected by the poison of drug addiction.

So we're trying to do something about this. What we've taken is a relatively simple approach: Help drug dealers and recovering addicts get jobs, and get the word out to companies, large and small, that maybe they could consider hiring one or two of these men and women because, unless they get a second chance at something legitimate and decent, they'll just revert to their old ways and keep the harm in Charm City.

The people mentioned above either called here or called Reis at Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake because they'd heard about a program there that helps ex-offenders find jobs.

Goodwill is one of only a handful of programs that provides this service to an ex-offender population that numbers in the thousands. (Just to give a slice of the picture: The state of Maryland releases approximately 15,000 inmates from prison each year, and half of them return to Baltimore. Half of them go back to prison within three years.)

So you made one phone call to ask for help.

Then Reis didn't hear from you again.

So that's why I am calling out today, and calling out for you.

Steven and Erika, Kenneth, Clifton, Angela and Robert.

Keisha - where are you?

I've lost contact with a bunch of other young guys who called here in summer, saying they were done with dealing dope and wanted a job - any job - that would take them off the street.

But their interest in getting on a better track seems to have lasted a minute.

Look, this is hard. This takes patience. I know you needed a job three months ago. I know a lot of you groan when you hear me suggest certain "programs" - Goodwill, STRIVE, the Mayor's Ex-Offender Initiative - because you can't imagine that a "program" is going to help you. (This just in: Donta Ellerbe, profiled in this space a week ago, found a job in a cafe with the help of the Goodwill program just in the past couple of days.)

When Lewis Jones called here last week, I heard a baby crying in the background and Jones' voice sounded strained and tired, even a little desperate.

I feel ridiculous telling a guy like Jones to be patient.

Easy for me. I have a job. I'm not four months out of prison, or just off home detention, with felonies on my record, trying to find employment somewhere near a bus route because I don't own a car. I probably couldn't handle much rejection. I'd feel as many of you do - that a felony conviction is a chain you will never shake.

I'd be tempted just to go back to what I knew. "I gotta do what I gotta do to support my family," I've heard more than one man say, and he meant selling dope again.

Look, you can't do that. Your family, your neighborhood, your city need you to do better. The fact that you made the first phone call says a lot about you. It says you're ready.

But you have to make the second call, and the third, and the 15th. I can't give you a time frame for finding a job and a new and decent life. It takes as long as it takes.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com