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Hope and despair for those who wait

Dan Rodricks

September 26, 2005

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I call them "ladies in waiting," the mothers and grandmothers, sisters, wives and fiancees who, with hope and prayer and superhuman patience, keep the faith that one day their men will straighten up, emerge from the drug life or prison and come safe home. I hear from them frequently.

Saturday morning it was the mother of a suspected drug dealer in Baltimore, worried about her son's upcoming court appearance. A few minutes later, it was the sister of a dealer. We had been tracking her brother's rehabilitation, and he'd been doing well, training to be a cook. But he was back in jail again, his sister said, picked up on a trespassing charge and held on an outstanding warrant in Baltimore County.

Another woman called to tell how her 21-year-old grandson, who had lost his best friend to gunfire, moved away from East Baltimore to a suburban neighborhood where he had little to do but think about his future and take a low-paying job in a big-box store. And that, she said triumphantly, constituted a huge step in her grandson's life.

Dozens of men caught up in the drug life, or one step out of it, have called here for help in finding a job. But almost as frequently, the ladies in waiting call, or write letters, to share a story about the drug life, express a frustration, or reflect on the hard, immediate past. Here's a sample, with full names withheld where requested.

From Melissa Beckette in Harford County: "My fiance was an addict of 10 years. He was murdered January 7 trying to purchase heroin in O'Donnell Heights. He tried to wean himself off of it but couldn't deal with the sickness and was murdered trying to get a drug to make himself feel better. I would take him around to many places to find employment but no one would hire him because of his criminal record. That would make him feel bad and he would start using again. ... I tried for many years to help my fiance with his sickness but he wasn't strong enough to beat his addiction. I miss him every day that passes by. But when I ride through the city and see all the addicts that are living a slow hell I feel at ease for him that he is in heaven now and he is not suffering from that terrible disease anymore."

Mary Olwine, from Masontown, Pa., wrote for help in locating a man named Bruce, whom she had once considered marrying: "Bruce - we call him Joker - is part of the drug life. He left Pennsylvania right out of rehab and went back to the Baltimore City streets because it's easier to get the drugs there. He is wanted by the Pennsylvania police for violation of parole. I want to help him but I am lost. I don't know what to do. He was in jail here for eight months, then one month in rehab, and he was out one month and back doing crack. Now he's in Baltimore and people tell me he is really horrible looking, that he weighs about 100 pounds, and standing on corners selling himself for money. Help me. I don't want to see him die on the street."

A federal employee named Linda wrote: "I have a son who is currently in jail due to that `revolving door' of drugs/prison. He went to Mount St. Joe's, where he was the star of the soccer team. His grades were good as well. Then, we moved to Woodlawn and he hooked up with the drug crowd. After we cut him off financially, he turned to crime, robbing etc. He is 34 years old and should have his own life by now. But drugs - he snorted heroin - has kept him from this life. You would be surprised how many middle-upper class people are affected by this nightmare. It's not only the poor and weak."

A woman named Mary, in Harford County, had been trying to locate her heroin-addicted son, Brian, for months. In August, he finally phoned home from Baltimore and said he wanted help but didn't know how to get it. The Sun put him in touch with Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, which oversees drug treatment in Baltimore. Last week, his mother wrote: "Brian is now in the drug treatment program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. All we had to do was find him at a time that he was ready to consider treatment. He will be in Bayview for 10 days, and then to a recovery house. Now it is up to him."

A woman named Donna wrote: "The only way I can describe my life for the last 12 years is a horrible roller coaster ride. My son is one of the many once-promising, hopeful young people to be raised in the city. Then the unthinkable happened - he got involved with drugs. I saw the son I raised with good family values, morals, and faith slowly being taken from our family by drugs. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was put him out, hoping that it would wake him up to the path he was on. He has struggled since then. Like many other families of addicts or alcoholics, hope and faith is what we live by."

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com