Gratitude for second chances

Andrea Frazier
She called here in summer, desperate for treatment for heroin addiction. The man she lives with called, too. They were frustrated with the long wait for help. Some window had opened in Frazier's thinking and she was reaching through it, and what she needed was someone to immediately take her hand.

She entered a residential treatment center in West Baltimore, but left there after a few days, convinced she wasn't getting the attention she needed. When I spoke to her in September, she sounded grouchy and confused. By October, however, Frazier, 38, had been through successful treatment at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, and sounded upbeat about her recovery.

Paul Howell
Unlike most of the men and women who contacted The Sun for help this summer and fall, several years - nine, to be precise - had passed since Howell's last incarceration. That increased considerably his chances of landing a job. Still, he had had difficulty finding a position he considered "steady and substantial."

Because of his past in Baltimore's heroin-and-cocaine underworld - "Stealing and selling drugs, trying to support my habit" - Howell, 53, says many employers did not trust him. "People were scared to give me a chance," he says. "And my family was always afraid I was gonna slip back to my old ways because I didn't have anything substantial."

On a referral from The Sun, Howell landed a job with the Time Group, a property management company with clear and stringent policies on the hiring of ex-offenders. That Howell had not run afoul of the law in nearly a decade worked in his favor. He now reports at 8:30 a.m. daily and works in maintenance at one of the company's properties in the Baltimore area. He's happy with the work, and the company is pleased with him.

"They were very understanding when they hired me," Howell says. "I'm employed with a good company. My wife and my family are proud of me. I'm trying to be a responsible husband to my wife and a responsible father to my children."

Chuck Waters
Waters, who turns 42 in a couple of weeks, knows he's lucky to be alive. He was once embedded in Baltimore's drug culture, selling heroin and cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s, when the city's drug-related homicide count was even worse than it is today. Waters survived the killing streets. He went to prison, smartened up and got out of drugs for good 10 years ago.

Unfortunately, one of his nephews followed in his footsteps, and that young man's journey ended tragically. Someone shot 24-year- old Ricky Waters on West Pratt Street at 1 a.m. on a winter Saturday a couple of years ago. His death was reported in three thin paragraphs in The Sun, one of 271 Baltimore killings in 2003. "He was caught up in that life," Chuck Waters says, referring to the same life he once lived - but managed to escape.

Waters has been clean and steadily employed since shortly after leaving prison in 1997. He remains grateful to Alan Hess, who gave Waters his first job as a maintenance man at properties in West Baltimore. "He gave me a chance and trusted me," Waters says. "I worked for him for four years and moved on with his blessings."

Remarried and the father of two children, Waters managed to buy a house in Northeast Baltimore a couple of years ago. He has worked for a manufacturer in Halethorpe for six years. He joined a Pimlico church "to keep my promise to God that I made in prison."

"I'm thankful for my life, my family," he says. "I'm grateful for knowing God better, so I can serve God better. I'm no longer a menace to society. I'm grateful to my family. I had a lot of people praying for me."

Waters believes that ex-offenders, once drug-free, deserve opportunities to prove themselves in the workplace. "But they must remember," he says, "when making a promise to the system, to their mother, family or God, they must be honest and not return to their past life of drugs and crime."
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