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Room for more

Vince Williams, who runs the culinary training program at Moveable Feast, says he has openings for up to 10 more students.

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It's a 12-week program to train men and women, many of them ex-offenders, to cook as a career. Students get a $50 weekly stipend for perfect attendance. They must be 18 years old and have the support of a caseworker, friend, family member or sponsor, someone who will make sure they get to class and stick with the program. For more information, call Williams at 410-327-3420.

Healing and hoping

Readers of this column will remember the tale of Drew, a young man who got out of the drug life the hard way - with a beating that caused brain damage.

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In the 10 years leading up to the beating, Drew was a cocaine dealer in Lower Park Heights. He dropped out of school as a teenager, started selling coke and lived just one step off the street, sometimes in an abandoned rowhouse.

"He was living crazy," his mother said in August.

Drew ended up on the ground near a motel on Pulaski Highway last spring, beaten for reasons that are not clear but are probably related to his life in drugs. "He doesn't even seem to remember what happened," says his mother, who asked that the family's last name not be used because her son's attackers have not been arrested.

Six months later, Drew has recovered slowly from the damage caused by the beating, as his doctor predicted he would. "The effect on his personality and his behavior has been a positive one," says his mother, with not an ounce of irony. "He's not on the street, and he doesn't even want to return to the street."

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Drew maintains a job busing tables in a Pikesville restaurant. His mother says he'd like something better. "He's worked in heating and air conditioning with his uncle, and he's done roofing," she says. "He can do any kind of manual labor."

There was one bit of legal business left from Drew's previous life - a drug distribution charge. He pleaded guilty to it in September, and Tuesday a Baltimore Circuit Court judge suspended the 10-year prison term it carried as a penalty. The judge placed Drew on five years' supervised probation, with 100 hours of community service.

He continues to live with his mother. His wife, who expects a child in the next three weeks, is living in a shelter awaiting placement in a permanent home, and Drew hopes to rejoin her there.

Starting over

As I write this, Arto Dixon sits at a desk in The Sun newsroom, making phone calls on job leads. He has just come from classes at the International Academy of Hair Design and Technology on West Pratt Street, where he is learning the hairstyling craft. He doesn't have a phone, so I told him he could use one of ours. I gave him a list of companies, including The Sun, willing to hire ex-offenders. Arto is one.

He got out of prison in May. He served a total of 16 years for robbery, theft and numerous drug offenses. He says he once had a life of full-fledged criminality in the city of Baltimore - "I had that street mentality," he says - but wants no part of that now.

So, at 42, he's starting over. He lives in a halfway house on Maryland Avenue and goes to school during the day. He's looking for an evening job - "Just about anything, as long as it pays," he says - so he can save money to pay for his education at the hair academy.

He also needs money to pay old traffic fines. He'd like to get his commercial driver's license back, maybe get his old job driving a truck back. There's something else he'd like to get back - his wife. "We've been separated a long time, too long," Dixon says. "Her name's Diana. She's my best friend. Please say that when you write the story."

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com
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