If you stay in the drug life, you are choosing your death

DEAR BALTIMORE drug dealers: It's like this. You either want to live a long, relatively happy life or die young and horribly (or, if you're lucky, maybe middle-aged and horribly). You either want to have a home, family and friends (maybe even DirecTV), or go back to prison.

You either want to end up like Clinton Young, dead from multiple gunshot wounds, or like Eric Jordan, an ex-offender who works for a mortgage company and lives at the city-county line in "Almost Catonsville."

There are more and better ways for you to get out of the life for good now -- even if you're reading this in a prison cell -- so you have choices.

Live or die.

Go straight or stay in that miserable world of drugs.

That's it.

Some of you have already made the decision, so you can stop reading -- or have your mother stop reading -- here.

As for the rest of you, I'm not saying anything you don't already know. You know about choices.

The fact that you're still reading this suggests that you might be open to coming off the killing streets and getting out of Baltimore's drug trade.

If you're anything like the nearly 50 men and women who have called here in the last six weeks -- drug dealers, former drug dealers, heroin addicts, recovering addicts -- or the countless Baltimoreans who have spoken personally to Leonard Hamm, the police commissioner, you are ripe for change.

You've told Hamm you want to get off the corner, want treatment, want a job. You've said the same in phone calls to The Sun.

You don't want to end up dead at 42, like this Clinton Young.

Someone shot Young multiple times and killed him Friday just before midnight on Pulaski Street in West Baltimore, far from his listed residence in Northeast Baltimore. There isn't much to report because, in these kinds of street killings, which look powerfully like drug assassinations, people don't stick around to provide details to the cops who write the reports that reporters read. No witnesses. No motive.

Of course, we always suspect drugs because drugs are related to about 85 percent of the killings in Baltimore. And, in the case of Clinton Young, records indicate arrests and incarceration for drug possession and distribution, according to police.

"Baltimore is actually a very safe city if you are not involved in the drug trade," Peter Beilenson, the city's former health commissioner, said last year. "If you are involved, it is one of the most dangerous in the United States."

I spoke yesterday to a former drug dealer and addict who said he knew Clinton Young from more than 10 years ago. "I've been wrangling with his death for a couple of days," the former addict said, after asking that he not be identified by name. "I'm remembering the person [Young] was, and thinking that could have been me had I not changed my life."

But, of course, the man on the phone made a choice. He's 40 years old, alive and well. He's no longer poisoning his city, or living with the risks of death or jail.

Neither is Eric Jordan.

Jordan is 42. He lost 17 years of his life -- "17 years and nine months" -- serving a sentence for drug distribution and armed robbery. Having gone to prison during the peak of the war on drugs, Jordan was essentially warehoused with thousands of other drug offenders. He received no preparation for his eventual return to free society. After his release, however, he hooked up with the Maryland Re-entry Partnership, which is a pilot program, managed by the Enterprise Foundation, to provide comprehensive services and case management as offenders transition back to the mainstream. The idea is to attack Maryland's horrible 50 percent rate of recidivism.

For Jordan, REP made the difference. His case manager hooked him up with an organization called STRIVE, and after a three-week, job-skills training program, Jordan graduated as the "Most Likely to Achieve." STRIVE helped him land a job with Knox Financial Services, and now he works as a marketing representative for United Equity Mortgage Brokers.

Yesterday, I asked Jordan what he wanted to say to those of you still in the drug game.

"We might think we make choices [drug dealing] that are financially beneficial," he said. "But no matter how long we get away with it, it doesn't matter, it catches up with you -- the law or the street, prison or death."

Jordan chose life, and the mainstream world.

REP helped Jordan, and it's helping hundreds of others. It could change the culture of corrections in Maryland, especially if the Ehrlich administration continues to support this kind of reform -- preparing inmates for their emergence from prison so that they find jobs.

STRIVE is working in this field, and it's not alone. There are a ton of good people in this town, and a great number of agencies have their hand in helping the most hard-core offenders change their lives. The Baltimore police have launched an effort called Get Out of the Game. (More about that in Sunday's column.) A surprising number of companies are willing to hire men and women with records. If you want information on how to hook up for help, call me at 410-332-6166.