Man's heart as big as a house Former addict has room to give others a chance

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The first thing you notice about Larry Griffin is his size.

He is a big man, like George Foreman is big. But his friends say a man with a big heart needs a big body to carry it in.

Since "God tapped" him on his shoulder and told him to clean up his act, Mr. Griffin said he has moved away from the life in which he once spent $500 on cocaine and alcohol in less than 24 hours. Now he opens his heart and his home to addicts who want to get clean.

For the past two years, Mr. Griffin and his roommate Jay, musicians in the band "Mama Jama," have used a portion of their Highland Beach home as a haven for addicts waiting to get into a drug treatment program. Jay has asked that his last name not be used.

"This is not something open to the public," Mr. Griffin said as he tugged at his goatee, recalling the 10 people who have stayed at the home. "These are people I know, or Jay knows. I'm not going to do anything to put this neighborhood in danger. I give everybody a checkout before I let them stay here. I make sure they want to get clean and sober.

"But what I'm doing is what everybody needs to do, open their hearts and their doors. People have got to realize that [drug addicts] are still human beings. They're all God's children."

With budget cuts reducing the number of available beds in treatment facilities and increasing the waiting lists, many people working with addicts applaud Mr. Griffin's efforts.

"There are many examples of recovering people getting and living together to support each other," said William Rufenacht, director of the Hope House treatment center in Crownsville. "With so much elimination in budgets and so many places being forced to close, having a safe place to stay until treatment is available is probably a good thing."

"There are people out there just being very good Samaritans," said Rick Sampson, of the state's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. "I have a guy in my office doing a similar thing."

One of the traits that allows Mr. Griffin to be that good Samaritan is his ability to communicate, Jay said. And he should know. He is one of the drug addicts Mr. Griffin led to sobriety.

"He's just a good guy," Jay said. "He's good at getting people to express their feelings. He just likes for people to be happy."

Because of the isolation of the Highland Beach community -- only about 50 residents live there year-round -- very few people are aware of Mr. Griffin's deeds. Mr. Griffin's neighbor, Joe Butcher, one of five town commissioners, said he was not aware anyone but Mr. Griffin and his roommate were staying in the home.

"I certainly haven't seen a lot of activity over there," Mr. Butcher said. "But it's quiet right now. I really couldn't comment until I knew more about what [Mr. Griffin is] doing."

Highland Beach, just southeast of Annapolis, was founded in 1893 by Charles R. Douglass, son of abolitionist and Maryland native Frederick Douglass. Charles Douglass and his wife had been denied a room at the Bay Ridge Hotel. A black couple who lived nearby offered Mr. Douglass a place to stay, and later sold him 44 acres of their land.

Mr. Douglass subdivided and sold lots to friends. Highland Beach became the vacation spot for the black elite -- doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Poets Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar were just two of the many famous blacks known to visit the area.

Today, Highland Beach is one of only two incorporated towns in Anne Arundel County. Annapolis is the other.

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Like many addicts, Mr. Griffin's drug abuse began with alcohol. He was 13 when he started drinking on the basketball court. He moved on to marijuana after a friend fighting in Vietnam started ++ mailing him marijuana cigarettes wrapped in aluminum foil. He was 16 then, on his way to dropping out of school.

In the 1970s, Mr. Griffin smoked marijuana with musician Sly Stone. He also took a job in New York referring drug addicts to rehabilitation centers, all the while becoming more and more involved in the drug scene.

A series of band jobs in Annapolis always provided accessibility to drugs. But a job with the rock band Daylight provided accessibility beyond Mr. Griffin's imagination.

"That was my education to knowing about all the drugs in the world," Mr. Griffin said. "During that time all the guys in the band were white except me, and all the white guys could get the best drugs -- PCP, crystal meth, mescaline, acid.

"Any time we played, we had drugs coming from around the world. It was like a mini-Woodstock. Everyone in the band was talented, but the reason we broke up was the drug problem," he added.

By 1980, Mr. Griffin was free-basing cocaine.

"I was using $200 to $300 a day," he said. "It started to affect work because I was doing drugs on the job. I started losing jobs. I wasn't fired. I'd quit. I just wouldn't stay.

"I got an apartment, and I lost it in two months. I started ripping people off. They'd give me money to get drugs and I'd just run off."

He stole checks from one of his employers to finance his addiction. "I didn't care about anyone. I sure didn't care about no women. Making love to me was making love to the pipe."

Mr. Griffin remembers the exact date he hit rock-bottom: June 10, 1988. He had just won the lottery for the second time in two weeks. Both times he won $500. Both times he bought $250 worth of crack, rented a room at a local motel, and bought beer and pizza.

But something happened the second time. When he awoke the morning of June 11, he reached in his pocket and found a dime. It was all he had left of the $500.

"I was dirty," he said. "I hadn't bathed. I felt like I was trash. I felt like I was dying. Then, it was just like God tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Boy, get [yourself] together.' "

Mr. Griffin called a friend who took him to North Arundel Hospital's detoxification center. He stayed for seven days before moving into the Hope House drug rehabilitation center for 30 days. He has been clean for four years.

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The room off to the left of the living room in Mr. Griffin's house has been home to his guests as they wait to get into drug treatment programs. But they are not confined to the room, or even to the house.

Jay said he and Mr. Griffin are not there to baby-sit anyone. The only rules a guest must follow are not to steal, and help keep the house clean.

Vince Booth, 30, has known Mr. Griffin since childhood.

"We used to drug together, argue together, fuss," Mr. Booth said. "But when Larry got clean, I knew he was doing something different. At that time I wasn't ready. But something he told me always stuck with me. He told me when I was ready, he would be ready for me."

One Sunday last year, Mr. Booth was ready. He ran into Mr. Griffin in downtown Annapolis and told him he needed help. Mr. Griffin told him to pack a bag and move into the Highland Beach home. He stayed a month.

Having just celebrated his first drug-free year, Mr. Booth said it is nice that he and his old friend can sit down and "talk about things without fighting over the last hit."

Mike, a 40-something recovering drug addict who asks that his last name not be used, is now staying at the house. He has known Mr. Griffin for 15 years. He said the solitude of Highland Beach provides an atmosphere in which he has been able "to get into my head.

"I was pretty much at the end of my rope," Mike said. "I was at a point in my life where I knew I had to make a change. I was locked into a death trap."

Mike is enrolled in an outpatient drug rehabilitation program. He said he now feels "completely different.

"Two months ago, I was sick and scared and withdrawing emotionally, physically and spiritually," he said. "Now, I feel like I'm living in a whole different world."

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