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Parents who owe support get amnesty


Raymond Callahan's conscience has been bothering him for months. Yesterday, the city of Baltimore gave him a chance to set things right.

Mr. Callahan, 40, fathered a child 19 years ago. Soon after, he joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Okinawa, Japan. Separated by an ocean, Mr. Callahan and his high school sweetheart -- the mother of his baby girl -- drifted apart.

For years, Mr. Callahan made child support payments faithfully. He fell behind recently after losing his full-time job at Valleywood Inc.

"I felt bad about it, but what could I do?" Mr. Callahan said.

So he sat in a crowded hallway on the fourth floor of the courthouse for more than three hours yesterday, waiting for an answer from the Baltimore City Office of Child Support Enforcement.

"I'm here to find out how much I owe," he said.

Absentee parents who owe child support have been given an opportunity to turn themselves into the sheriff's office at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse this week without being arrested.

Mr. Callahan was one of 55 absentee parents who went to the courthouse yesterday, the third day of Father's Day Amnesty Week. The weeklong event, slated to end tomorrow, is a joint effort of the city's office of child support enforcement, the sheriff's department and the Baltimore Circuit Court. Parents owing child support can turn themselves in from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. in room 104 of the courthouse, at 110 N. Calvert St., without being arrested.

"Some parents who have come into our office have said this amnesty was like a Christmas gift," said Sheriff John W. Anderson, who proposed the amnesty program. "At 3:30 p.m. Friday, Christmas is over. We're back to business as usual."

Marvin Kirby of Olive Street was the first person to turn himself in this week. Drawn by the promise of amnesty, Mr. Kirby, 65, arrived at the courthouse at 8 a.m. Monday.

"I wanted peace of mind and a clear conscience," the retired carpenter said. "I had gotten behind in my payments because I lost my job. Then, when I got a job I was afraid to go up there" to the office of child support enforcement. "I figured I was probably in trouble."

He figured right. When he arrived at the sheriff's office, he was told there was an arrest warrant against him for failing to make support payments for his son, who is now 23.

More than 10,000 absentee parents from Baltimore City have outstanding child support and paternity warrants issued against them. It is unknown how much they owe. However, statewide, absentee parents owe $771 million.

"The sheriff's office, with its limited resources, cannot serve all of these outstanding warrants," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said at a press conference on the amnesty program yesterday. "That's why this program is so important. It will decrease the number of warrants, help children and help families who are struggling to make ends meet."

Mr. Kirby, who collects a $669 disability check each month, made a good-faith payment of $100 Monday. He will be in court on Aug. 14 to find out how much he owes and set up a payment schedule.

Mr. Kirby was one of a handful of men who were able to make a payment. Many of the men in the courthouse yesterday were unemployed. So far, about $800 has been collected this week from the 143 parents who turned themselves in.

"If I had money, I wouldn't be sitting here right now," said Mr. Callahan, who owes $332 in back support. He made child support payments for 17 years, until he lost his job at Valleywood last year. Since then, he has been living with his mother and stepfather in Baltimore.

"I've been looking for a job, but the economy is really bad," Mr. Callahan said, shaking his head slowly back and forth. Dressed in a black T-shirt and slacks, he said he had come to the courthouse from a job interview.

"I want to find a job and do what's right," said Mr. Callahan. "That's the only reason I'm here."

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