Needed: a few hundred good men

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Guys needed. Nothing against the women who have called here to offer to be mentors to people climbing out of drug addiction and incarceration, but we need guys, too. And right now there are about five women offering to help for every guy who's picked up the phone or tapped out an e-mail.

A lot of guys, including the governor and lieutenant governor of Maryland and the executive of Baltimore County, have expressed support for the efforts to get recovering addicts and other ex-offenders into the working mainstream. (And if Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele and Jim Smith are interested in quietly, privately doing a little mentoring on the side, they should give me a call.)

A lot of others have derided the effort, in e-mail and in various public forums.

And that's OK. It's a free country.

But this is what I ask guys who tell me we're crazy to be spending time on this project: What are you doing about it? Would it break your back to reach out to a single stranger, someone who's shown some motivation to change his life and find a job, and give him an occasional call with an encouraging word?

Trying to get adult ex-offenders, the majority of them men, out of their dreary cycle of drugs-crime-incarceration-unemployment requires hard sweat, patience and a long-term view of things. This is not for the cynical, not for someone with ants-in-pants disease. That's probably why only a handful of agencies of government and the nonprofit sector are at work on it.

But look, this problem is costing us big time and has for years.

Did drug addicts and drug dealers cause their own problems?

Yes.

But how long do we dismiss people in the drug crowd because they made bad decisions or grew up in poor, dysfunctional households with lousy role models and no character education?

I don't see how we can abide a 51 percent recidivist rate and a costly war on drugs that doesn't even approach reducing the addictions that cause the demand. Across the state of Maryland, we spend way too much on courts and incarceration, public safety and home security, emergency-room visits, homeowners' insurance, car insurance - all related to the Baltimore region's nearly 40-year-old drug epidemic. It hurts our national reputation, too. (And I don't care what Men's Fitness says about our level of health.)

How long do we keep doing this?

I don't know where the quote came from originally, but when I interviewed him about these issues last month, Ehrlich used it: "A fool is someone who keeps doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome."

Ehrlich is going to make another push in the coming General Assembly session to get his administration's offender re-entry program into more Maryland prisons, and hopefully the allegedly progressive Democrats who run things in Annapolis will open their minds to it.

What we need is a sweeping break of the drugs-and-crime cycle, a complete rethinking of how to deal with men and women who take up space in our prisons - or consume time and money in our probation system - because they use drugs and/or sell them.

Government and the nonprofit sector need to provide treatment on demand for thousands who can't afford it, intervene in the lives of at-risk kids, and help recovering addicts redirect their lives. The business community needs to remove some of the many obstacles nonviolent offenders face as they seek employment.

For the rest of us, I suggest the one man/one woman approach. If each of us - that is, those who never were or are no longer addicted to drugs, who are employed or retired from employment, who have knowledge, experience or ideas to offer - connects with one of our brothers and sisters trying to emerge from the bleak streets, we might get somewhere.

I have a long list of men between 18 and 50 years of age who can use an encouraging word, even if over the phone.

So, here's a way to get involved, guys. Give me a call at 410-332-6166.

Women are still welcome, too. But we need a few hundred good men.

Another opportunity

You can also do this: Attend the St. Frances Academy Community Center's fourth annual Day of Self-Help and Service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16. The center is at 501 E. Chase St.

I mentioned this last week and mention it again in today's specific appeal to guys. This is a job fair set up to connect those seeking help with those who can give it - either with a job or just the support and advice that comes from mentoring.

Registration is at 8:30 a.m. There will be classes in resume writing, interviewing skills and the attitudes and behaviors needed to be successful in the workplace. At noon, there will be a brief prayer service and a lunch that brings together job-seekers with the mentors willing to help them. After lunch, job-seekers get to meet with employers, program representatives or a lawyer to discuss the long-term effects of criminal records on employment.

If your company would like to have a presence at the job fair, or if you'd like to volunteer as a mentor, call 410-539-5794, ext. 30 or ext. 28.

And if you're looking for work, make sure you get there.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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