I am regularly pleased by the number of Sun readers who ask about Harry Calloway Jr. I get it all the time. People ask how he's doing, what he's doing, whether he's staying out of trouble - and this continues several months after Calloway first emerged as a kind of poster child for second chances among drug dealers, drug addicts and all the miserable others who drained the life out of long stretches of Baltimore over long periods of time.
You'd think Calloway would be despised, considering that he spent nearly half of his life contributing to his hometown's national reputation as a violent, drug-infested city.
Calloway was, as he puts it, "into the wickedness" for many years, starting after his graduation from City College. He sold drugs and handled loads of money. He's one of the few people I know who claims to have held $50,000 in cash. At one time, he made enough from heroin sales to pay employees $1,500 a week.
He's a battle-scarred veteran of Baltimore's street-corner heroin wars.
In 1998, someone tried to kill him as he walked out of a late-night club.
He survived nine bullets to his face, arms and stomach.
He's been in jail.
He's snorted heroin.
He's been unemployed.
He's been homeless.
Friday at lunch, he wore a chef's tunic and served seafood Creole over rice.
Did you get that last part?
All those who have been rooting for this guy - and even those who haven't - should know that Harry Calloway Jr., former Baltimore drug dealer and recovering heroin addict, was named co-valedictorian of the ninth graduating class of Moveable Feast's Culinary Arts and Life Skills Training Program. Vince Williams, operations director for Moveable Feast, presented Calloway and said, "I feel proud and blessed to be in his company today."
All those who take a pessimistic view of efforts to extricate self-damaged human beings from the wreckage of Baltimore's three heroin-and-homicide decades should have been at St. Benedict's parish hall Friday. You should have seen Harry Calloway, looking all handsome and healthy in his chef's jacket and hat, hugging classmates and supporters, posing for photographs, expressing gratitude, serving seafood Creole over rice.
Calloway and his classmates ---11 other men and women with scarred pasts, all ex-offenders - decorated the hall in white, black and silver linens, balloons, ribbons and stars. They made a graduation lunch for their friends, relatives and sponsors. There was potato-and-leek soup, a fresh salad, roast turkey with stuffing and gravy, London broil, roasted vegetables and asparagus in Hollandaise sauce. The desserts included cheesecake, fruit salad and tarts.
All 12 graduates, the largest class ever to come through the Moveable Feast program, completed a 12-week course in food and kitchen safety and fundamental cooking methods. This gives them a genuine advantage over others seeking work in the restaurant, hotel and catering industries.
For Calloway, Friday's graduation was extra sweet. His first attempt at the class failed. He enrolled in July, after learning about Moveable Feast in this column, but wasn't able to complete the course because of Arrest Fest.
Arrest Fest occurred in late summer. Baltimore police went on a street-sweeping arrest binge. They set a record, with 8,964 arrests in August alone. About midday on Sept. 6, Calloway was on Gough Street in Southeast Baltimore, cleaning out a house and doing some hauling for a man named Harvey Jones. Two police officers stopped him and asked Calloway what he was doing there. He gave a snappy answer, and that was a mistake. The police arrested Calloway for trespassing. He spent 30 days in jail. An old arrest warrant from his druggie days popped up, too.
The whole thing threw Calloway off track.
"Harry was excelling like no other in our class," says Vince Williams. "But he was derailed by ... a small, frivolous thing."
He didn't get to finish the Moveable Feast class, and he lost valuable time in the night courses he was taking at Sojourner-Douglass College.
Vince Williams, among others, worried about Calloway becoming discouraged and slipping back into the wickedness.
While the threat of that for a time seemed acute - Calloway fell off the radar screen for a couple of months - it didn't happen.
"He came back," Williams says. "Harry said, 'I started something, and I'm going to finish it.'"
Calloway took his September arrest in stride, as a mere delay in plans.
"No more excuses," he declared when we regained contact in late October. "My plan is to be a better man and to help others. It's time for all of us to stand the hell up and be men. That's how the drug dealing stops. That's how the killing stops. That's how we get our community back."
Harry Calloway got out of jail and got some help. He found transitional housing through People Encouraging People Inc., and now resides at Earl's Place on East Lombard Street. He returned to class at Sojourner-Douglass in November. He went back to Moveable Feast and took the cooking course all over again, from scratch.
Friday, he served seafood Creole over rice.
He shared valedictory honors with Horace Burnette.
"I came from a lifestyle that has nothing to do with anything I'm doing now," Calloway told the graduation gathering. "Ex-offenders and addicts can change their lives and go on - that's what I thank this program for."
Congratulations, Harry. Good luck, brother, and keep in touch. Don't let us down. More important, as Mr. Chip, from Goodwill of the Chesapeake, says: "Don't let yourself down."
The culinary training program at Moveable Feast resumes next month. Students receive a $50 weekly stipend for perfect attendance. They must be at least 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 Vince Williams at 410-327-3420.
Charles, the homeless man who turned up on railroad tracks in Harford County after the Feb. 12 snowstorm, has been located. I spoke to him by telephone the other day. He's in a warm, dry place, being evaluated and treated in an area hospital. I'll have more on this in a future column. For now, Charles says he's OK.