Story of an addict with soul of a poet

The Baltimore Sun

A few years ago, Gregory Welsh, one of thousands of drug addicts in Baltimore, took a trip to a residential treatment center in County Tipperary with the hopes of beating his addiction. He went to Ireland with an evangelical Christian group devoted to helping people reach recovery. Welsh, who had a poet's heart and had written a lot of verse during his long struggle with crack cocaine, experienced a spiritual awakening.

He learned he could live without drugs; he saw how a change in surroundings and friends could be a good thing in his life.

And he found God in the Irish soil.

The days at the treatment center were structured; part of each called for those in treatment to do chores. Welsh worked in the garden. One day, while digging there, he turned up an old crucifix.

You can imagine how powerful the moment was for a weary 32-year-old man with a poet's heart and a crack addiction.

Today being Sunday, and tomorrow being St. Patrick's Day, I would like to tell you how this epiphany saved Gregory Welsh. But that's not so.

His spiritual adviser told me that, soon after Gregory Welsh returned to Baltimore from Ireland in 2006, he went back to the streets to score crack.

By the time I came in on this story, he was dead.

In October 2006, Welsh was shot to death by a drug dealer over money, and a police detective told me the amount in dispute might have been as little as $10. This happened in front of Welsh's parents' home in Northeast Baltimore. He fell on his parents' porch.

It's a common story: Man goes into treatment. Man relapses. Man gets into a deal for drugs. Deal goes bad. Gun comes out. We have a lot of guns in Baltimore, and drugs, and people with criminal records.

Eighty percent of the city's 275 murders in 2006 involved people with criminal records, both the killers and their victims. Some people are comforted by this; it makes them feel safer. The heartless and cynical consider it a tolerable condition - a way of decreasing the surplus population of criminals and losers.

But, as bad as conditions are here, that's not how we do things. We still consider each human life valuable, far more than $10. We study and struggle with this mess in our midst not because of the harm it does to Baltimore's image but because human lives are wasted.

So we have in the sad story of Gregory Welsh the challenge of Yeats - to "hold in a single thought reality and justice."

Our police went after the one suspected of killing Gregory Welsh, and they arrested 25-year-old Kenneth Megginson. Thursday evening, about 6 o'clock, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury found Megginson guilty of second-degree murder and possession and use of a handgun. He'll be sentenced by Judge John A. Howard.

Whistleblower aid

Several e-mails arrived in response to Thursday's column about George Tarburton, the former Maryland Transportation Authority Police officer who says he was forced to resign from his job after blowing the whistle on gaping lapses in security around the Port of Baltimore in 2005.

Tarburton's sacking took place while Robert Ehrlich was governor. Ehrlich's successor, Martin O'Malley, told Tarburton he appreciated whistle-blowers and promised to revisit his case.

But O'Malley did nothing for Tarburton, except uphold the Ehrlich administration position that the 17-year veteran of the port police had violated department rules by talking to a Sun reporter and, further, had surrendered all claims to his old job.

Tarburton is still unable to find a job in law enforcement. He's working as a security guard in Owings Mills. Some readers were outraged.

"Please help this guy," wrote Josh Levy. "No one makes personal sacrifices anymore, and even though this gentleman regrets it, he made the right choice in terms of public safety. As a police officer, isn't that his responsibility? Typical of O'Malley to make a promise to the guy and not follow through."

"Shame on former Gov. Ehrlich, that he took the money away [from] a little man that told the real truth to the Baltimore Sun," wrote Anja White. "Shame on Gov. O'Malley for not reinstating Mr. Tarburton and failing to recognize him for [telling] the honest truth about security issue around the Baltimore port."

Here's another one, from Donnie Zachary, who served in the Marines with Tarburton in the 1980s. "I wanted to thank you for re-shining some light on his unfortunate situation. ... How stupid and narrow-minded local governments can be even at the expense of public safety. Obviously George is bitter and rightly so. I can tell you that he was and clearly is a good man and a better American, a Marine just like me, a brother for life even though I have not seen him in many years. I, like many others, will always be in his corner."

A reader named Virginia Stein asked me to pass along this note: "Dear Mr. Tarburton, please accept my deepest thanks and admiration for your courage, astuteness, and determination in your efforts to protect the citizens of Baltimore. Please stand by your convictions, and don't let yourself be diminished by those who value their jobs more than their spiritual and physical freedom, and their self-respect."

More to come, I'm sure.

Drug dealers, former drug dealers and others with criminal records can obtain information about re-entry programs and jobs by contacting Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166 or at dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks can be heard on "Midday," noon to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, on 88.1, WYPR-FM.

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