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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: From drug addiction to homeownership with a good deed in between | COMMENTARY

Kaitlyn Smith, right, befriended Aeric McCoy and helped him gain treatment for his drug addiction after his long, good-deed trek from West Baltimore in 2017.

I learned long ago that celebrating someone’s sobriety comes with a heavy caution: Relapse happens, and the fall from grace can be harder than the original sin. Conscious of that, I still think readers will be pleased with what I’ve learned about Aeric “Bubby” McCoy, the subject of this column five and a half years ago.

In June 2017, McCoy returned a purse he found on a vacant lot in West Baltimore to its owner in East Baltimore, and he walked several miles to do it.

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At the time, McCoy was 36 years old, addicted to heroin and homeless. He constantly needed money for a habit that had formed five years earlier when he started taking pain medication for injuries sustained in a car accident.

The purse was nice. He thought about selling it. For some reason, he decided to do the right thing instead.

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“I didn’t care about my life,” McCoy said. “I was in so much pain mentally, I felt like my life had no value. And then, when I found that purse, it was like God put it there. It was crazy, like, normally, I would have just sold it. But this time, for once, I told myself, ‘Aeric, you gotta find the owner and give it back.’”

The purse was empty but for an envelope with the name and address of a woman named Kaitlyn Smith, who lived near Patterson Park, about four miles away. McCoy assumed she was the owner of the purse.

He bought a subway pass from a stranger at the Upton station and took the Metro across town to the Johns Hopkins stop. From there, he still had a long walk.

On that day, McCoy was ragged and dirty, worn out from lack of sleep. He struggled to keep moving. Two women in a van spotted him, pulled over and offered to buy the purse. He refused, and almost immediately regretted that decision. He sat on steps and cried about it.

But he kept going. He picked up something to eat at a church that was offering free lunch and kept walking toward the address on the envelope.

When he finally reached his destination, the woman named Kaitlyn Smith spotted him on the sidewalk. “I’m the owner of that purse,” she said.

Smith, 29 at the time and working in sales, was shocked to see the purse. A few weeks earlier, she had left it in a vulnerable spot and someone swiped it. A Baltimore police detective later found her credit card and driver’s license while searching an apartment in Upton. But the thief had apparently tossed the purse into a weed-choked lot behind a vacant house where McCoy had gone to shoot up.

Now the purse was back in her hands. Instead of saying thank-you, offering a reward and leaving it at that, Smith took an interest in McCoy and listened to his story. She ended up buying him a one-way ticket to a residential treatment center in Florida — a place where McCoy had earlier sought help for his addiction. She set up a GoFundMe page to help defray the costs of his rehabilitation.

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“That woman saved my life,” McCoy said. “She saved my life.”

I left the story there and moved on. We’ve had three national elections and a pandemic since then.

Only recently did I see Kaitlyn Smith’s name again. She popped up on Facebook. Fully prepared to accept bad news about Aeric McCoy — relapse always being a possibility — I asked her what became of him.

“Meeting Aeric changed my life in many ways, including a career change to the field of behavioral health and feeling pulled to invest more into my personal relationships,” Smith said. “So I moved to Charleston, where my parents retired, in the fall of 2019. Aeric and I stayed very close. He moved to Georgia and participated in a [10-month] treatment program that included employment. We talk and inspire each other often. Life is so funny, isn’t it?”

I spoke with McCoy by phone the other night.

He lives in his girlfriend’s house in a small town in southwestern Georgia, drives a 20-year-old SUV and works at a fast-food restaurant.

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He says he had to get out of Baltimore to survive — he knows too many people from his drug days, and heroin and fentanyl are cheap and accessible here. “It’s everywhere,” he says, “this corner and that corner.”

Still, he says, it’s hard to be away from Baltimore because he has family here, including a daughter. “But,” he says, “they would rather have me alive than on drugs and living nearby.”

Since July 2020, he says, he’s been mainly clean but for a relapse that occurred during one of his visits to Baltimore. He picked up some home improvement skills during the past five years and plans to apply them to a modest, three-bedroom house he’s set to buy.

In fact, the financing has been approved, and McCoy is scheduled to close on the sale on Monday.

“I work hard and save my money,” he says.

The house is a fixer-upper that McCoy bought for $17,500. “It needs a new water heater, and I can install that myself,” he says.

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I pondered the epilogue before me: Aeric McCoy, homeowner.

“Do you realize how blessed I am, bro?” he says. “I was almost dead … and now I’m buying a house. That’s big business.”


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