Former drug dealer tries to keep others clean

October 11, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

He was a local hero, star of the high school basketball team and the first one in his neighborhood to go to college. A decade later, lured by fast money and false prestige, he was selling cocaine.

Ron Blake is clean and sober now, but he remembers those days and has used his experiences in an innovative program for young men in Annapolis lured into a dangerous life on the streets.

They meet every Monday in an office building off Forest Drive and tell similar stories of lives in poverty. They saw the chance to make some easy money. They became addicted to the power they felt and the trappings of expensive clothes, fast cars and even faster women.

One of them, a 19-year-old who lives in one of the city's 10 public housing complexes, began dealing crack cocaine as a freshman at Annapolis High School to buy the latest styles. He "wanted to dress nice for the ladies," and prided himself on never wearing the same outfit twice, he said.

Another began selling drugs to pay his way through college. He was holding down two jobs, but neither paid more than minimum wage. A third saved $35,000, hoping to buy a house, but lost it all when he was caught.

"They're not addicted to drugs. They're lured by the flashy lifestyle," said Dominique Robinson, an addictions counselor with Alcohol & Drug Programs Management Inc. in Parole. She laid the groundwork for the 12-week program, then hired Mr. Blake to help the dealers who might tune out ordinary drug treatment programs.

"Most of the guys in the group have what we call a problem with image," she said. "They need the flash, the jewelry, the nice clothes, the recognition. I think a lot of it is distorted values. They place so much value on material things."

The program, patterned after a similar one in Prince George's County, is the first in the area and highly touted by Annapolis officials and drug treatment experts. ADPM plans to expand it this fall by offering sessions at Robinwood, a well-kept public housing community that became notorious this summer for open-air drug markets and sporadic violence.

The men in the group are mostly young and black, although a 57-year-old white construction worker who dealt PCP for 30 lucrative days also faithfully attends the meetings.

Most survived for a year or two on the street before they were arrested -- except for the man who sold PCP to pay his bills and lasted only 30 days. And most of them were court-ordered, placed in the program as a condition of their parole.

Sometimes, they admit they made a mistake, that life as a dealer wasn't as glamorous as it looked, that the fear of landing in jail lurked behind every successful sale. But they also complain about getting caught.

"I had jobs, but they weren't paying me right, and they made me do things I wasn't supposed to do," said the 21-year-old who paid for his education at an out-of-state college with $10,000 from selling drugs. "I was doing all right until I got busted."

Only one of them had a drug habit. A 24-year-old who was one of Annapolis' bigger dealers said he began experimenting with drugs at age 11 and was hooked on crack a decade later. He checked into a residential treatment program, quit using drugs and decided to recoup the money he had spent for drugs by dealing to other crack addicts.

He became a big man at Robinwood and had stashed away $35,000 before the police caught up with him.

Now he admits that selling drugs terrified him. He had no sense of security and used to wake up in the mornings wishing he had a normal job.

"I wanted the lifestyle of the rich and famous," he said. "The drug dealers and gangsters . . . those were the type of people I used to look up to. But when you're always thinking about it -- when are you gonna get caught? That's no kind of life."

Early in the program, Mr. Blake, an addictions counselor at Second Genesis in Prince George's County, talks about the "hype" that seduces so many young men. They grow up seeing the dealers driving the nicest cars, sporting the most stylish clothes, always having money to spend. What lies behind that so-called prestige, he keeps repeating, is pain.

"Anybody that's selling drugs -- it's a known fact that you will go to jail or die," he warns the group. "Don't believe the hype, don't believe you're on top of everything, because that lifestyle can kill you."

He knows about the pain from experience. Unlike most of the men in the group, he started experimenting with the cocaine he was selling on the Eastern Shore and soon became "my own best customer."

He saw both the thrills and terrors of dealing. He played the game of trying to outsmart the police and felt the contempt of other dealers toward their customers -- the "crack heads."

He also experienced the frantic need of the addict, willing to do anything for the next high.

The men in the group listen, sometimes unwillingly. They shift in their chairs and look uncomfortable. Then, abruptly, one will blurt out his fears.

"I didn't think I could hang with the crowd," said the 24-year-old who became a big man at Robinwood. "I was selling drugs just to be in."

Dealers who were never addicted to drugs often have a tougher time resisting the lure of the streets, Ms. Robinson said. They feel in control. They know how much money they can make. They are all too aware that other jobs won't pay several thousand dollars a day.

"It's tough," agreed Mr. Blake. "You look at the job market, and a lot of guys can't even get $5-an-hour jobs."

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