Crash Tony and the rest of the Revamp men at Citibank are dressed for as much success as their wardrobes permit. But Friday is "casual day," and most Citibank employees are in jeans.
"Most corporations can't afford today to do do-good stuff. They need to get something back," Shirley L. Bigley, Citibank Maryland's director of community affairs, tells the class. "One reason we're involved in your program is we're looking to hire people from your graduating classes."
The group is guided through a maze of cubicles where phone workers track down credit deadbeats. It is a job where the Revamp men's street smarts and experience with life on the margins could be a plus. An electronic message flashes: "We need to push for those $$$."
"Every desk you go to, there's a computer," says a newcomer, Challenging Charles. "There's no way around it."
Over lunch, Terrific Tony, who favors outdoor labor, is unimpressed: "This sitting down is for women. It makes you lazy," he says.
But Larry shows keen interest: "I could see sitting on my keister for eight hours. I like being around people," he says.
Two full weeks into Project Revamp, the first whiff of a job is in the air -- part-time catering at $5.35 an hour.
"Anybody interested?" Ron Samuels asks.
"I can't make any money sitting around here," Robert says. "What are you all looking for, $9 an hour? You got to start from the bottom."
Larry is perturbed.
"If these guys go out and get employment, what will happen with the class, whoever is left?" he asks. "Are you going to forget Citibank and put us on a job at McDonald's because we didn't finish the course?"
After a Citibank visit, Betty Merrill asks the men what qualities the company is seeking. They make a list: dependability, trustworthiness, punctuality, motivation, loyalty, skills.
"This is the fourth week," Betty says. "Ron, Will and I will sit down and discuss each one of you. Have we seen demonstrative changes in these guys? My next question: Can we get them a job? My third question: Will he go to work? The closer we get to work time, the more people start backpedaling." She pounds the table. "Will he go to work?"
Betty Merrill assigns the men to anonymously list the best reason to hire each classmate and the best reason not to. Then she asks the men to recognize themselves.
Robert immediately spots his negatives: "argumentative, attitude, relations with women, gets upset too easily, rebels against authority."
Almost all the men are well acquainted with their deficiencies, including the newest class members, Melvin ("stubborn") and James ("discharged from the military").
Only Jeff is slow to find himself. The class sees his virtues: "winning personality, very entertaining, looks sharp and alert, positive, extremely confident."
He has unwittingly revealed other traits: "manipulative, getting-over mentality, has lived by 'hustling' so long that adapting to real work may be difficult."
"I accept it, but I really don't see myself as having lived by hustling so long -- but I have," Jeff says, laughing. "I didn't know you could see it."
Jazzy Jeff found HDI in the phone book and hasn't missed a class.
At 39, he is the oldest member of Project Revamp, perhaps the most streetwise and certainly the most guarded. He alone asks that his last name not be used in this article.
"Jeff is good. If anybody should be in telemarketing [at Citibank], I'd think it would be him," Larry says. "The other night he pulls out a wool cap and tells Melvin, 'Buy one for a dollar, and you'll be set for the winter.'
"Melvin says, 'Who'd want to buy that dirty old thing?' But Jeff had another one in his pocket, brand-new. Just that quick, he got Melvin."
A Baltimore native, high school graduate and Navy veteran, Jeff earned over $9 an hour years ago working in a chemical plant. He started drinking in the Navy and later graduated to cocaine.
"I've never been fired for lack of performance or not being able to catch the job," he says. "It's always been me -- not coming into work, being constantly late.
"I need a job like Citicorp, full-time with some benefits, a higher hourly wage. That's what a man my age needs."
John Huggins, co-owner of a cleaning service, needs four "cleaning technicians" to work in the early hours at the Silver Diner in Towson Town Center. The pay is $5 an hour, no benefits.
A born-again Christian, the black businessman comes to class to give a motivational talk and look for workers. He concludes saying: "I firmly believe cleanliness is next to godliness."
+ Crash Tony is sound asleep.
Project Revamp suffers its first relapse. Challenging Charles has failed a random drug test and been expelled from the South Baltimore Station homeless shelter, where Robert, both Tonys and others in the program are staying. He is out of Revamp, too.
Together, the program and the shelter, which fills 40 beds in an old city firehouse, create a 24-hour safety net for the men.