Man's heart as big as a house Former addict has room to give others a chance

April 12, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

The first thing you notice about Larry Griffin is his size.

He is a big man, like George Foreman is big. But his friends say a man with a big heart needs a big body to carry it in.

Since "God tapped" him on his shoulder and told him to clean up his act, Mr. Griffin said he has moved away from the life in which he once spent $500 on cocaine and alcohol in less than 24 hours. Now he opens his heart and his home to addicts who want to get clean.

For the past two years, Mr. Griffin and his roommate Jay, musicians in the band "Mama Jama," have used a portion of their Highland Beach home as a haven for addicts waiting to get into a drug treatment program. Jay has asked that his last name not be used.

"This is not something open to the public," Mr. Griffin said as he tugged at his goatee, recalling the 10 people who have stayed at the home. "These are people I know, or Jay knows. I'm not going to do anything to put this neighborhood in danger. I give everybody a checkout before I let them stay here. I make sure they want to get clean and sober.

"But what I'm doing is what everybody needs to do, open their hearts and their doors. People have got to realize that [drug addicts] are still human beings. They're all God's children."

With budget cuts reducing the number of available beds in treatment facilities and increasing the waiting lists, many people working with addicts applaud Mr. Griffin's efforts.

"There are many examples of recovering people getting and living together to support each other," said William Rufenacht, director of the Hope House treatment center in Crownsville. "With so much elimination in budgets and so many places being forced to close, having a safe place to stay until treatment is available is probably a good thing."

"There are people out there just being very good Samaritans," said Rick Sampson, of the state's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. "I have a guy in my office doing a similar thing."

One of the traits that allows Mr. Griffin to be that good Samaritan is his ability to communicate, Jay said. And he should know. He is one of the drug addicts Mr. Griffin led to sobriety.

"He's just a good guy," Jay said. "He's good at getting people to express their feelings. He just likes for people to be happy."

Because of the isolation of the Highland Beach community -- only about 50 residents live there year-round -- very few people are aware of Mr. Griffin's deeds. Mr. Griffin's neighbor, Joe Butcher, one of five town commissioners, said he was not aware anyone but Mr. Griffin and his roommate were staying in the home.

"I certainly haven't seen a lot of activity over there," Mr. Butcher said. "But it's quiet right now. I really couldn't comment until I knew more about what [Mr. Griffin is] doing."

Highland Beach, just southeast of Annapolis, was founded in 1893 by Charles R. Douglass, son of abolitionist and Maryland native Frederick Douglass. Charles Douglass and his wife had been denied a room at the Bay Ridge Hotel. A black couple who lived nearby offered Mr. Douglass a place to stay, and later sold him 44 acres of their land.

Mr. Douglass subdivided and sold lots to friends. Highland Beach became the vacation spot for the black elite -- doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Poets Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar were just two of the many famous blacks known to visit the area.

Today, Highland Beach is one of only two incorporated towns in Anne Arundel County. Annapolis is the other.

*

Like many addicts, Mr. Griffin's drug abuse began with alcohol. He was 13 when he started drinking on the basketball court. He moved on to marijuana after a friend fighting in Vietnam started ++ mailing him marijuana cigarettes wrapped in aluminum foil. He was 16 then, on his way to dropping out of school.

In the 1970s, Mr. Griffin smoked marijuana with musician Sly Stone. He also took a job in New York referring drug addicts to rehabilitation centers, all the while becoming more and more involved in the drug scene.

A series of band jobs in Annapolis always provided accessibility to drugs. But a job with the rock band Daylight provided accessibility beyond Mr. Griffin's imagination.

"That was my education to knowing about all the drugs in the world," Mr. Griffin said. "During that time all the guys in the band were white except me, and all the white guys could get the best drugs -- PCP, crystal meth, mescaline, acid.

"Any time we played, we had drugs coming from around the world. It was like a mini-Woodstock. Everyone in the band was talented, but the reason we broke up was the drug problem," he added.

By 1980, Mr. Griffin was free-basing cocaine.

"I was using $200 to $300 a day," he said. "It started to affect work because I was doing drugs on the job. I started losing jobs. I wasn't fired. I'd quit. I just wouldn't stay.

"I got an apartment, and I lost it in two months. I started ripping people off. They'd give me money to get drugs and I'd just run off."

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