Recovering addicts have instructive tales to tell

December 14, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend stood in the middle of the room, chatting pleasantly with two men and a woman, shaking hands with each and praising them for their, as she put it, "courage."

Soon she was telling them about her celebrity relatives: her father, the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Her uncle, the late President John F. Kennedy. She even confessed that some character by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger is her cousin-in-law.

As Townsend turned to leave the room, Dwight Donaldson chided Kennedy for eating too much turkey over the Thanksgiving holiday. Turning on her heel and flashing that mischievous Kennedy smile, the lieutenant governor walked back to Donaldson and asked, "How did you know that?"

"I can tell," Donaldson answered, as a mischievous smile of his own crept on to his face.

"That made my day," Donaldson said later, after the lieutenant governor had left. "To know that a woman with such famous relatives as that would stop in and talk to us."

Thelma Parran and Steven David - sitting near Donaldson in a ground-floor room of the state parole and probation building on Guilford Avenue - nodded their agreement. But any observer of the exchange among these three - all recovering drug addicts - and the lieutenant governor would have to conclude they had made her day as well.

Can drug treatment work? Parran, David and Donaldson say it has for them. Their stories might be inspirational to some, instructive to others. We should all take heed of them to learn what we can about stopping the scourge of drug addiction.

Parran will be 32 in two days. She was an addict for 18 years, starting at the age of 13.

"I got on drugs being a follower," she said. "Seeing people doing it. So I decided to try it out. I got off when I was tired, and I was sick and tired of being tired. I had hit rock bottom, and I felt there was a better way."

It was that last time in jail - about a year ago - for theft and violation of probation that persuaded Parran to kick drugs. She has been in and out of jail for years. Her first arrest came when she was 13. Even then she started stealing to support her drug habit. She started with marijuana and alcohol, later trying pills, acid, heroin and cocaine. Jail rescued her, she claimed, because drug court required her to get treatment.

David started drugs when he was only 10.

"I was trying to fit in with the older guys," David recalled. "I was hanging with them - smoking pot and drinking." At 19 he started selling pot. Later, he sold and snorted cocaine, denying all the while that he was an addict. A trip to South Carolina - without his dope - convinced him otherwise.

"I woke up sick from the lack of dope," David said. "I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I drank a lot of beer, and I still couldn't sleep." He returned to Baltimore and the drugs. But before he left for South Carolina, he had sold drugs to an undercover cop. There was a warrant out for him. Baltimore police were looking for David as he was looking for a way out of his addiction.

"I dropped to my knees and asked for God's help," David said. The police knocked on his door at precisely that moment. They had come to arrest him.

"That was the day that saved my life," David claimed. "I've been sober ever since." He went to a boot camp program, got his G.E.D. and has taken some college courses. David said the help given him by Baltimore state Dels. Ruth M. Kirk and Clarence M. Mitchell IV and 4th District City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. has been invaluable.

Like Parran and David, Donaldson started using drugs early. He was 12 when he started using pot and pills.

"It was curiosity," he remembered. "I saw some older folks doing it." Much of his adult life has been spent getting locked up in drug raids, evading police, fighting police and selling drugs. He was ready to quit after, he claims, he overdosed on drugs and slept for four days - but not because he wanted to.

"I couldn't move," he said. "But my daughter was born on that fourth day, and that's when I woke up. That's when I knew there was a spirit. You have to believe in a spirit, in God."

Parran and David agreed, testifying that it is God who has helped keep them off drugs. Drug addiction is every bit as much an affliction of the soul as it is of the body.

Friday will mark Parran's first anniversary of being drug-free. David will be drug-free three years next month. Donaldson said he has been clean nearly three years. Drug treatment has worked for these three, but Donaldson warned that ultimately drug treatment is up to the addict.

"Until you're really ready to stop getting high," Donaldson admonished, "nothing nobody can say or do will change you."

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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