Hotel worker honored

Pride: That's a major part of Julevette Price's life these days after she uplifted herself from years of difficulties.

April 14, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

The guy carrying a black duffel bag and walking out a door reserved for employees looked a little suspicious to Julevette Price as she made security rounds at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel garage.

"Sir, can I help you? Do you have a car in the garage," she asked.

The man turned and Price immediately recognized the "peanut"-shaped head and dark-circled eyes from a crime photo she'd seen earlier in the week.

The man fled into a thick July 4 crowd and Price radioed to other security officers who caught him at the other end of the hotel.

Her quick eye helped nab a thief believed to be responsible for more than 165 cases in the Inner Harbor alone. It also earned her a trip to Chicago last week, where she was named Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year for large hotels, a national award given by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The award recognizes exemplary, nonmanagement employees and is considered a plum in the hotel industry. Price was nominated for the Maryland Hotel & Motel Association Award Security Officer of the Year Award by her bosses, and after winning that she moved on to national competition.

But it was more her life story than that day last summer that garnered the only standing ovation at the ceremony in Chicago and has since caused her bosses and co-workers to respect her even more.

Through the Police Athletic League, Price, 41, and her eldest daughter, Kelly, 19, teach teen-agers to abstain from sex. She takes in babies of drug-addicted parents. And, after a co-worker was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Price helped organize a campaign for the women at work to get tested.

"Julevette doesn't just do her job well," said Sheraton general manager Jon Koscher. "She does life well. She takes care of the hotel. She takes care of employees. She takes care of family and friends."

Price is also a recovering cocaine addict who, nine years ago, could barely take care of herself.

Growing up in a troubled area of West Baltimore, Price said, she never felt as if she quite belonged. She was the skinniest kid in the neighborhood, so she got into fights to prove she was tough, and she always felt as if she were the ugly duckling in her family.

"I went to school for one reason, and one reason only," she said. "I didn't want my mother to kill me."

By junior high, the family had moved to the Hollander Ridge public housing projects in East Baltimore because, Price thinks, she was on the road to being kicked out of school.

She hung with a crew of 14 girls who called themselves the "down-the-hill-girls" and got into fights with the "up-the hill-girls." They'd smoke cigarettes and drink bottles of Thunderbird and other cheap wine under a big plastic turtle at a playground.

Eventually, she said, all the girls would become drug addicts.

Price started with prescription Valium and marijuana. By high school graduation, she was popping pills and smoking acid regularly. Though her mother was a counselor with Planned Parenthood, Price had had an abortion every year since she was 13. She could barely read.

The girl who had once dreamed of being a preschool teacher was living a life leading nowhere.

She spent the next decade dating a string of drug dealers who fathered three children and would support her habit and pay the bills that welfare wouldn't cover. When an old boyfriend married somebody else in 1982, Price turned to cocaine to heal her heart and, she said, her addiction "took off."

"I'd snort cocaine from the dining room table then get mad at my kids for walking in and seeing me," she said.

In 1991, Price was living with a man 30 years her senior. Her mother was threatening to take the kids and Price says she felt out of control. "That was such a hard time for me because I was watching her self-destruct," said mother Martha. "She wasn't my child anymore."

Price called the Department of Child Protective Services to try to get help by saying she was neglecting her children. Eventually she was placed in a weekend detoxification program, and later a long-term drug treatment program.

For all practical purposes, Price tells people, her job in security at the Sheraton is her first. She worked a short while with the Baltimore school system visiting homes of kids who skipped school, and once with a deli, but she was so high on drugs during her early jobs that she doesn't like to count them.

At the Sheraton, she started as a garage attendant and was eventually promoted to be one of two security supervisors. She oversees 22 workers and is paid $13.01 an hour, more money than she's ever made. Price hopes to one day become director, the person in charge of all security.

"I'm probably never leaving this hotel," she said. "They'll have to drag me out of here."

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