JAMES CRAIG says, "Don't make this just another recovering-addict story, OK? It should be about Drug Court and what it did for me." I tell Craig we're in agreement on the aim of today's column, but that to call his story "just another recovering-addict story" is to demean it. It strikes me as extraordinary: Seven years ago, he was a senior resident of the sad city-within-the-city, with 30 years wasted in Baltimore's sprawling, teeming underworld of heroin and cocaine. Today he runs a small business, supports his children, and dreams of putting more recovering addicts to work.
His life changed drastically when he entered Baltimore's Drug Treatment Court in its inaugural year. The court opened in 1994 to provide treatment for drug offenders who, if not for their hunger for heroin and coke, likely would not commit crimes. Users or dealers of drugs, with no history of violence, were eligible to receive probation instead of jail, the probation requiring treatment with intense monitoring by the court.
When a police officer arrested him at Riggs and Fremont in West Baltimore one day in 1994, James Craig was a prime candidate for Drug Court. He was 43 years old and a user of some kind of narcotic - first codeine syrup, then heroin - since his early teen years. Arrested numerous times, he estimates that he spent a total of 18 years in state and federal prisons, local jails and halfway houses for crimes ranging from drug possession to car theft. He stole cars and drove them to suburban neighborhoods, where he stole property he could convert to cash for drugs.
As the years went by, Craig kept fathering children - eight of them, all with the same woman, and she received welfare to support them. He sometimes worked warehouse and construction jobs, but Craig was too deep into the daily hunt for a fix to support his kids.
"They'd see me come around once in a while and they'd say, `Here he come, there he go,'" says Craig of his older kids. "That's what they'd call me: `Here he come, there he go.'"
Craig slept in abandoned cars and rowhouses. He mainlined heroin in shooting galleries. He stole money from people he knew. A court would sometimes send Craig into a drug-treatment program. But they didn't work for him; they weren't tough enough. "And I didn't want them to work," Craig says.
It wasn't until his arrest at Riggs and Fremont, when Craig was middle-aged and tired of the life, that he seemed ready for recovery. A female officer found Craig pitiful as she arrested him on a car-theft warrant. "She felt sorry for me," Craig says. "She said, `I hate to do this.' I said, `But you're rescuing me. I've reached the bottom.'"
That's when he entered Drug Court. His probation called for outpatient treatment and urinalysis five days a week, a meeting with a probation agent three days a week, monthly progress conferences before a judge, mandatory enrollment in an education program. It was far more intensive than any treatment regimen Craig had experienced. "But I was willing to try anything," he says. "I had nowhere else to go. I had burned all my bridges."
His probation was 18 months, but Craig lived up to his obligations with such conviction that District Court Judge Jamey Weitzman, the Baltimore judge who led the establishment of Drug Court, released him after 12.
Six years later, Weitzman remains proud of Craig, and not just because of his "graduation" from Drug Court, but because of what he's made of his life since then.
While working as a jack-of-all-trades for an engineering company, Craig decided to start his own business. He bought a used pickup truck and started hauling debris from commercial and residential demolition sites. In time, he was able to hire helpers and to expand the business into limited home improvement - hanging drywall, fixing roofs - and landscaping. Today, he says, he has nine employees, and some of the people he's hired over the years were Drug Court graduates. He calls his company New Horizon Enterprises. His customers include insurance companies and banks. He thinks a $1 million revenue-year is within sight.
"I'd like to put more [Drug Court graduates] to work," he says. "They want to work, they want to be able to provide."
As Craig provides for his family now. He contributes regularly to the support of the youngest children, who live with their mother. (She's off welfare and employed, too.) Craig is no longer known as "Here he come, there he go," and a couple of years ago, his eldest son, Darryl, asked his father to be best man at his wedding.
Drug Court worked for James Craig. It has worked for a lot of people. It represents a genuine breakthrough in the way we deal with addicts. The state Division of Parole and Probation says 11 percent of Drug Court "graduates" have been convicted of subsequent crimes. A University of Maryland study found the rearrest rate among those enrolled in Drug Court to be one-third that of offenders who rejected the option.