Jobless Norris is back - on radio

Work: As he struggles with life after prison, the former police commissioner hopes a talk-show host stint pays off.

February 28, 2005|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - The former Baltimore police commissioner who once made six figures is seeking $8-an-hour jobs, and he's not having much luck.

"What am I going to do?" asks Edward T. Norris. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Nobody wants to hire me."

He has applied at five or six health clubs, he says, and a handful of retail stores. Each time, he checks the box that says he has been convicted of a crime. All he has landed is a part-time gig at a store, the name of which he won't disclose. While he waits, he will launch today his potential new career as a talk-show host, appearing free of charge for two weeks as a guest on a Baltimore radio station.

So it goes these days for the man some believe is the best police commissioner in the history of Baltimore, a third-generation New York officer. This is the man who did what his predecessors couldn't - and his successors haven't. He reduced the killing.

He was 39 when he came to Baltimore; 42 when a strained relationship with City Hall prompted him to bolt to the Maryland State Police; and 43 when he pleaded guilty to using a city police account to finance extramarital affairs, meals and shopping trips.

Now he's a 44-year-old convicted felon on house arrest. He is a month removed from a six-month stint in federal prison, and his new cell is the 1,050-square-foot Tampa home he and his wife bought while he was incarcerated. He is allowed out only to work, look for work and go to church on Sundays. Even though it's 76 degrees outside, he wears pants and socks to cover his electronic monitoring anklet.

A reporter from The Sun came to Tampa on Friday to meet with Norris. But the man who loves the news media would have none of it.

Less than two miles from his interviewer, he agreed to talk by phone. He disclosed where he planned to look for work that day - a mall near the airport where he says there are "help-wanted signs everywhere" - but the job hunt was aborted when Norris said he no longer had a car to go job hunting. His wife had taken their used Nissan Xterra to work.

Norris declined to be interviewed in person at his garage-less bungalow in South Tampa.

He says he is terrified to go back to federal prison for violating his house arrest, which forbids visitors.

Yet via phone, former inmate No. 41115-037 is willing to talk about, well, everything. Friday's 90-minute conversation occurred between his probation officer's unannounced first visit and the scheduled appointment of a phone specialist to install the line that will allow him to enter the world of Baltimore talk radio - joining "Out to Lunch" from noon to 1 p.m. on 105.7 FM.

The man who hired Norris noted his experience as a guest star on HBO's The Wire. The former commissioner said he hopes this might help launch a new career, much like a man who went to prison after Watergate.

"Hopefully it works out, and I'll have some kind of future in radio - a G. Gordon Liddy kind of thing," Norris says. "Even if you're a felon you can have some kind of career."

Talk radio is known for wildly bouncing from topic to topic, and Norris seems more than comfortable with that type of format. He talked with The Sun about prison workouts, watching cartoons and who was a better boss, Mayor Martin O'Malley or Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

It doesn't take much to get him talking about his disbelief that he was indicted and pleaded guilty to corruption and tax offenses. "This country is so focused on sex and sensationalism," he says. "There were so many misrepresentations. People never want to look at the facts."

Asked if there is any truth to any of the charges, he says: "I swore under oath that I did everything, so I have to live with that now."

Yet he acknowledges that he is frustrated that the felony conviction limits his career options. He can't become a private investigator because he is prevented from securing any kind of work license in most states.

He says neither public nor private companies will hire him because of the publicity and what they can read about him on the Internet. "All they know is that I had custom shirts made out of a widows and orphans fund," he says. "It's a bunch of crap. ... The worst part of this is not the criminal sanctions, it's the Google hit."

And he wonders if he will ever move beyond that reputation. "This is going to be my legacy forever?" he asks. "After all the lives I saved, after all the good things I did in that state, after all that good work, this is my legacy forever? It's so unbelievable."

Norris says he hasn't told his 5-year-old son, Jack, that he was in prison. "I didn't lie to him, but I told him that my work took me away," Norris says.

On his last day before prison, Norris and his son watched a Spider-Man cartoon in which Spider-Man went to jail. Jack asked: "Do good people go to jail?" Norris responded: "Sometimes, Jack, it happens."

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