Taking a leap off the street, into a job hunt

July 28, 2005|By Dan Rodricks

DOZENS OF Baltimoreans have contacted The Sun during the past six weeks to express a desire to end their roles in one of the city's most serious problems - the drug trade that supplies thousands of city and suburban residents with heroin and cocaine, ruins families and neighborhoods, and fuels the violence that keeps Baltimore high on the homicide charts.

Addicts called for treatment, and those who sell drugs called for a new direction - specifically, the full-time job they believe will keep them from returning to the streets. So far, nearly 100 men and women have asked for help.

Those still using heroin and cocaine were referred to Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, the quasi-governmental agency responsible for providing treatment for the uninsured and underinsured, or to a treatment center that offered its services. Several of those seeking employment have been referred to two nonprofit agencies that help connect men and women with criminal records to employers willing to hire them - STRIVE Baltimore and Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake. Some were referred to the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. A few others enrolled in a culinary training program offered at no cost by nonprofit Moveable Feast, and some were referred directly to businesses that contacted The Sun to express willingness to hire ex-offenders.

Each day, more men and women, either formerly or presently immersed in the drug culture, call here for help in finding full-time, legitimate work. They are unemployed, underemployed or still engaged in the sale of cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Almost all say they have been turned down for low-paying, mainstream jobs because of their criminal records.

Brief profiles of some of these men and women follow. In a few instances, active or recently retired drug dealers asked that their full names not be published but made available to prospective employers. Companies or individuals interested in a job application from any of these people, meeting them face to face and helping them get out of the city's destructive drug culture, should contact me at 410-332-6166 or by e-mail at dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

Joe Davis

Twenty-three years old, a graduate of Baltimore's Southern High School and the Maryland prisons, Davis says he used to sell drugs but now seeks a job to support his wife and 5-year-old daughter. Davis last saw a prison cell in 2003. He has experience installing rebar and would like to find a construction job again.

Thomas Willis

At 43, Willis finds himself on home detention and says he is determined not to repeat the crimes that landed him in prison too many times, the last hitch for six years - armed robbery and possession with intent to distribute heroin. Lost for many years before that in the city's drug culture and estranged from his family, Willis says he is now back in the fold - thanks to the dying wish of a younger brother, Howard, who from a hospice bed in Towson asked his mother and two sisters last year to "go help Tommy." They did. Willis lives in his mother's house in Northeast Baltimore. Says a sister, Tonya Carroll: "Tommy is my mother's only living son now. ... His whole thinking pattern is completely different from where it was six years ago." Willis reported to the STRIVE Baltimore program Tuesday. He has experience as a plumber and in general maintenance.

Brenda Brown

Saying she's clean from heroin for four years, Brown, 45, recently moved to Northeast Baltimore and is looking for a job where she has experience - in food services.

Raymond Austin

Less than a month from his last visit to jail - 30 days for possession of marijuana - Austin is living in East Baltimore and hunting for a job in construction. For the past few years, he has had odd jobs but nothing steady. He's also done some street hustling, but Austin, 31, says he'd rather get out of the game and find a full-time job on a construction site.

Alex

Still involved in drug sales, this 33-year-old West Baltimore man was last incarcerated in 2000. He says he fears arrest or violence from the drug trade, but has not had any luck finding a mainstream job. He's willing to work in construction or landscaping.

Lenny Green

A former user and seller of heroin, Green, 42, says he has been clean from the drug for two years and no longer sells it. "I've been incarcerated half of my life, and I want to do right. I want to show my mother that I can do right. I never got to show my father; he left here [died] when I was still incarcerated. I just want to get back to working, and being productive." Green lives in West Baltimore with his wife, a state employee. He once had a job maintaining boiler systems in schools. He's willing to clean floors, work as a custodian or take a job in a warehouse.

Lonnie Hextall

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