Updates give hope for life off the street

August 14, 2005|By Dan Rodricks

TWO MONTHS and two days have passed since the first profiles of men and women caught up in Baltimore's drug life -- and eager to get out of it -- appeared in this space. The contact count is up around 150 now, and today's column is an update on where the many hours of conversations with present and former dealers and addicts (or their mothers and grandmothers) have led.

About a third of them were referred to the few but effective job-training and job-placement programs that serve recovering addicts, ex-offenders and women moving from welfare to work. Some enrolled in those programs. Some made appointments to get started but failed to show up (and you all know who you are, too). Some entered drug treatment; some have been frustrated by the wait for it.

Some applied for jobs with employers who hire ex-offenders. At least seven have landed jobs, and though they're just starting to work again --- and it's too early to declare success in any one instance -- the modest progress is worth noting, if only to give others in the hunt some hope.

Having spent too much time in Maryland prisons, his last stint for forging prescriptions for pain killers, Theodore Anderson was the first man to take us up on an offer of help. Forty-four years old, the father of four children, Anderson was tired of two things -- incarceration and the frustrating job hunt typically a consequence of it. Since his release from prison in April 2004, Anderson had not been able to find steady employment, and he blamed his criminal past.

On June 12, he expressed his desire in The Sun: "I got to find some way to help with my family."

A day later, George Litz, president of the company that supplied all the brick for, among other places, the classy stadiums where the Orioles and Ravens play, reported interest in considering Anderson for a job at L&L Supply Corp. The company has since put him to work loading bricks for delivery.

"We are a 50-year-old Baltimore company that my dad founded in 1955," George Litz wrote in an e-mail. "If he was still living I believe he would want to do the right thing -- that is, give a man another chance to turn his life around."

And all the better if you pluck that man out of Baltimore's dreary drug life.

Michael Wimbush, 41, went to Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake's ex-offender program and, after getting some counseling from Chip Reis, the job placement coordinator there, landed a packing job at a company in Owings Mills.

Wimbush had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol, and he spent 2 1/2 years in prison for theft. After his release in 2002, he was able to find only temporary or part-time jobs.

Referred last month to Reis, Wimbush received leads on Baltimore-area companies willing to hire adults with criminal records, and he applied to one.

"The man who hired me said he appreciated that I was honest about my past when I came in and told him everything," Wimbush says. He starts his new job Tuesday at $8.25 an hour, with an opportunity to advance to $10 an hour after 60 days. "It makes you feel good," he says, "like you're worth something."

Robert Armstrong, who had a long history of the use and sales of cocaine, contacted The Sun last month, just after his release from prison, having served almost half of a 12-year sentence for drug distribution. With the help of the Goodwill program, Armstrong, trained in the operation of a forklift, found a job at a home renovator's supply depot.

Lenny Green, 42, a former user and seller of heroin, said this when I spoke to him last month: "I've been incarcerated half of my life, and I want to do right. ... I just want to get back to working, and being productive." A woman who does the hiring for a bulk-mail company read Green's profile on July 28 and offered him a job. Green also received job counseling through Goodwill.

Darryl Logan, the longtime heroin addict who at times sold the drug to maintain his habit, entered the treatment program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center about a week after his story appeared in this space. Upon completion of his treatment, Logan returned home and hooked up with a classmate from his days as a Friends School student in the 1970s; the friend helped him land a job with a commercial real estate company.

Kevin Gambrill, profiled in this space July 31, had been seeking a restaurant job like the one he had had for 14 years before he went to prison for a crime directly related to his heroin habit. Gambrill, 39, returned to West Baltimore, his wife and four children a year ago. He received treatment for his addiction but had a hard time finding full-time work.

Tipped to a job possibility at Bo Brooks Restaurant in Canton by an employee who had contacted The Sun, Gambrill is now working there as a line cook. He took a second job at a pit-beef place.

Dwayne Scofield, 34, a recovering heroin addict profiled in this space July 28, had said: "I spent too much time in jail. ... Going back to the street is tempting -- sooner or later, you're going to drift back to what you know, aren't you? -- but I don't want to do that. I just need to be employed." He has since found two dishwasher jobs -- at a Baltimore college and a restaurant. He starts next week.

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