Desperately seeking Harry Calloway

October 16, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

Harry Calloway: Can you read this? Can you get to a phone? Can you write a letter? We haven't heard from you in a month. They held the graduation ceremony and served the celebration meal at Moveable Feast on Friday and you should have been there, front and center, with all the other new cooks in their white kitchen jackets. You could have been class valedictorian - they picked Ryan Bates instead - but where were you?

Are you in jail, Harry?

Your sister told me the police arrested you again, on some old warrant. She picked up the telephone at your mother's house when I called last month to check up on you. She sounded very sad about the whole thing because you had been doing so well. People were rooting for you, Harry.

You were on national television in July, held up on the CBS Evening News as an example of how a Baltimore drug dealer could change his life if he just gave a new career a try. They had video of you moving four dressed and seasoned chickens into an oven for roasting, part of your training in Moveable Feast's 12-week culinary class.

After many years in Baltimore's drug life - you were shot nine times and had the scars to prove it - you decided, in your mid-30s, that it was time for something better.

Something less dangerous, less destructive.

So you read about the cooking class in this newspaper and enrolled in it. Vince Williams, the program director and your mentor at Moveable Feast, says you quickly became the leader of the class. He thinks you could have your own cooking show on cable. Calloway Live! "This guy can do great things," Mr. Vince says.

I got the same sense from talking to you.

But neither Mr. Vince nor I know where you are today.

Do you remember that morning, about six weeks ago, when you arrived at St. Benedict's Church hall - that's where the Moveable Feast class takes place - and you were upset? You remember sitting outside and talking to Mr. Vince for about two hours? You'd been living at home, and something had gone bad - you didn't give details - and you were crying. Remember, Harry?

"No matter what I do," you told Mr. Vince, "I'm never gonna be good enough."

That's the day you told Mr. Vince about the warrant for your arrest. You didn't tell him the reason for the warrant, just that it existed, and you must have had some sense that the police were closing in.

You were worried that all you had worked toward - the new career, a new home away from your old drug-dealing homies - would slip away.

Mr. Vince suggested that you turn yourself in.

He was willing to vouch for you, to tell the judge how you were making an extraordinary effort to get to the cooking class each day and to be a leader among the students.

You told Mr. Vince you'd think about surrendering.

But you feared the worst - that they'd send you back for hard time, no matter what - and a couple of days later you were gone.

I spoke briefly to your sister and mother on Friday, and both said they hadn't heard from you and didn't know where you were.

Graduation for the cooking class was a few hours later at St. Benedict's. It was a nice ceremony, Harry, a giant step for men and women trying to become productive citizens.

There were seven graduates, and there should have been eight.

You should be on your way to a career in restaurants or catering, maybe even a television show. But where are you, Harry?

Do they let you use the phone?

Mr. Vince and I, all those people at Moveable Feast who like you and see great potential in you, still care about how this turns out. Believe it or not, we see the future of Baltimore turning on the success of second-chance guys like you. There are thousands of guys like you.

Mr. Vince is worried you'll come out of jail and go back to the streets, convinced that it's impossible for a recovering drug dealer to be a success in the mainstream. You were trying to do something right for a change -learning how to cook, sharpening your life skills - and that outstanding warrant came back to bite you.

"What I'm afraid of," Mr. Vince says, "is Harry coming out of jail and saying, `OK, I'm done. If I try again, they're going to knock me down again.' ... But what I want to say to Harry is, `You are not alone, Harry. There are people still in your corner, Harry.'"

Get in touch, Harry.

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