A bump in the road, but still on the straight path

October 20, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

Harry Calloway, the one-time Baltimore drug dealer who dropped out of the Moveable Feast culinary training class last month and vanished from our radar, is still alive and still clean, and yesterday morning he cooked my breakfast - scrambled eggs, sausage, grits and biscuits - at his new home in Northeast Baltimore. Let the church say amen.

Calloway is not in jail - he got out nine days ago - and he hasn't relapsed into old habits. For the first time in about a year, he's neither snorting heroin nor selling it. He's not boosting clothes from shopping malls, either.

In fact, Calloway has re-enrolled at a local college, for night classes, and in the 12-week Moveable Feast course he started in summer but didn't finish

He's got a place to live, too. In fact, Harry Calloway is the first and, for now, only resident of a recently established transition house, operated by a faith-based nonprofit called Baltimore Father's Cooperative Group. He called me from there late Sunday, after reading the Harry-phone-home appeal that appeared in this space that morning.

Calloway seems comfortable with his new surroundings and determined to get on track again after a 30-day setback that might have left a less resilient man bitter, discouraged and drifting back to the corner.

Instead, Calloway looks at what happened last month - his arrest, on what smells like a bogus trespassing charge, during a period of record arrests in the city - as a mere bump in the road.

In case you missed it:

Harry Calloway is a 33-year-old Baltimorean with an admitted long history of dealing heroin in the city. From shortly after his graduation from City College in 1990, he sold dope and made thousands of dollars from it. "Very few people can say they've seen $50,000 cash in one place at one time," he says. "I have."

Calloway claims to have seen peak heroin sales of between $5,000 and $10,000 an hour, and he at one time paid some salespeople $1,500 a week.

"I was deep into the wickedness," he says of the time when he had a successful heroin operation and, for all but three years, avoided apprehension and conviction.

In 1998, a drug-dealing rival shot him on Calvert Street in downtown Baltimore after Calloway emerged from a late-night club. Nine bullets went into his face, arms, stomach and right hand. Somehow, Calloway survived.

You'd think that near-death experience might have forced a career change.

It didn't.

Shortly after the shooting, in an effort to relieve post-traumatic physical and emotional pain, Calloway started doing heroin himself. "I became my own best customer," he says.

And his life became a mess. He experienced periods of homelessness, and he committed more crimes, such as theft, to maintain his habit.

Calloway had a lot of contact with police over the years. One of them, a veteran Northeastern District officer named Jerome Thompson, arrested Calloway for possession of a sawed-off shotgun in the early 1990s.

"When the case came to court," Thompson wrote in an e-mail after Sunday's column, "Harry was there early, wearing a suit and tie. He looked like a man on his way. ... Every time I ran into Harry after that, he was somewhere working an honest job and sometimes two. As far as I could see, he was a man doing what a man is supposed to do. I've never seen him dealing and don't know if, when or where he did it, but I do know that if I met him on the street today, I'd stop and shake his hand. If anyone out there deserved a chance to prove himself, it's Harry Calloway."

This is a recurring theme among people who know this guy - they saw grand potential in Harry Calloway, even as he wasted so much of his life in "the wickedness." You hear it from the staff at Moveable Feast. You hear it from Linwood Taylor, one of the few men who, Calloway says, took an interest in him when he was a kid and remains his mentor.

"All along, Harry knew he had great potential, too," says Taylor. "Even when he was out there, in that [drug] life, there was that little voice in him that knew and kept saying there was something better for him."

It was Taylor who connected Calloway with the Moveable Feast culinary training program. In short order, Calloway became the leader of his class and CBS Evening News featured him in a report about the effort to help drug dealers find legitimate work.

Calloway took courses at Sojourner-Douglass College, too. He seemed to be on his way toward a new life and a bachelor's degree.

Then, two Baltimore police officers pulled their patrol car up to Calloway as he was walking down Gough Street in Southeast Baltimore. Calloway says he had been cleaning out a house and hauling junk. It was about midday Sept. 6. One of the officers asked Calloway what he was doing there, and he gave a snappy answer - no profanity, he says, just a sarcastic tone. In this town, with cops sweeping street corners at record rates, that was a mistake.

When they arrested Calloway for trespassing - does that sound like a stretch? - the officers discovered an outstanding warrant for a theft charge in Baltimore County from 2004.

Calloway spent 30 days in jail for the trespassing, and in December he's due in Baltimore County Circuit Court on the theft of clothing from Owings Mills Mall.

I told Harry to stay on course, take advantage of the therapy offered by the Baltimore Father's Cooperative, go to the classes at Moveable Feast and Sojourner-Douglass, and maybe the judge in Baltimore County will appreciate his determination to go straight.

Calloway seems willing to accept whatever happens, and to keep moving forward. There's hope here.

"No more excuses," Harry Calloway declares. "My plan is to be a better man, and to help others. It's time for all of us to stand the hell up and be men. That's how the drug dealing stops. That's how the killing stops. That's how we get our community back."


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