They have the ambition and the skills - all they need is a chance to prove themselves

November 13, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

Quindell Ford, at 24 years old, already has wasted too much time in prison for selling heroin in his native Baltimore. He, his family and his drug-infested city will be a lot better off if he chooses a new career course. His mother will be a lot happier, too, and Ford will set a good example for the children he knows he needs to support. That's why he's in the hunt for a new job, and why we're telling his story -- and that of four other ex-offenders seeking employment -- in today's column.

In Baltimore, Quindell Ford is a modern classic -- the young man who, seeing nothing more lucrative on the horizon, drifts into the drug culture. "I needed the money," Ford says. "I wished I didn't have to [sell drugs] but I did." His territory was West Baltimore, along Pennsylvania Avenue. Starting when he was about 18, he made lots of fast cash selling heroin. The money is all long gone.

"I caught a major bit [in prison] when I was 20, for [drug] possession and conspiracy to distribute," he says. "I did four years and four months. I got out, and I live with my mother [in East Baltimore]. She's on me to get out there and find work, and I have found work, but only [temporary] work, warehouse work, like 20 to 30 hours a week. And that's not steady. I got a couple of kids I support, and with Christmas coming up, I need the work."

Like most men in his situation, Ford is convinced that his criminal record keeps many prospective employers from hiring him. I referred him to the STRIVE Baltimore organization for help in finding a job among companies that are willing to give ex-offenders a second chance.

"I know it's hard for him, but I keep encouraging him," says his mother, Kellee Ford. "I tell him to keep going, don't quit, he'll find something, when one door closes another one opens. But he's got to do it himself. He's got to keep at it."

Anthony "Manny" Dansbury, 32, thinks it's time he stopped paying for crimes he committed when he was 18 -- one major conviction for drug dealing that put him in Maryland prisons for 11 years. He'd like a job in electronics, the field in which he was trained, but he hasn't been able to find one. Like Ford, he finds that his criminal background stands in the way.

Dansbury was arrested in a car with three other drug dealers in the O'Donnell Heights public housing complex in Southeast Baltimore in 1991. He got out of prison in 2002. While inside, he took college courses in business administration and received some training in electrical wiring. After prison, he trained to be an electrical technician. He hasn't been able to find a job in that field.

In the meantime, he operates a forklift at a distribution warehouse in Essex. "I don't lie when I fill out job applications," says Dansbury. "I admit I have a criminal record. But that happened when I was 18 years old, and it still has affected my job applications. ... I just want a job doing what I was trained to do."

Troy Midder, 24, explains why he robbed someone at a light rail station in 1998: "I was with the wrong crowd. I was young and trying to prove myself. ... I was living on the street, trying to get money for food and a pair of pants."

At 17, Midder went into the Maryland Penitentiary. He emerged 18 months later. (He attributes part of his survival to the vigilance of an uncle, a lifer who'd been incarcerated at the penitentiary for years and who is still there.)

Midder's family moved to Ohio. He enrolled in Cleveland State University and took a job in a machine shop. One night, Midder says, he was driving home from work, drinking beer in his car.

"The police pulled me over," Midder says. "And they put me in the police car, accused me of [driving under the influence]. I had my little brother with me, and the police were beating my brother up, so when I seen that, I kicked at the window [of the police car] and it broke."

He was accused of vandalism and DUI. Midder says the state of Ohio gave him probation -- and the unwanted bonus of a different probation officer for each crime. The probation officers were more than an hour's drive apart, he says, and they each expected Midder to report to them on the same day. That, he says, led to a violation of his probation, and he ended up serving three years in a prison near Lake Erie.

"I got out in June," says Midder, now living with his mother in East Baltimore and hunting for a job. He's been trained in lead-paint abatement and hazardous-waste disposal, and has certificates to prove it. While he'd take a job in those fields, Midder says he's open to just about anything that produces a paycheck.

Davon Jordan, 20, will be on a home detention system until Feb. 21, but he's free to pursue employment, under the supervision of a case manager. He's back in Baltimore, living with his mother after serving prison time for drug dealing and a handgun charge.

Jordan says he was 16 when he first started selling dope just a few blocks away from his house. He went into prison when he was 18.

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