A Living Example

When bullets didn't kill him, drug addict Carneal Means began using his second chance at life to save others like himself.

Spirit of Sharing

November 30, 2005|By LINELL SMITH | LINELL SMITH,SUN REPORTER

Lying twisted on the sidewalk in Westport, Carneal Means felt life oozing out of him while his body grew numb. It had all happened so quickly: First he'd complained about the quality of the crack the dealer was selling, then turned it down. The dealer demanded money anyway. Means refused. The dealer pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. Means turned and began to run.

Boom!

He was only 37, but he was a 37-year-old drug addict. And he was dying, he remembers thinking. Almost immediately, cops patrolling the neighborhood were standing over him, asking who had shot him, which way he'd gone. As Means lay bleeding, he focused on his sister's phone number. He said it over and over to the officers.

Carneal Means did not want to lie in the morgue, perhaps for months, as a John Doe.

And there was one other request, this one silent: Please, God, make my death easy on my family ... please don't let them say, `Mrs. Johnson, your son died in a drug hole, in a drug deal gone bad.' This is no way for my parents to hear how I died.

In the 11 years since the shooting, Means has become used to telling other recovering addicts about the fear and despair of that night -- and of his later realization that God spared him so that he could serve as an example for those trying to climb out of their own addictions.

"I was also in a house like this for 17 months because I was scared to go back out after only a year," he said yesterday to about 50 addicts in a residential program at The Helping Up Mission in East Baltimore.

"The holidays were depressing. I couldn't go home and eat dinner with my family because I was locked up in that house. I wanted to walk out the door until I remembered where I'd been the last Christmas: walking around out there homeless and hopeless, eating my holiday dinner at Bea Gaddy's.

"I wasn't with my family because I wasn't allowed in their home. I would have walked out of there with something under my shirt. Because that's what I did as an addict: I stole from those I loved. I realized the best thing I could do was sit still and focus on the next holiday, on next Christmas. This is a one-day-at-a-time program, but we have to think about, and work toward, where we will be next year."

Some men clapped, others murmured their agreement.

The Helping Up Mission is a multi-service shelter that offers a long-term residential recovery regimen based on the Christian faith. There is also a transitional housing facility that gives graduates additional time to adjust to independent, drug-free living. For the past year, Means has visited men who are new to the program.

"When I was on the street and goody-two-shoes people used to speak with me about getting off drugs, all I could think was, `Give me some money and let me get high,'" he says. "Do I think that talking as an addict to another addict makes a difference? Yes. I've been in their shoes. They see me and know this battle can be won."

Born in Baltimore and raised in New York, Means joined the Army when he graduated from high school in 1975. Several tours of duty took him as far as Germany, but also left him with a taste for alcohol that only got worse. Drugs followed. Eventually, living in Florida, homeless for much of the time, Means was jailed for stealing money from an elderly man in an assisted-living facility where he was working. When he was released, he came to live with a relative in Baltimore, worked in several restaurants and continued to get high until the night in November 1994 when he was shot.

When Means left the hospital the next March -- drug-free and after several surgeries -- he moved in with a relative on Division Street "in the middle of a drug supermarket." Although he was determined not to resume his deadly habit, the desire returned after his first beer.

"The compulsion to get high hit me like a ton of bricks," he remembers. "There was nothing I could do. I had to go buy a dime of crack. All I had to do was open up my door and look around the corner."

The next morning he began searching for treatment. He attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the Tuerk House in West Baltimore until he was eventually accepted into a 28-day drug-rehabilitation program. Once there, he realized that he was also an alcoholic and would need a long-term recovery house. He moved into the Weisman/Kaplan House in Charles Village for a year and five months, fighting off fears that he would slip back into his old ways and learning how to make plans he could stick to.

Means tells addicts about the rewards of running his own business -- Neal's Carpet Cleaning Service -- and about finding his spiritual family eight years ago at Faith Christian Fellowship church in Pen Lucy.

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