`We need public leadership on the cause of the ex-offender'

December 04, 2005

On June 8, Sun metro columnist Dan Rodricks sat down and wrote a column that sparked an extraordinary response. He invited Baltimore's legion of drug dealers to declare a cease-fire in the violent trade likely to lead them to an early death or prison. He promised to try to help them find legitimate jobs if they took that gamble - and he published his newsroom phone number.

As Rodricks recalls, "It was that last part, with the phone number, that got me in deep."

In the weeks and months that followed, hundreds of Baltimore dealers and addicts have called and told Rodricks why they would like to go straight. He described the reaction in a recent speech.

"The phone has not stopped ringing. ... Since June 9, my contacts with people in `the life' number more than 600. I am talking about men and women ... who have either used or sold heroin and/or cocaine ... "

"Many are older, 35 to 45, in recovery, out of prison within the last 23 months, unemployed or underemployed, and all complain that their criminal records - in the main, nonviolent and limited to narcotics charges - are obstacles to steady jobs.

"Rather than push dope for $50 a day, they said they wanted a real job. The wanted out of the game because they were too old, too burned out ... too fearful of the police and the competition, too embarrassed to face their families. They wanted economic self-reliance in a way that would not land them in the jail or morgue."

Rodricks said has referred almost everybody who called to jobs, or to job training and placement agencies. He thinks at least 30 have found some kind of work but believes there is an urgent need for broader action.

"I wrote that column on June 9 because I was sick of all of this. Sick of the waste of human life. Sick of the cycle ... Sick of paying $25,000 annually to house inmates, only to have half of them return to prison within three years of release. ... We need public leadership on the cause of the ex-offender, a stated official belief in the concept of redemption and second chances, and a sustained effort to ... break the drug-fueled cycle of crime-incarceration-unemployment-crime. It's one of the great and exciting challenges in our midst."

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