Another young man is gone in Baltimore

November 16, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

All I know is what they tell me - what Gregory Welsh's parents, his brother, his spiritual counselor and the police tell me. It's always like this, the columnist coming in after the funeral, after everyone has finished crying. You arrive late, after another young man's death in the city of Baltimore, and they spread photographs on the kitchen table. In this case, they offer you samples of Gregory Welsh's wayfarer poetry, too. And you sit and listen, then walk away in the drizzle shaking your head, trying to feel something besides grim resignation.

When does it stop? We're not about to legalize drugs, so we'll continue to live with the killer-dealers as they perform brutal acts of commerce in our midst, selling poison and shooting customers who do not pay for it.

Gregory Welsh was addicted to crack cocaine for many of his 32 years. In the late afternoon of Oct. 31, he had a confrontation with two drug dealers in front of his parents' house in Northeast Baltimore. The police tell me that Welsh got into a dispute with the dealers - "Over $10," he told his mother - and the dispute turned into a fight, which ended with the men promising Welsh that they'd be back.

A short time later, they returned - and they shot Welsh to death on the porch. The police have issued a warrant for the arrests of the two men.

His spiritual adviser, John Burghauser, tells me he was saddened but not shocked by Gregory Welsh's death.

Welsh's addiction was so strong he never managed to break free and get into full recovery, Burghauser says. Even a trip last year to a residential treatment center in Ireland, under the auspices of Stauros Ministries, a Christian organization devoted to addictions counseling, could not do the trick.

Welsh's father, Bob Welsh, on the other hand, thought the spiritual retreat to The Haven, in County Tipperary, had been significant, that his son had returned to Baltimore a changed man.

"He wasn't sulking anymore," Bob Welsh says. "He wasn't sneaking in and out of the house."

"He found God during that trip," says his mother, Susan Welsh. "He had a very structured day at The Haven. They had prayer time, of course, but they had to work to maintain the place, and Greg worked in the garden. He was digging in the garden, and he found an old cross in the dirt. He took that as a sign from God. He went through a transformation I had hoped for and had never seen." But to hear Burghauser tell it, Gregory Welsh returned to the streets to buy drugs almost immediately upon his return from Ireland.

"Some just can't break away," says Burghauser, a former addict who conducts Stauros meetings at his home in Perry Hall. "When Greg was in Ireland, he gained from that trip. He learned he could live without [drugs], and he knew he needed to change his environment to get away from them. ... But he came home from Ireland and went to his mother's house and back to the street."

Gregory Welsh came from a large yours-mine-and-ours-family. After high school, he worked various jobs, and he seemed to like moving companies in particular. He spent a lot of time on the road, and he filled lonely hours writing poetry. His family discovered a small stack of poems after his death. Some were written in motel rooms a decade ago.

"A blank space between the long pages of life," he wrote in one. "The pain in your heart like a cut from a knife."

"For too many days and nights, I've ripped my life apart," goes another. "Doing wrong to everyone, even breaking my mother's heart."

Bob Welsh says he did not appreciate the duration and depth of the addiction, probably because his son was on the road so much after high school.

"Gregory was a kind, gentle giant," he says. "Children loved him, in particular. Oh, you should have seen the way children loved him. I believe the children in heaven wanted someone, and God sent Gregory."

Even while struggling with his own addiction, Gregory Welsh apparently tried to help other addicts.

"There would be a time where he'd be doing all right, and people in that drug crowd would come around and act like his friends," Bob Welsh says. "And I would say, `You're not his friends, you just want to get him back into drugs.' And Gregory would say, `Dad, don't turn them away, I'm trying to help them.' That's the type of person he was. He became a mentor to others."

But Gregory Welsh never managed to heal himself.

And now he's gone, and now you know why, or at least a little bit of why. It's hard for rational people to comprehend the power of addiction - how some will risk their lives to get the drugs their bodies crave. Even John Burghauser, his spiritual adviser, shakes his head at Gregory Welsh's death and that drizzly world immediately around us, where a man can get killed over $10 owed to a drug dealer. "I was addicted for 20 years, and I've been clean for 10," Burghauser says, "and I don't understand it, even though I lived it. But it's real. It's just reality."

Hear Dan Rodricks from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on WBAL Radio (1090 AM).

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