The young men who sell heroin in Baltimore have two ways of getting off the street: prison or homicide. The police arrest them or a rival shoots them, whichever comes first. There's a third way out - choice. Those who live long enough, and who survive prison, sometimes make a choice to go straight and get off the corners for good.
By that time, they're usually in their late 20s. Some don't see the light until their 30s.
A heroin dealer might even be in his early 40s before making the choice to quit "sellin' poison to my people," as one put it to me.
Some never get off the street.
Today I present two men: Nolan Evans and Anthony Clark.
They both were once of the street, but are no more.
I'll tell you about Nolan Evans first.
"Gunned down in the street in broad daylight, 2 o'clock in the afternoon," a woman in Park Heights phoned Monday to tell me. "This is Vernon Evans' son. I know you know Vernon Evans."
Vernon Evans sits on Maryland's Death Row. He's been there since the 1980s, convicted of the contract killings of two people at the Pikesville motel where they worked. One victim was to be a federal witness against an accused drug lord.
Vernon Evans killed those people 26 years ago; his son, Nolan, would have been 14 at the time.
Nolan Evans was shot multiple times Monday afternoon at Garrison Boulevard and Liberty Heights Avenue.
A convicted felon, he'd been in various forms of trouble over the years, according to state records. He served time for being a felon in possession of a handgun. Someone shot him in both legs as he stood in the 3900 block of Norfolk Avenue in August 2006. After he recovered, he was ordered to stay away from Norfolk Avenue. But police found him there two months later and charged him with drug possession with intent to distribute.
Last year, Mr. Evans was charged with homicide but acquitted by a jury. The victim in that case, Larry Parks, told Baltimore police before he died that "if I knew who shot me, I would not tell you. This is the way the street works."
The street - obviously, Nolan Evans was never able to break away from it.
Anthony Clark did.
A longtime user and seller of heroin - he says he made his first sales at the age of 14 - Mr. Clark served two prison sentences for drug convictions, the last one a 10-year hitch. He served almost half that time before earning release.
He was 41 years old last year when he called me to ask for job leads. He'd found a temp job in Owings Mills but, six months into it, his boss announced that Mr. Clark's criminal record precluded him from becoming a full-time employee. This is not an uncommon experience of ex-offenders who come out of prison and manage to find part-time employment; they work for a few months, minus benefits, and suddenly their record is a problem. For many, the choice is to find another job or go back to the street.
"Back in the day, I would have gone back to my old ways," Mr. Clark says. "I would have let something like that - being let go after six months on the job - send me back to the street."
But he'd changed. He'd matured. He'd recovered from his addiction. He came home and lived with his father, who bought a house on the edge of the city, away from the old neighborhood and all its troubles. Mr. Clark started seeing his daughter's mother again and his two children.
He's been delivery man for Curry Printing & Copy Center on Charles Street downtown since June last year. The owner, Paula Smith, gave him a chance, and she says she couldn't be more pleased. Mr. Clark likes his job; soon he wants to go back to college and get a bachelor's degree. Life is pretty good.
I thought you'd want to know that - that sometimes a man changes, and sometimes someone gives the man a chance, and sometimes it works out, and the city is a better place.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.