Longtime homeowner fights against drugs

Grandfather confronts suspected dealers

May 18, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

He's 76 years old, the father of five, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of four.

He's a retired overhead-crane worker for a steel plant in Essex. He married the girl he started dating at the age of 15, who grew up two blocks from him in Southeast Baltimore, long before the area became tony Butchers Hill.

He moved his family to Marietta Avenue in 1961, in the city's Hamilton neighborhood, to a two-story antique gold bungalow far off the main drag of cluttered Harford Road. He has a yard carved into a maze of lush gardens, protected by a towering sycamore with branches that stretch over the street.

Here's how John W. Schissler spends his retirement:

He confronts suspected drug dealers on the streets near his house.

His wife, Mary, is afraid he'll be shot. So is he. But like many other homeowners, Schissler has no plans to move. He has poured his life's savings into his house and garden, is sick of the noise, the gunshots he says he hears off in the distance and the condoms he finds in the weeds of his flower beds.

One day last week, Schissler yelled at a man he said was buying drugs and two other men who he said were selling drugs. "I told them to get out of this neighborhood and stay out," he said. "I'm convinced that one day I'm going to get blown away."

Schissler's section of Hamilton is not what you might think of as a drug neighborhood. Its narrow streets pass by small, boxy homes with front porches and front yards, and it's too far from Harford Road for drunks and others to just stumble by.

Baltimore Police Maj. Delmar Dickson said the area around Louise Street, Old Harford Road and Marietta Avenue isn't on his radar screen for trouble. "It's a relatively decent neighborhood," he said. "There's nothing that sparks any concern for me."

A city police spokesman confirmed what Schissler said, that officers did raid at least one house on Louise Avenue searching for drugs. It was a house Schissler said he had brought to the attention of police, one that other neighbors had complained about.

This retired steelworker and his wife are like many in the city. They moved to neighborhoods many years ago and lived through changes, some for the worse. Now they're settled, yet worried about their deteriorating surroundings.

Schissler is not trapped in a horrific neighborhood overrun by crack dealers and gunmen, so their problems don't always attract attention at the highest levels of the Police Department, where people worry more about places where violence and drug dealing are far more prevalent.

But Schissler has attached himself to the beat cop. He provides him with license plate numbers of suspicious cars and even a daily log that he keeps on a yellow ledger pad. He titles it, "What's going on in Hamilton???"

He notes that one Saturday someone threw a stone at the house across the street, breaking two panes of glass and a vinyl shade, that neighbors heard a loud noise, that the cops raided the house on Louise, that someone broke into a house down the street and stole a flat-screen TV, that cars "playing follow the leader" onto Marietta were on the way to make their next dope deal.

Schissler grew up on South Chester Street and lived on Milton Avenue, in a rowhouse that has since burned and stands vacant. His wife used to live a couple of blocks over on Montford Avenue. Both neighborhoods are now infested with drugs and violence.

Hamilton certainly is nowhere near that level of danger. But Schissler doesn't want to take that chance.

"This has always been a good neighborhood," he said. His home of 49 years contains so many family pictures that the frames have taken over the coffee table and piano. "But times change."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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