Part of Baltimore's Vacants to Value program, aimed at reducing vacant houses and blight across the city, calls for aggressive and streamlined enforcement of the housing code. That means heavy fines to owners who don't take care of their vacant houses. And if fines don't get action, the city will push a property to auction.
Tom Karle was the top bidder for one such house in February. It's an end-of-group rowhouse on Bayonne Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. Karle, owner of Summerfield Investment Group, is a landlord who owns numerous houses in the city. He says he plans to sell this one after an extensive renovation.
The house, he says, was full of trash. "We took seven loads out of there," he says.
During cleanup, he discovered a box, and inside the box an envelope. And inside the envelope there appeared to be money.
Turned out to be U.S. Savings Bonds: More than $10,000 worth.
There were 115 bonds in all, Karle says. They were purchased in the 1990s by one Felicia Smith of Baltimore, with the beneficiary listed as one Robert Gorham.
Those aren't the names of the house's previous owners or inhabitants, so far as Karle can tell. He's already done some digging but has not been able to locate persons by these names.
So I told him I'd tell the story here, in the hopes of shaking the tree to see if the rightful owner falls out.
"It could really be life-changing for Robert Gorham," Karle speculates. "He probably did not even know that Felicia Smith bought these for him."
We'll see. The tree has been shaken.
A fellow named Steve — sorry, if I told you his full name, he might get busted, and then how would you feel? — contacted me about marijuana. He thinks it should be legal — for culinary as well as medicinal purposes. He makes marijuana butter and cooks with it. It's not only delicious, he says, it relieves him of anxiety.
Steve is in his early 30s, a heroin addict in successful recovery, a college grad who just wants to stay clean and find a job to match his intellect and education level. (Right now, he's a parking garage manager.)
In addition to being in treatment for his addiction, Steve has a multiple anxiety disorder. Seven years ago, a doctor prescribed a daily dose of Valium for it. But he doesn't want V anymore. He prefers MJ, a natural remedy.
Steve learned that sauteing one-quarter ounce of quality weed in one-half pound of butter extracts the chemicals responsible for marijuana's psychological effects. He strains out the herb, then uses the butter in cooking — from pasta toppings to desserts. Marijuana butter in two to four meals per week, he says, "completely obliterates any and all of my anxiety problems, and far better than these addictive medications ever did."
Marijuana, he adds, "was put here for a reason other than to just trip on."
In fettuccine Alfredo. Who knew?
Not in the cards
Inmates at the state prison in Hagerstown will no longer be allowed to receive birthday cards, Father's Day cards or other holiday greetings, by order of the warden.
"Effective June 15," J. Phillip Morgan's memo to inmates of the Maryland Correctional Training Center said, "store bought or computer made greeting cards (such as Hallmark or other brands for birthdays, sympathy, etc.) received through the mail will no longer be permitted. ... It is the inmate's responsibility to inform family and friends of the restriction. All cards will be returned to sender."
What's up with this?
Mary Pat De Verneil, a volunteer with an inmates advocacy group, wrote to Gary D. Maynard, the state secretary of corrections, asking for an explanation.
"Receiving mail is a connection for an inmate with the outside world," De Verneil wrote on behalf of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). "Inmates look forward to receiving greeting cards on birthdays, holidays or just a random 'Thinking of You' card . ... These communications are so vital to the rehabilitation of an inmate.
"There are already protocols to deal with contraband found in the mail. This really seems to be going too far."
De Verneil hasn't heard from Maynard, who, of course, has been kind of busy with the mess at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
But Mark Vernarelli, director of information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, got right back to me Monday, saying that "so much contraband has been arriving concealed in greeting cards" that officials decided to ban them from all facilities in Western Maryland. "This is a measure designed to keep staff and inmates safe," Vernarelli said.
If greeting cards go, can letters be far behind?
Some prisons in other states have taken that step, Vernarelli said, limiting inmate mail to postcards.
You have to wonder if this has something to do with the Black Guerrilla Family; almost everything else in the prisons seems to.
Guys: Drop me a line — while they still allow you to mail letters in sealed envelopes — and let me know what's going on.