FOUR MEN - one in his 40s and tired of going to jail, one who just barelyescaped the bullets that killed his best friend, one under pressure frompolice and family to change careers, another who left the streets six yearsago to work toward a middle-class life - all agree: Many who sell drugs inBaltimore will never stop, unless arrested or killed, but many more wouldprefer another way to make a living. If there were more decent jobs and moreemployers willing to give a felon a second chance, there might be fewerdealers competing for corners and this city might be a less deadly place.
These four - two of whom will be named, and two who spoke on condition ofanonymity because their lives are still so close to the drug trade - wereamong 10 men who contacted this columnist after Thursday's open letter to thedealers of Baltimore.
With homicides continuing at a depressing pace and the FBI reporting anoverall rise in violent crime for the first time since 1999, the letter askedthose involved in the drug trade, the engine that drives the violence, to stopkilling, if only for the summer, and if only to see what might happen. Thosewilling to end their criminality altogether were offered an opportunity topresent themselves for employment through this space.
Of the 10, one had already moved on and found a job; the rest said theywere unemployed. Two claimed they were still selling the poison to city andsuburban customers. Others said they didn't want to deal anymore but werefrustrated in finding a legitimate job because of their criminal backgrounds.Such is the complex challenge of breaking the cycle of drug dealing thatinfests the toughest, poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Twice since 1975, when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Andersonheld jobs for several years. He was 15 when he stabbed another young man in afight - he says it was self-defense - and went to jail for eight years. Afterprison, he found a position as a deliveryman for a Baltimore furniture storeand kept it for seven years. For another five, Anderson worked for a companythat reconditioned steel drums.
But the soft-spoken Anderson acknowledges that too much of his life hasbeen spent in prison. Now 44, he says he can't do another stint. "I have fourchildren," he says. "I got to find some way to help with my family."
Anderson was incarcerated until April 2004. He says he forged prescriptionsfor OxyContin and Percocet, powerful painkillers that are often soldillegally. Until he was caught, Anderson says, he received $100 for eachsuccessful forgery. A street dealer then sold the pills at significant markup.
He's been through detoxification and now wants a job. He's applied to adairy, a scrap yard and a stationery company but has not been invited for aninterview and blames his criminal past.
Anderson earns a few bucks doing odd jobs, but that's it. Asked if he'stempted to return to the narcotics trade, he says, "That's not the solution. Ifinally figured that out. I can't do jail time anymore. It's not doing myfamily any good."
This man, 26 years old, did not want his full name in print. He says he'sstill too close to his former life as a busy heroin salesman, and he's luckyto be alive. He was on the street with his best friend - "my home boy" - onenight in March 2004 when gunfire erupted. His friend died from multiplewounds. Sean was grazed in the attack. He says the experience changed hislife.
"I been to the birthday parties of all my home boy's kids," he says, "andthey all call me `god-daddy,' and they were all at the funeral. ... Since myhome boy was killed, I've been chillin'. ... I've been on the streets sellin'since I was 14 and what do I have to show for it? Nothin'. I'm tellin' you, Iseen a light when my home boy died."
Sean, who has an extensive criminal record, lives with his mother. He has adaughter he sees on weekends; he says she's another reason he resolved to stopdealing.
Others, he says, aren't as strong and will keep going back to the corners.
"People think we [sell drugs] to just come outside and be tough or hard. Wedo it to survive. Right now, there isn't much food in my mother's house, youknow? That's why I'd have to do it."
But he says he's not going to. He wants to find a legitimate job - "Almostanything, but not cleaning toilets" - while he attends a technical school inSouth Baltimore.
"I have to start over," he says. "I'm just done [with drug dealing], donewith the whole thing."
This man, 29 years old, isn't done. "I'm still hustling, till I get a job,"he says. "But it's getting hard out there. The police are picking up names,making it very hard out there, putting a lot of pressure on us."
(Like Sean, he did not want his full name or photograph used with thiscolumn. )
For a time, Donyell had a $9.60-an-hour job cleaning floors at a hospital."I put my all into it," he says.
But what happened to this job?
"I lost it," he says. "I had asthma problems and I missed too much time."
So he returned to selling dope.
Donyell is a soft-spoken guy, disarmingly pleasant, almost serene. Youmight never take him for an drug dealer with two weapons convictions. Why doeshe continue to sell?
"I live with my mother and I got two kids," he says. "We got to eat."
But he claims he'd rather support his family with a real job again. He'dlike to be an electrician. He figures he needs between $400 and $500 a week.
"It's time for me to step up to the plate and show our young ones that[drug dealing] ain't cool anymore," he says. "And one time before I leave thisworld I want to hear my mother say she's proud of me, instead of shakin' herhead and asking, `Why you keep selling that poison to your people?'"
Shaw, 28, started selling the poison when he was 13, and stopped when hewent to prison for the last time. Released six years ago, he got married andfathered two children. He and his wife, a city employee, bought a house inNortheast Baltimore.
"You got to understand how hard it is for guys to find a job out here," hesays.
Shaw had some luck, according to the resume he handed me yesterday. Formost of the last six years, he worked in kitchens at three institutions inBaltimore, one of them a private club.
But whenever he applied for higher-level, better-paying jobs, he says, hiscriminal background haunted him.
So, a few months ago, he decided to go into business with his olderbrother, Gary. They did a little catering, employing Taj's cooking skills, andthen started S&S Landscaping, utilizing Gary's experience in groundskeeping.Yesterday I found the brothers out in the heat, cutting grass and whackingweeds at homes along Frankford Avenue, sweating it out on a muggy morning inBaltimore.