If you stay in the drug life, you are choosing your death

DEAR BALTIMORE drug dealers: It's like this. You either want to live along, relatively happy life or die young and horribly (or, if you're lucky,maybe middle-aged and horribly). You either want to have a home, family andfriends (maybe even DirecTV), or go back to prison.

You either want to end up like Clinton Young, dead from multiple gunshotwounds, or like Eric Jordan, an ex-offender who works for a mortgage companyand lives at the city-county line in "Almost Catonsville."

There are more and better ways for you to get out of the life for good now-- even if you're reading this in a prison cell -- so you have choices.

Live or die.

Go straight or stay in that miserable world of drugs.

That's it.

Some of you have already made the decision, so you can stop reading -- orhave your mother stop reading -- here.

As for the rest of you, I'm not saying anything you don't already know. Youknow about choices.

The fact that you're still reading this suggests that you might be open tocoming off the killing streets and getting out of Baltimore's drug trade.

If you're anything like the nearly 50 men and women who have called here inthe last six weeks -- drug dealers, former drug dealers, heroin addicts,recovering addicts -- or the countless Baltimoreans who have spoken personallyto Leonard Hamm, the police commissioner, you are ripe for change.

You've told Hamm you want to get off the corner, want treatment, want ajob. You've said the same in phone calls to The Sun.

You don't want to end up dead at 42, like this Clinton Young.

Someone shot Young multiple times and killed him Friday just beforemidnight on Pulaski Street in West Baltimore, far from his listed residence inNortheast Baltimore. There isn't much to report because, in these kinds ofstreet killings, which look powerfully like drug assassinations, people don'tstick around to provide details to the cops who write the reports thatreporters read. No witnesses. No motive.

Of course, we always suspect drugs because drugs are related to about 85percent of the killings in Baltimore. And, in the case of Clinton Young,records indicate arrests and incarceration for drug possession anddistribution, according to police.

"Baltimore is actually a very safe city if you are not involved in the drugtrade," Peter Beilenson, the city's former health commissioner, said lastyear. "If you are involved, it is one of the most dangerous in the UnitedStates."

I spoke yesterday to a former drug dealer and addict who said he knewClinton Young from more than 10 years ago. "I've been wrangling with his deathfor a couple of days," the former addict said, after asking that he not beidentified by name. "I'm remembering the person [Young] was, and thinking thatcould have been me had I not changed my life."

But, of course, the man on the phone made a choice. He's 40 years old,alive and well. He's no longer poisoning his city, or living with the risks ofdeath or jail.

Neither is Eric Jordan.

Jordan is 42. He lost 17 years of his life -- "17 years and nine months" --serving a sentence for drug distribution and armed robbery. Having gone toprison during the peak of the war on drugs, Jordan was essentially warehousedwith thousands of other drug offenders. He received no preparation for hiseventual return to free society. After his release, however, he hooked up withthe Maryland Re-entry Partnership, which is a pilot program, managed by theEnterprise Foundation, to provide comprehensive services and case managementas offenders transition back to the mainstream. The idea is to attackMaryland's horrible 50 percent rate of recidivism.

For Jordan, REP made the difference. His case manager hooked him up with anorganization called STRIVE, and after a three-week, job-skills trainingprogram, Jordan graduated as the "Most Likely to Achieve." STRIVE helped himland a job with Knox Financial Services, and now he works as a marketingrepresentative for United Equity Mortgage Brokers.

Yesterday, I asked Jordan what he wanted to say to those of you still inthe drug game.

"We might think we make choices [drug dealing] that are financiallybeneficial," he said. "But no matter how long we get away with it, it doesn'tmatter, it catches up with you -- the law or the street, prison or death."

Jordan chose life, and the mainstream world.

REP helped Jordan, and it's helping hundreds of others. It could change theculture of corrections in Maryland, especially if the Ehrlich administrationcontinues to support this kind of reform -- preparing inmates for theiremergence from prison so that they find jobs.

STRIVE is working in this field, and it's not alone. There are a ton ofgood people in this town, and a great number of agencies have their hand inhelping the most hard-core offenders change their lives. The Baltimore policehave launched an effort called Get Out of the Game. (More about that inSunday's column.) A surprising number of companies are willing to hire men andwomen with records. If you want information on how to hook up for help, callme at 410-332-6166.

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