Shining a light for a man in dark despair

Dan Rodricks

This is for Jim, who called here the other day. I won't use the last name you left on The Sun's voice-mail system because I haven't been able to speak with you. It doesn't matter. You know who you are. There's only one person who called 410-332-6166 this week to say he was going to take his own life.

If you haven't done what you said you were going to do, Jim -- and I don't think you have because the state medical examiner, for one, doesn't list anyone by your name among the dead of the last few days -- call me back. This time leave a number.

If it's a job you need, we'll try to help you.

But it sounds like you need more than that. Here's the message you left the other day, in a halting voice, fatigued and close to cracking:

"Hello, Mr. Rodricks. My name is Jim. ... It's February 28th. I'm a 57-year-old white male and I've worked my entire life. A soldier ... a father ... a husband.

"I got involved with drugs when I was 55 years old. I've been clean for a year. I don't know what to do. I've just got back with my wife four months ago, and everybody's coming down around me.

"I never took any money from the state, I never asked for food stamps, I've never asked for help. I never asked for anything. I went through a month at Shoemaker [Center, in Sykesville]. I spent six months at a halfway house, the Friendship House on South Hanover Street. I am clean and ... I can't find work.

"We're about to lose our home. We're about to lose everything.

"I'm gonna take my life today.

"And ... I don't know exactly how or where, but I am going to die today.

"My wife is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful woman and I have a stepdaughter who is absolutely a gem of a person. And ... I'm at my wits' end. My wife is working ... trying to keep everything afloat, and I can't watch her do this anymore.

"I can't get my driver's license back. I can't get a job. I can't do anything.

"I've tried so very, very hard and I don't know what to do. And I figured this is the only way out.

"My wife is a wonderful person. She works ... um, I just ... I apologize. This is lengthy and ... I read your columns. I've read them since ... anyway, thanks. Do what you can do. Tell the people in the legislature to get off the stem cell research and take the money ... "

And what?

Increase funding -- beyond the relatively inconsequential increase in the Republican governor's proposed budget -- so that addiction-riddled Baltimore can offer drug treatment on demand?

Build a public hospital just for drug addicts?

Expand offender re-entry services in the Maryland prisons instead of stifling them, as the Democratic-controlled legislature did last year and may again?

Subjects for another day, Jim.

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