FOUR MEN - one in his 40s and tired of going to jail, one who just barely escaped the bullets that killed his best friend, one under pressure from police and family to change careers, another who left the streets six years ago to work toward a middle-class life - all agree: Many who sell drugs in Baltimore will never stop, unless arrested or killed, but many more would prefer another way to make a living. If there were more decent jobs and more employers willing to give a felon a second chance, there might be fewer dealers 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 of
anonymity because their lives are still so close to the drug trade - were
among 10 men who contacted this columnist after Thursday's open letter to the
dealers of Baltimore.
FBI reporting an
overall rise in violent crime for the first time since 1999, the letter asked
those involved in the drug trade, the engine that drives the violence, to stop
killing, if only for the summer, and if only to see what might happen. Those
willing to end their criminality altogether were offered an opportunity to
present themselves for employment through this space.
Of the 10, one had already moved on and found a job; the rest said they
were unemployed. Two claimed they were still selling the poison to city and
suburban customers. Others said they didn't want to deal anymore but were
frustrated in finding a legitimate job because of their criminal backgrounds.
Such is the complex challenge of breaking the cycle of drug dealing that
infests the toughest, poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Twice since 1975, when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Anderson
held jobs for several years. He was 15 when he stabbed another young man in a
fight - he says it was self-defense - and went to jail for eight years. After
prison, he found a position as a deliveryman for a Baltimore furniture store
and kept it for seven years. For another five, Anderson worked for a company
that reconditioned steel drums.
But the soft-spoken Anderson acknowledges that too much of his life has
been spent in prison. Now 44, he says he can't do another stint. "I have four
children," he says. "I got to find some way to help with my family."
Anderson was incarcerated until April 2004. He says he forged prescriptions
for OxyContin and Percocet, powerful painkillers that are often sold
illegally. Until he was caught, Anderson says, he received $100 for each
successful 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 a
dairy, a scrap yard and a stationery company but has not been invited for an
interview and blames his criminal past.
Anderson earns a few bucks doing odd jobs, but that's it. Asked if he's
tempted to return to the narcotics trade, he says, "That's not the solution. I
finally figured that out. I can't do jail time anymore. It's not doing my
family any good."
This man, 26 years old, did not want his full name in print. He says he's
still too close to his former life as a busy heroin salesman, and he's lucky
to be alive. He was on the street with his best friend - "my home boy" - one
night in March 2004 when gunfire erupted. His friend died from multiple
wounds. Sean was grazed in the attack. He says the experience changed his
"I been to the birthday parties of all my home boy's kids," he says, "and
they all call me `god-daddy,' and they were all at the funeral. ... Since my
home 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, I
seen a light when my home boy died."
Sean, who has an extensive criminal record, lives with his mother. He has a
daughter he sees on weekends; he says she's another reason he resolved to stop
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. We
do it to survive. Right now, there isn't much food in my mother's house, you
know? That's why I'd have to do it."
But he says he's not going to. He wants to find a legitimate job - "Almost
anything, but not cleaning toilets" - while he attends a technical school in
"I have to start over," he says. "I'm just done [with drug dealing], done
with the whole thing."