UPON HEARING her story, a consoling preacher might have been tempted to give Towanda Reaves that old, hopeful proverb about doors -- when one closes, another one opens. We found out yesterday that the door Reaves thought had been closed to her forever is still open a crack. It's hard to see from about five years away, but there's definitely a small opening.
So maybe Reaves shouldn't give up on getting her old job back. It was,
after all, a job she loved.
As best as she can remember, back through a cloudy decade of heroin
addiction and drug dealing, Reaves trained to become a nursing assistant at
Liberty Medical Center and received her certification in 1994. She worked in
nursing homes. She loved it.
"But I blew it," she tells me over a cup of tea at a restaurant on
Reisterstown Road. "I know I blew it. When the application [to renew her state
certification] came in the mail, I just let it go. I was high."
She was one of thousands of Baltimoreans hooked on heroin, and, worse, she
was for many years involved in its sale and distribution. She slipped deep
into the drug life in the late 1990s, losing her last nursing job and the
company of her young son, who went to live with Reaves' mother in a better
environment. "I didn't want to expose him to that," she says of her son and
the drug scene in West Baltimore.
Compared with others in the drug life, Reaves was lucky -- she avoided
serious jail time and has lived long enough to tell about her life on the
At 40 years old, she's still not far removed from it, so she's careful
about what she says. Six months does not make a full recovery from heroin
addiction. She knows there's a long road ahead.
"What I want right now is a steady job, better than the temporary jobs I've
been taking, something full-time," she says. "What I'd really like to do is be
a nursing assistant again, but as much as I loved it, that's something I have
to let go of."
Reaves has felony convictions -- for writing a series of bad checks to get
cash for drugs -- and she assumes that she could never again be certified to
work as a health-care professional. Nurses and nursing assistants must renew
their licenses and certifications periodically, and Reaves says she was told
that felons are prohibited from continuing in the field.
Not exactly so, says Donna M. Dorsey, executive director of the Maryland
Board of Nursing.
The board's mission is to "assure safe, competent nurses and nursing care
for the citizens of Maryland." It conducts licensing examinations and issues
licenses to practice, and it enforces professional standards. The board can
revoke or deny licenses, or it can consider appeals.
Dorsey says the board can consider licensing someone convicted of a crime
-- even a narcotics offense, if that person has been in recovery from the
addiction for a considerable period. "If someone has been clean for five years
and has a good history of employment during that time, then the door is not
closed," Dorsey says. "Drug addiction is a disease. We shouldn't put a scarlet
letter on a person for life."
As for Towanda Reaves, Dorsey says, "She would have to start all over
again, go through training and be certified as a nursing assistant."
And be clean for a number of years, perhaps the five Dorsey mentioned.
Reaves was surprised to learn this yesterday afternoon, as she prepared to
take a bus from her apartment across Baltimore to some unknown job she'd
landed through a temporary employment agency.
The door back to that job she loved -- even nursing school -- isn't closed,
What Dorsey needs is patience, a commitment to recovery, and a job to
provide her with the income to avoid relapse into the street life.
"Housekeeping, waitressing, prep work, I've done all that," she says. "I can
do anything, as long as I'm trained well."
Businesses interested in hiring any of the people profiled in recent
columns can contact Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166, or by e-mail at dan.rodrick