DRUG DEALERS: Your mothers have been calling; your grandmothers too. I speak with them almost daily. The conversations are always pleasant, but the subject is always sad, and the subject is always you - the sons and grandsons who hustle drugs on the streets of Baltimore.
Frustrated rowhouse matriarchs watch every day as you go out the door to do what the mother of a dealer named Donyell calls "selling that poison."
Donyell, by the way, got out of the game a few weeks ago, after a brief story about him appeared in this column. He enrolled in an electrical technology class at a vocational school. When I called him the other night, he was doing his homework.
At 29, he has taken a step toward being a full-fledged electrician. You know why he gave up the street? Fear of jail again. Fear of death. "And," he said, "one time before I leave this world, I want to hear my mother say she's proud of me, instead of shakin' her head and askin', `Why you keep sellin' that poison to your people?'"
Donyell is one of more than 100 men and women who have called here since June 9 to find help getting out of the heroin-and-cocaine trade that ruins lives and fuels the violence that keeps Baltimore high on homicide charts.
Among the many callers have been your mothers and grandmothers.
They want you out of the game.
Of course, many of you probably hear that every day (because you don't own a car and can't afford to live anywhere but at home).
The women in your life worry about you with good reason: Baltimore is a deadly city if you're in the drug trade.
"My son needs to get out of the game, but he gets turned down for jobs," said one mother, who asked that her name not be published. "He lives in [Baltimore County] and he's still selling drugs because he believes in taking care of his [three children]. He says, `I gotta do what I gotta do.' But I want him to get it through his head that there's a job out there for him somewhere. He doesn't have to make money this way."
"My son has gone through a drug treatment program," said a woman named Carol, who asked that her last name not be published. "He can do roofing, he's been a painter, and he's worked construction. But he can't seem to find a job."
"My grandson," another woman said, "has lived with me a long time. His mother is deceased, and his father was never in his life. He's 20 and running the streets, in and out of jail on loitering and drug charges. He needs help."
These weary-sounding women make the phone calls because you guys don't. You're either discouraged or inert. Some of you still like dealing dope, though the pay is overrated and you're still risking your neck for some other guy who probably doesn't live with his mother and can afford his own ride.
"I sell [because] I don't like being broke," said a 33-year-old man who sells cocaine. (His mother told him to call here for help in finding a legitimate job. It took a month, but he finally came around to it Tuesday night.)
So your mothers and grandmothers still care - even though they know that poison you sell brings misery, year after numbing year, to city neighborhoods and deep suburbs. (Among the women who have called here are the mothers of young men and women who died of heroin overdoses in Carroll and Harford counties. Their stories another day.)
Wanda Carter 's son is still alive, in his late 30s, still immersed in the city's heroin world as an addict and sometimes dealer.
"He has been incarcerated a number of times," she wrote in a letter last month. "He was released in January and was doing well until all of his attempts to find a job failed [because of his record] and he started to hang in the old neighborhood with others that he had gotten high with previously.
"Before I knew it, things started missing from my home. ... He sleeps on my porch at night and is gone most of the time before we get up. We have tried to get him in an inpatient detoxification center, but most places want you to continue to call or show up regularly [to get a bed], and in his state that's not always possible. It turns out to be another letdown, an excuse to get high.
"It's very discouraging and heartbreaking to see your child caught up in the drug world and be unable to help them."
So you have to help yourselves. You have to call and get treatment - and be dogged in the pursuit and patient in the wait. You have to decide to stop selling the poison and find a real job - and be dogged in the pursuit and patient in the wait. Do it for yourselves and your city. Do it for your mothers and your grandmothers.