Abell Salutes: Alternative Directions

January 2008 / Salutes / Criminal Justice and Addiction

For helping to write Charles’ and Stacy’s stories, and for aspiring to write the rest of them.

Alternative Directions, Inc. is dedicated to helping offenders and others in need, to be contributing members of their communities by providing civil / legal assistance, counseling, and traditional services to inmates and ex-offenders. Here, two of them tell their stories:

Charles Tanner; African American male, age 36

“I dropped out of Southwestern high school when I was in my sophomore year because I became a father, and none of the families, the mother’s or mine, would help support the baby. That left me to do it. So I quit school and got a job in Malcolm’s Shoe repair. That was in 1986.

“I was doing pretty good, working and supporting the baby. But I started hanging out with people I should not have, on the corners in West Baltimore — Monroe and Baltimore, and Gilmor. I started to use marijuana, then heroin. I started out buying it, but pretty soon I was selling it. I was 22 years old.

“I was supposed to be working—at Malcolm’s and when I lost that job, I got another as a janitor in a warehouse for Chinese groceries. I lived this way for three years or so—managing to get to work, mostly. But there came a time when I could no longer keep my addiction a secret. I lost every job I had. At age 25, I was using drugs and selling drugs, mostly heroin, and living at my mother’s. I had a good home. My mother and father did everything they could to help me, I had a lot of family support. But none of that really mattered. I was addicted. Then one day, out on the corner, I was picked up on drug bust by the police.

“The judge sent for rehab before sentencing to a program called Drug Corp, on Wabash Avenue. I stayed in the program for a couple of months. But it was only an outpatient arrangement and it didn’t work out at all. I found myself in prison on the Eastern Shore, doing five years.

“One day, towards the end of my fifth year, a social worker in the prison gave me a packet of literature about agencies I could turn to for help. I wrote to a lot of them, but Alternative Directions is the only one that answered. They wrote back and told me that to as soon as I got released to see them first thing. Right away. So I got off the bus on O’Donnell Street and walked from there to Charles and 25th Street. About 15 miles.

“Several people from Alternative Directions met with me. I told them my situation. I was homeless, jobless, and penniless. I needed help. Each of them made phone calls, right while I sat there. They got me room and board at Prisoner’s Aid on 204 E. 25th Street. They instructed me to talk to them every morning. And every morning they gave me a list of things to do that day. I did them, too.

“The plan was to get me on my feet. And they did that, and so now I am able to go out and look for a job. I am living and learning and planning to go to work and to stay clean. But if it hadn’t been for the people at Alternative Directions, I would be no where. Now I’m somewhere. If I am not, well, then, I am on my way there.”

Stacy Miller: white, female, age 31

“I was born and raised in Essex, and was a freshman in Marshall University, in West Virginia, doing pretty well, when I found myself in the wrong crowd in the student body. In my freshman year, I started using cocaine. It was in the campus culture.

In no time, I found that I couldn’t function. I stopped going to class. I got depressed. I dropped out of college. I went to live with my sister in Essex. Although I had pretty much stopped using, my sister was smoking marijuana, and so I got back into the habit. Again. Then I got really depressed. I was checked into to Franklin Square hospital, and when I was discharged a few weeks later, I moved back with my parents in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania. They really tried to help me. They involved me in a program operated by a private physician. But that didn’t work, either. I began using benzodiazepine pills. Then, I got pregnant.

“When my child, a daughter, was five, I was living with an aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania. My daughter got hurt in an incident of abuse. At the trial, her father had a lawyer from the private sector, I had a public defender. The father got 15 years suspended sentence, I got 10 years in the Jessup prison.

“I got out of prison in two and half years. I was a model prisoner. I helped out the prison administration in so many ways. In particular, I tutored many of the prisoners so that they could earn a GED…

“At some point a friend in the prison doing life, for murder, handed me the literature about Alternative Directions. She said she certainly could never take advantage of the services, but I could. She encouraged me to fill out the application. I did.

“A few weeks later, while I was still in prison, I got a call from Mary Joel Davis of Alternative Directions inviting me to an interview. Everything good happened after that. They got me into Marian House, where I lived for eight months, then into Women’s Housing Coalition program. Then I got pregnant. Again.

“So Alternative Directions got me and my baby into the Susanna Wesley house. I was lucky enough to get a really good job at the Maryland Food Bank in Linthicum. I am making enough money now to get my own apartment, for my baby and me.

“Every day I take the bus and the Light Rail to Linthicum and back—an hour and half each way. My baby stays in day care. It is not easy. But when you in the Alternative Directions program, you have a family there who believe in giving another chance. No, it’s not easy, but Alternative Directions makes it easier…

Executive Director Mary Joel Davis suggests why: “We are a clearing house. Whatever a client needs, we get it for him, or her. And each needs something different: divorce, child support, medication, room and board, and transportation, and money, health issues, like hepatitis and AIDS, and psychiatric problems. Charles and Stacy are participants in the TurnAbout program (TAP) in which individuals are paroled directly to Alternative Directions and receive intensive care management and wrap around services.”

About costs, Ms. Davis says, “In the course of a year, through several programs, our services touch the lives of as many as 17,000 people, and the costs vary within any given program. For example, thanks to many in-kind services for drug treatment and bus passes, our cost to provide services in the Turn About Program for each of the 40 women being released from prison is roughly $4,000. But,” she adds, “my larger goal is make society understand that locking up people, with no help for them when they return to their communities, is simply keeping the prisons full.”

Nine thousand men and women in Baltimore city alone are newly discharged from prisons back into the community every year. Charles and Stacy are two of them, two fortunate enough to have their lives turned around by the second chance that Alternative Directions has provided them. There are thousands of Charleses and Stacys coming out of prison—and it is the goal of Alternative Directions to serve as many as funding will allow. Abell Salutes Mary Joel Davis and her staff, for helping to write Charles’ and Stacy’s stories and for aspiring to write the rest of them.