03 Dec Paying Off Bail

I drove to east Baltimore today to pay off Will’s bail at Big Boyz. Will is the young man we employ around the house — when he’s in need of work. He’s been paying off his bail for most of the year, since getting arrested for fighting with his sister. He couldn’t pay off the last of his bail because he’s in rehab again, so he’ll send me the cash. Rehab will take him out of circulation for six months. Six months isn’t enough time to get the help he needs — job counseling, training and education, in addition to addiction counseling. But it’s about all there is. At least he gets off the streets and stops using for a time.

But it’s a sad cycle. What does it take to help one man who never got a break? His mother uses. His older sister uses. His father is long gone. Will never finished high school. But he’s surprisingly articulate and well mannered. This year, he turned 30 and discovered he has a 5-year-old son by a former girlfriend. He wants to do right by the boy but it’s more than tough finding work, especially when you’ve got a police record for using and no GED.

One of the things I like most about Will is that he isn’t trying to “get over.” When he works, he works hard and he wants to keep working. He doesn’t like to be idle. He finds no satisfaction in doing a lousy job. But lately he’s been working poorly. Both Jill and I have noticed it. He has seemed depressed. Social Services has given him medication but Jill says it’s the wrong kind, which is typical of social services.

The frustrating thing is, never have the rich been richer in this country — except during the gilded era of robber barons — and never have there been so many homeless on the streets. I’m not calling for a revolution but, at the same time, I’m convinced that things in this country can’t go on the way they’re going. What I know for sure is this: as much as he’s willing to work and as earnest as he is about getting straight, Will most likely will never get his GED, never get a full-time job that pays him enough to do any more than live from week to week, and, never get free of the drugs that are all but foisted on him from all sides — from family, friends, and just about anybody he meets on the street.

The problem isn’t in Will, it’s in everything that surrounds him. As much as I dislike David Simon’s The Wire — because it’s so pessimistic — I have to grant that Simon has this much right: drugs aren’t going away. Ever. Legalize them, regulate them, then deal with the hundred other problems that are dragging us down. Legalize drugs? Sounds fantastic to some and too scary to others, like surrendering to the devil. But that seems the thing to do. Look at Mexico. Remember Prohibition in this country.

We live in a country that fears and shuns the truth because the truth is so damned uncomfortable and inconvenient: can we grant marital rights to gays? can we agree, once and for all, that global warming is as real as the scientists say? can we accept that taxes are necessary for building the good of all?

What does it take to help one man get on his feet? It takes a lot more than we are giving.