Earl King III: There’s a Creator and he’s going to work it out

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Photo by Chelsea Seifert/VoiceBox Media

We met Earl for the first time at New Song Community Church in Sandtown. It was his first Sunday there and he was a guest of Leslie Poff, the founder of a substance abuse counseling center called Home Free, which he had been part of for more than two weeks. We visited Home Free the next day and Earl greeted us at the door with a big smile and a firm handshake.

Earl is 45 years old and a lifelong resident of Sandtown. When he told us his story, he was 13 days sober from heroin, having quit cold turkey and been a faithful part of Home Free’s program as part of the terms of his probation. He spoke boldly from Leslie’s office on Presstman Street, all the whole holding a recently snuffed out cigarette, his feet rhythmically thumping against the floor, edgy from withdrawals from the drug he started sniffing when he was 12 years old. He is an ex-offender and has spent 26 years in prison.

He wants the opportunity to care for his two daughters, to earn his high school diploma and go to college.

What would you want people to know about your neighborhood?

“This is a beautiful community, very beautiful. All the people here are beautiful. Every last person here has something to offer this city and this town. But I believe sincerely that we can work it out but the police is not going to be willing to do it and then that’s going to make everybody say, ‘Well it’s not worth it.’ So then the tension is going to rise. And then nobody is going to lift a hand to do anything from their end and then crime’s just going to go up and I think that’s wrong because there’s a lot of people going to suffer for that that for nothing.”

What is the biggest challenge children of Sandtown face?

“I would say overall lack of education. A lot of them go to school hungry. A lot of them have not had birthday parties. You know there’s a lot going on in the city, there’s a lot of people suffering. But I know for a fact there’s a Creator and he’s going to work it out, he’s going to work it out.”

What are some of the good things people in the community are doing?

“Like for instance where I live at, Norman House, they’re geared to the city farm. I’m an ex-offender; I’ll start volunteering Monday through Friday once I finish singing the paperwork. There is a lot of people coming home from incarceration who need jobs and they don’t get them because they’re giving all the jobs to the Mexicans. I hate to say it but it’s true. Sad but true. I’m a skilled laborer and I want to be paid for my skills. I want to take care of my children by myself and not with 50 other people living in one household because that’s how I was able to break down my salary so that I could. I want to be able to do it on my own and afford my own place and take care of myself and my children on my own not with the help of a bunch of people in one house. That’s another way they can get rid of us is by not giving us jobs. They always say isn’t because people don’t show up but how many people do out of a million. It’s a mess here right now. But once again I believe the Creator has his hand in it so something’s going to change.”

Do you find a lot of hope in God?

“I do yes. I do because I know that if I look at it through the eyes of chaos, nothing’s going to change. But if I believe in my heart that something’s going to change I know that it can and that it will because I’ve seen it happen in my life. I’m 13 days clean off of butes and heroin so if I can do that, I’ve been getting high since I was 12 years old sniffing heroin, so if I can stop I know somebody else can too.”

Are people angry in the community?

“Yeah because of the police beat us up, talk to us any kind of way, telling us to shut up, we can’t use our phones when they’re being disrespectful. I’ve seen officers arrest people, me included, and punch ‘em. All you gotta do is arrest me. They think they can come out here and treat us any kind of way and I don’t feel like that’s the answer. You should be able to do your job without your emotions. And if you’re going to come to work with your emotions and not be a professional, then I think you should give up your badge and your gun because you have to care about these people. I remember a long time ago when they used to have Officer Friendly. They need to bring him back. These officers, to me, really they’re gangs. They’re just one big gang for the government. That’s how I really see them and that’s how a lot of people see them. You can look at the news. Over 109 people beaten up by the police. Something’s not right with that picture. So to me the police are a gang. They’re worse than the Bloods and all of them put together because they’ve got the law on their side. They can do what they want. That’s why Freddie Gray died because they could do what they want and that’s why that prosecutor stood up and said, No. Enough is enough. You going to jail.”

Do you think there will be change in Sandtown?

“Yes, I believe that’s one of the things that need to change because that’s the only way trust is going to be built back up. I will say this, if they get found not guilty, you not going to be stay in Baltimore. They’re going to be mad. They’re going to go off. I’ve never been a part of a city riot, I’ve been a part of prison riots and I know what it’s like. You’re not going to want to be around here because they’re not going to care. This city’s going to burn. If they let these police get off, the city’s going to burn, it’s going to burn. And I hate to see that because I love this city. To see that happen I think is wrong. The only way we can change it is by solidarity. We have to stick together but anger is going to overwhelm that; there’s not going to be nothing left.”

Are people desperate here in the community?

“Yeah because nothing’s getting done with the police. They still come out here and do whatever they want. They’re being childish. If someone calls, they don’t come. They’re not coming to Sandtown. They’re not here. You might see the police riding through if it’s something really wrong, they’re not going to stop. They don’t care. They’re acting like children. I’ve never seen nothing like this before in my life.”

Are you able to take some of the things you’ve learned in the program and apply it?

“Yes, like for instance when I first came here I took a lot of notes because I was curious to know what everyone had to say and after writing down most of the things I really looked at, like one for instance: we take a lot of pride in ourselves when we’re getting high but we don’t take that same pride when we’re not getting high. So we have to learn to do that because we look down on ourselves. The shame process makes us afraid to succeed. This program is helping us shape and mold all that in a way that we can use it to benefit our every day life style in a positive note. It’s a negative thing when you’re constantly looking at yourself in a shameful manner because of what you’ve done to yourself and your community. Not only do we suffer but our relatives suffer and our families and friends suffer and the people we care about, they don’t want to see us like that. But we be going through stuff, we don’t know what to do. Programs like this help you learn what you’re doing wrong and how to do it right and if you make a mistake how to get back up and keep going. That’s important too for this community and each member.”

What do you think the people of Sandtown need?

“I think we need more programs like this, like Home Free. I’m not just saying that because I’m here. I’m saying it because it’s effective. Because a lot of people when they’re going through things, they’re not looking at … a lot of time we’re medicating our problems instead of really looking at the problem and figuring out a solution so that the drug part of it can go away because if you can face your fears … for instance, a lot of people are hiding the fact that they were raped and molested as a child and that their parents did something to them. They’re hiding it and so they’re medicating it instead of confronting it and saying why did you do me this way? A lot of times when you do that, it takes that weight off your shoulders of feeling like that, but some people not gonna do it. They’re too proudful and not going to allow themselves to stoop to that level of understanding which is really hard because you’re actually confronting the person who did something to you so you can get rid of the fear. They don’t do it. These programs – this is what’s needed in the community.

Also what’s needed is to put the schools back. They’re taking the schools from us. They’re taking the recreations from us. They’re taking everything from us. These kids don’t have nothing and we’ve got to look at these kids suffering every day. That does something to me. I know it does something to other people seeing these kids out here constantly in the streets and don’t have no after-school programs to attend to. They don’t learn anything. There’s no Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts for these kids. Like in the wilderness you’re taught how to find certain roots that you can use to eat to sustain yourself, certain roots that you need to stay away from. These kids need to be taught the same skills in the city, city skills. If you see drug paraphernalia, don’t bother it or call an adult.”

Is there a lot of crime here?

“Yeah, there’s drugs everywhere, gangs is everywhere you walk, everywhere you go. They might not be hand-signing but there’s nothing but gangs here. I believe drugs should be decriminalized. I think it should be a medical issue. I think they should give it to the doctors and let the doctors deal with it. Now if someone breaks the law, that’s one thing but they should decriminalize heroin, marijuana, cocaine, all of it, and send people to therapy. It’s working for me. If it worked for me, I know it can work for somebody else. Prison is not the answer. You’re throwing these kids in prison knowing that their future is gone, so they can’t be another Barack Obaama. I feel that it’s cruel and unjust punishment what they’re doing.”

{Holly Wise contributed to this report}

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