New Program Reforms Drug-Torn Neighborhood

In a unique collaboration, prosecutors, police and the community teamed up and went door-to-door to seek out the 13 criminals, inviting them to show up at a community meeting. As incentive, the dealers were given freedom and an opportunity to turn their lives around. The round-the-clock mission wasn't easy. Mistrust is common, and many people wouldn't even open up their doors.

Sixty-three-year-old Everett Hairston, who has lived in Hempstead for more than two decades, was one of the first dealers to participate. He was once a successful musician who appeared on the "Dinah Shore Show" as a member of the hit band The Platters in 1976, and played with music greats like Melba Moore, Roberta Flack and Smokey Robinson.

But after retiring from life on the road to raise his children, Hairston's life took a few rough turns. He ended up selling crack out of his apartment, according to Rice.

Hannah Tindall, another dealer from the neighborhood, also agreed to participate in the initiative. Her mother died when she was 10 years old, leaving her to be raised by an abusive aunt, the foster care system, and, eventually, the streets.

Young and impressionable, she began to demonstrate the behavior of the older girls she lived with in group homes: drinking, smoking, cursing and running away.

Tindall, now 26, said that, in her youth, she used to like "hanging out, partying with my friends in the city, just doing irresponsible things. ... I just got mixed up with the wrong people."

At 22, Tindall began dealing crack to support herself and her own drug habit.

'I Cannot Face Another Year'

Less than two weeks later, all 13 of the drug dealers showed up to the community meeting.

They were led into an auditorium where they watched surveillance footage of themselves selling drugs on the corner of Terrace and Bedell. Nearby were mug shots of the other dealers captured on tape who were not fortunate enough to be offered a second chance.

Parents, relatives, preachers, service providers and other community members confronted the dealers head-on and addressed the drug problem in their community.

"I'm at the funeral home late nights with sisters that could have been prom queens, looking like their grandmother's age because they're strung out," said Karl Burnett, an undertaker at a local funeral home.

Others urged the dealers to stop their destructive behavior.

"You need to take advantage of the opportunity," said community activist Reginald Benjamin. "I cannot face another year of seeing young men die on the streets like dogs because you guys are leading them down a bad path."

After hearing from loved ones, law enforcement gave the dealers two choices: give up a life of crime, or go to prison.

'Working Makes Me Feel Good'

A few minutes after the community meeting ended, the police put Terrace and Bedell on lockdown. No one was allowed to enter without their knowledge, and the police made arrests on outstanding warrants for a few dealers who had, until then, eluded law enforcement.

At the same time, the 13 dealers taking part in the program began the process of turning their lives around. The district attorney's office set up counseling sessions with a support group for ex-offenders, called Council for Unity, a type of AA for criminals. They also offered social services and managed to find jobs for six of the dealers in the program.

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