At 20, Gary Evans is a former drug dealer.

For three years, he sold marijuana in East Capitol Dwellings, the Southeast public housing community where he grew up and still lives.

His business varied from day to day, he says. "I guess I averaged $150 a week. Five hundred dollars was a top-notch week; $100 was the lowest," he recalls.

He would buy two pounds of marijuana for about $350 every two weeks, he says, and gross approximately $800.

He used his profit to buy clothes and help his family: eight sisters, unemployed alcoholic father and mother, a homemaker.

Evans used to smoke a lot of his merchandise, he says, and many times he would get so "wasted," he didn't know what day it was. Finally, he woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and "saw something very ugly. That something was me," he says.

"I stopped smoking herb (marijuana) because one day I realized it controlled me. I didn't control it." Shortly after he stopped smoking, he stopped selling, too.

"I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I saw everyone else doing it. I didn't have the motivation to do anything better."

He credits a teacher at Woodson Senior High School with changing him.

"She cared about me," he says. "By talking to me after school and helping me improve my reading, she showed me there was hope."

He says he was reading on a fourth-grade level in his junior year when she began working with him. He now reads at a 10th-grade level and improves himself by reading the daily newspapers.

"My faith in the Lord also helped me get myself together," Evans adds. "I always had that belief in God -- that whatever I wanted to do, I could accomplish. The only reason I was selling herb was because I was caught up in a very negative environment."

Evans began working in the community. His friends who still sell drugs call him "preacher boy."

"They call me that because I tell them the truth, and they don't want to hear it. I tell them I've done what they're doing, I know what it's about.

"It ain't about nothing -- just a bunch of headaches and frustrations. And it's dangerous."

Evans now has two jobs, one with a tailor's shop in D.C., another with the Census Bureau in Suitland, Md. He makes a little less now than when he was selling drugs, but says, "It gives me much greater satisfaction working and making a living."

Evans attends the University of the District of Columbia in the fall and winter, majoring in engineering.

And though he says some day he will leave the ghetto, he will never forget his community -- where people live in "rat shacks; where dirt, rocks, glass and trash cover front yards and back alleys; where some residents consider drug dealers status symbols for beating the system;" where unemployed blacks can be seen sitting around day and night smoking, drinking and otherwise "doing nothing;" where many young women become mothers before they reach 18; and many young men "think life is just playing basketball all day and having sex every night."

He says after graduating from college, he will reach back and try to help other blacks in his community get ahead: "There's a lot of talent around here being wasted. All that's needed is a little help.

"Too many blacks leave places like this and forget that this is where they came from and that others still here need their help," Evans says.

"More people from the media, more politicians, more senators, more congressmen, more people who can help need to come into the black communities. Then, we'll be able to get things together around here -- people won't have to sell drugs to survive."