On Thursday evening, May 21, about 130 concerned neighbors attended a community meeting in a church near the drug bazaar along 14 Street NW. Seated in the audience was a tall young man, his shaved head glistening, who applauded enthusiastically when Mayor Marion Barry urged citizens to help fight the area's drug problem. The young man was Guy Harold Smith, 29. At his side was his wife, Wanda Sutton-Smith, 26.
By the following evening, Guy Smith was dead, the city's latest victim of a heroin overdose: the seventh person to die that week and the 38th heroin fatality since the beginning of the year.
Twenty-four hours after he applauded the mayor, Guy Smith joined the record number of people who have died in the city this year from drug-related causes -- a number that is twice as high as it was at this time last year.
Smith was no stranger to drugs, or to the cycle of crime and imprisonment in which drug users are caught. He spent much of the last 12 years in the hands of the police, the courts and the jails. His story is both familiar and poignant: familiar because drug use is widespread, poignant because Guy Smith's family and friends fought so hard to save him from the abyss he created, and into which he slid at the age of 29.
What follows is Guy Smith's story. It is also the story of his wife, Wanda, who willingly talked about her experience in the hope that in would help others.
Guy Smith died Friday evening, May 22, bleeding and vomiting on the sofa of the Mount Pleasant apartment where he and Wanda lived with her two daughters, aged 10 and 5. Wanda said she went to sleep about 7:30 p.m and awoke about 11:40 p.m. to find him dead. D.C. Medical Examiner James L. Luke ruled that the cause of death was a heroin overdose.
At the time of his death, Smith was again looking for work and that search brought him to the community meeting.
"We were just talking about jobs," said Wanda, who earlier this year had introduced Guy to her priest, the Rev. Raymond B. Kemp, pastor of Saints Paul and Augustine Catholic Church. Kemp promised the couple he would help Smith find work when he was released from Lorton in April. He did find him a construction job with Horning Brothers in May but it lasted only a week.
Smith was depressed about unskilled construction work; he hated the uncertainty of it, said Wanda. "He wanted a job that wasn't a construction job that would be over in three months, that he could work when it rained or got cold."
Still trying to help Smith, Kemp persuaded him to come to the meeting of the 14th and U Coalition, held in a room of the church school at 1421 V Street. The Coalition, founded to combat the twin ills of drug abuse and homeowner displacement, was marking its first anniversary. Kemp said he introduced Guy to Mayor Barry and his special assistant, Anita Bonds, during the meeting, and recalls Bonds sayng she would try to help Smith.
"Things were just beginning to fall into place for Guy," Wanda said, "and all of a sudden, there ain't no need for nothing to happen no more. "
The only child of Albert and Madeline Smith, Guy was born December 10, 1951 in Philadelphia but was raised in the modest home on 10th Street NE where his parents still reside. Detailed information about his early years was unavailable from his parents, who refused to be interviewed for this article. "I've been through a lot," said his mother. "I don't want to go through any more about him. He's dead."
According to Wanda, Smith attended Wilson Elementary School and Terrell Junior High School, and made it to the 10th grade at Dunbar High School. According to a Feb. 24, 1981 memorandum written by rehabilitation counselor James Berry to Smith's attorney, public defender Yvonne Foster, "a progressively increasing drug problem robbed him of his motivation to complete the (high school) experience." The memorandum was made available to The Post by Smith's widow.
The memorandum notes that Smith's criminal record was intimately tied to his drug problem, which dated back to 1969. That was the year he was sent to Lorton's Youth Center in Occoquan, Va. for shoplifting -- he was then 17 -- and served two brief sentences, studying typewriter repair before leaving in 1972.
His relationship with Lorton was to continue. In two years he was back serving an adult sentence of 4 to 12 years for burglary.
Whatever his problems on the "outside," within the walls of Lorton he was a model prisoner, who cooperated with guards and read widely. "He was very intelligent, and he was very involved with his defense," said attorney Foster, who represented Guy in his last case.
"I have a lot of clients who will call from a phone booth two or three times, never let you know where they are and hang up, but Guy was different. He was always very business-like," Foster said.
Smith worried about his education, Foster said. He earned his General Equivalency Diploma while at Lorton in 1977 and later took 16 hours of extension courses from the University of the District of Columbia. He also began to read law.
"He knew enough to be interested but not enough to keep him out of trouble . . .," Foster said.
At Lorton, Smith worked his way up the privilege ladder and earned the right to 72-hour furloughs at home. It was on one of those furloughs in the spring of 1979 that he and Wanda met on Columbia Road NW when he walked up to her and asked her out. Though he had to be back at Lorton the next day, he promised he would call, and he did. And the next night, and the next. When he was released from jail, he would call her several times a day, and it became a habit that Wanda would learn to read like smoke signals; when he didn't call she knew he was headed for trouble.
A Catholic school girl who grew up at 17th and Kalorama streets NW, Wanda said she had a baby at 6, a husband at 18, and another baby at 21. She attended Cardozo and Western High Schools before dropping out in the 10th grade, and felt lucky to find domestic work at the National Institutes of Health in 1972. Still, with two children to support, Wanda Sutton said she wanted more for herself than a rag bucket and the vacuum cleaner she used to make her cleaning rounds. She went back to school for her GED, and then went on to Montgomery Community College for two years, so she could return to NIH as a secretary.
When she met Smith, Wanda found another target for her penchant for self-improvement. From the moment they met, Wanda found Guy difficult to resist, in a way she found hard to understand. "It was just something about him; he's not a fool," she said, unable to decide whether to speak of him in the past tense or the present. "He's very smart. I knew he was not a loser and I was determined not to give up on him, because I loved him."
She also supported him, supplying him with clothes, jewelry, and cash every morning when he wasn't working. If he didn't get it from her, she said, she was afraid he'd get it somewhere else.
"People would say, 'Wanda, why are you paying him to stay out of jail?'" she remembered. "But Guy's a man; a man shouldn't have to walk around with his pockets empty."
Her devotion extended to long waits in court. When attorney Foster once needed a document, Wanda borrowed a friend's typewriter in the courthouse, typed it herself, and handed it back to Foster within minutes. "She would sit there however long it took," said Foster, "and sometimes those things would take hours."
Most importantly, Wanda would always be there to shepherd Smith home from whatever drug dealing corner he decided to stand on that day. "Sometimes I'd see him on a corner looking around as if he were looking for me to come get him," Wanda said. Sometimes even Wanda got fed up. "The day he was picked up the last time (in October), he said, "Why didn't you come get me, man? If you had come and got me I wouldn't have got locked up.You know you're supposed to come get me.'"
On one of Smith's furloughs in July 1979, Wanda said, she and Guy were married in the courthouse in Upper Malboro. Soon after, she began to press for his parole, and her persistence earning her a nickname among parole officials, Kemp, and others she enlisted in her campaign to get Guy released.
"Hello, this is your pain in the a--," she would say, and they would know she was calling for a favor. "Most prisoners' families are concerned about them," said D.C. parole board member Jackie Brown Davis, "but Wanda, well, Wanda was such a stickfast, steadfast person, the kind you develop a rapport with very easily."
Finally, Smith was paroled in December 1979, a few days before his 28th birthday. From then until May 1980, he worked as a laborer, and then briefly, Wanda recalled, for CETA.
He was arrested again on October 6, 1980, for narcotics use, then a misdemeanor. His parole was revoked on December 5, 1980 and he returned to Lorton. On January 14, 1981, he pleaded guilty to a charge of narcotics possession, and was sentenced on March 2, 1981. He was placed on probation and released on parole on April 28.
His joblessness caused Wanda to become increasingly concerned. "He wasn't the type of man that needed to have too much time on his hands," she said. On Thursday, May 21, when he called to tell her he was at the church, she asked him whether he wanted her to come too. Since he told her no, she went anyway.
"It was just too close to 14th Street," she said, "and I had a funny feeling. I mean, if Guy would have had a jaywalking ticket he would have been back in jail." As she sat down beside him at the meeting he said, "Damn woman, I can't go to the bathroom without you on my tail."
As they rode home on the bus, he leaned over to her and said, "'You know, Wanda, dread the day that mother------ ever stuck that needle in my arm. Most men got everything they want by the time they're 35, and here I am 29 and I don't have nothing.' It wasn't," said Wanda, "that the man forced him. It was somebody he knew, and everybody was doing it so he just joined the crowd."
Like other substance abusers, Guy Smith always insisted that he wasn't dependent on dope, Wanda recalled. In his case, there may have been some truth to it. A study conducted by D.C. Medical Examiner James L. Luke and Deputy Examiner Edward L. Zimney found that about half of the city's overdose victims between 1971 and 1979 were not habitual users.
"We found that it's all related to tolerance," said Zimney. "This year it looks like it may be related to stronger stuff and people don't have tolerance for it." Police have said they suspect that greater availability of heroin from the Mideast is leading to dealer competition, and ultimately to the sale of purer drugs which may exceed a buyer's usual dose.
In Smith's case, said Luke, "The absence of needle tracks (on his body) indicates the lack of long term, chronic usage, and may reflect a lack of tolerance."
"It's a classic type of thing that happens when a person gets out of jail and they haven't been using it," added Zimney, who speculated that Smith had sniffed his fatal dose of the drug.
Attorney Foster said she had discussed Smith's drug problem with him."He'd say, 'it's easy for you to talk about not taking it but you don't know what it's like. It's out there and everybody's using it.'"
On Friday morning, Wanda went to work late. As she was leaving at about 9 a.m., Smith was trying to call Father Kemp for the pep talks that were fast becoming part of his daily routine.
At about 12:08 p.m., Kemp said, he was walking toward the church to celebrate 12:10 mass, when he saw Guy Smith running toward him from 14th Street. "He screamed, 'Father Kemp.' I turned around and saw where he was coming from. I told him, 'You don't belong on that street, man.' He said he wanted to talk to me. I said I was on my way to mass, I'd be back in half an hour and I told him to wait for me. He said he'd be back between quarter to one and one o'clock. I waited until 1:15 and he never returned."
At 2 p.m., Smith called Wanda at work. He said he was at the Saints Paul and Augustine rectory, waiting for Father Kemp. Wanda told him to call her back in 15 minutes. When he didn't, and she couldn't reach him at home, she knew just what to do.
She said she immediately left work and took the bus downtown. Angry at Smith for forcing her to look for him, she decided to stop for a drink with a friend she met on Connecticut Avenue. By 4 p.m. she was looking for Smith.
She went to 14th and U streets, when she didn't find him there she walked to 12th and U, and finally found him at 7th and T. "He was talking to some of his so-called 'no-good' friends. I said, 'What is your problem Mr. Smith? I'm taking you away. . . ," she yelled. It was now about 6 p.m., she said.
"He was looking down the street. I said, 'male or female?' He said, 'I'm looking for this dude. We're supposed to be doing some business.' I said, 'what so-called business is this on 7th and T?'
"We came home and passed some words about how he really didn't care for me to tell him to come home and stuff. My youngest daughter said, 'Come on Mommy and lay down, you look tired.' She said, 'I love you and I love Guy and I don't want you to argue.'"
Wanda took her daughter into her bedroom and they went to sleep. (Her older daughter was staying with friends.) "I woke up -- I guess it was about twenty (minutes) to twelve -- and all the lights were on.
"I said, 'Guy, why are all the lights still on?' I went to the bathroom, and I saw him on the couch. He was lying down, his head was bent down on the couch. I said, 'Guy, why you keep all the lights on? The electric bill is going to be sky high.' I stopped and chills went all through my body. I said, 'Guy?' but he didn't say anything. I just looked at him and I could see that his face was in the pillow. I said, 'Guy?,' but he didn't say anything or move. I said, 'Guy?, why you leave the lights on?' He wasn't saying nothing. I felt him and I could feel something was wrong.
"His face was flushed, his nose was bleeding. He had been crying and blood was coming out his mouth. And he was cold and he was stiff. I asked him what was wrong. He was already stiff. . ."
She called 911. The ambulance came and the police followed.
After the ambulance took Smith's body and neighbors took charge of the little girl, Wanda tried to call Father Kemp. When she couldn't reach him, she made her way to the rectory and banged on the door. It was 3 a.m. "I told him Guy was dead," Wanda said. "He said, 'Not my boy, not my boy.'"
Father Kemp celebrated the funeral mass a week after Smith's death. In his eulogy he danced delicately around the cause of death for the relatives who did not know.
"The real tragedy," said Kemp, "is that the life has been snuffed out by an evil that is destroying more people than what those little pieces of red ribbon stand for that folks are wearing on their cars for the folks in Atlanta. It's easy to take care of mourning folks 800 miles away. It's hard to come close to home and realize that all of creation is screaming and groaning. (Guy) was a part of that scream, that cry," said Kemp.
"If we really had guts, instead of taking him to the cemetery, we'd take this casket down past the District Building, past the Congress of the United States. We'd let (Smith) preach the final sermon about all creation groaning, looking for a way out . . . . feeling trapped, not knowing what the future holds."
And then Kemp led the funeral cars past 14th and U streets, past 12th and U, down T Street and out to the Harmony Memorial Park in Landover, Md.