Donald Streater recalls the first time. Five of them -- students with futures in medicine, law, politics -- were sitting around a friend's living room. Coltrane was playing on the stereo. Conversation and jokes were flowing.

The students pooled their funds to get some heroin. It was the host, and the party could not start without it. Streater was not reluctant, he remembers.

"I was hooked before I even got the spike in my arm," he recalled in a recent interview.

Streater spent his life burrowing into a drug and alcohol addiction that would last 17 years, send him to jail and cost him his family.

But in May, he graduated from Georgetown University's Law Center. And he now is special assistant to D.C. Commissioner on Social Services Marjorie Hall-Ellis as well as executive staff director for the Mayor's Homeless Coordinating Council, which will help plan ways to help the District's homeless.

He's been invaluable," Hall-Ellis said of Streater this week. "He brings several qualities {to the job}, including his law background . . . . He has a quiet but clear, firm way with people."

Streater also is a substance abuse consultant who organizes workshops on drug abuse. His appointment calendar is filled with promises to speak about his life and the dangers of drugs. He calls it his mission.

Streater is unmarried; his wife divorced him because of his drug addiction. She and their three daughters no longer live in the District. He spends most of his time working and spending time with his two sons, Rahmaan, 12, who lives with him, and Kibwe, 10, who lives with his mother, Sandy Thomas, in Washington.

Streater is on top of the world after spending years in hell.

He was born in the District 47 years ago, raised by a mother, Lenora Lewis, who was forced to do the job alone and worked continuously, mostly at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, to give her son a good life.

Streater attended numerous schools, getting kicked out of two and transferring from the others, before graduating from Cardozo High in 1957.

He had already experimented with marijuana by the time he arrived at Howard University that fall, but he was looking for more.

"I was a dope fiend looking for a habit to happen . . . . Drugs were my love, made me feel whole."

Streater traded his life as a student for life as a junkie. He also married. Within four years, he and his wife had three daughters. Within six, they were divorced.

He left Howard and worked at odd jobs. But they were not enough to support his habit. Streater began to shoplift and steal from friends.

In 1964, his mother turned him in.

"I went to the FBI downtown and asked them could they pick him up, not for punishment, but to help," said Lewis, who still lives in Washington with her husband James.

Streater was locked in a hospital ward for five months. When he was released, he turned back to drugs. To pay for the heroin, he starting forging checks. That led to two stints in jail.

The third time he was being sought for forging checks, Streater ran.

"I had this illusion that I was going to get me a large supply of drugs, okay? . . . I was going to Europe and lie around on the Riviera . . . and never have to worry about anything.

"I don't think I got off 14th Street."

Streater's flight led him to John Perazich, who was working for the Georgetown Legal Intern Program. The program did public defender work for the District.

Perazich, who now runs the law firm of Perazich and Wynn with his wife, said, "He thought he could con you to get anything he wanted . . . . "

With Perazich's help, Streater was sent to a federal treatment facility in Lexington, Ky., for three years.

He returned to the District and tried to work, but he also kept using drugs. Eventually, he stopped trying. He used food stamps to eat and used his monthly public assistance check for drugs.

Even when he nearly killed himself in the summer of 1975, Streater refused to stop using drugs.

He snorted some pure heroin and passed out. An ambulance took him to the hospital at Howard University, where it had all started 17 years before.

"I got there. My heart stopped. I stopped breathing. I was dead."

Doctors at Howard revived him and sent him home after two days.

That summer, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings irregularly. A few months later, he woke up one morning holding a bottle of vodka. He dressed, headed for the door -- and stopped. To this day, he said, he does not know why. Haunted by the urgings of friends and dreams of what he could do, he called his stepfather, James Lewis, and asked him to drive him to St. Elizabeths Hospital.

He stayed in the hospital's drug treatment program for a year.

Streater began pulling himself up and out of the hole he had been in. He started working at Sears' Alabama Avenue store. The next year, he was hired by the District as a public assistance caseworker. He enrolled in classes at the University of Maryland, then transferred to the University of the District of Columbia to study social welfare.

These days, Streater returns, not only to UDC, but also to other former haunts: the Lorton prison complex, the streets, to talk to kids, prisoners, about his life.

In 1983, he was accepted to night classes at Georgetown University's Law Center. For four years, he worked by day and studied by night, pushing himself to a new career.

"I am determined in some way to share my success, have my life make a difference," he said. "I believe my record will speak for itself."

His mother said, "He has a mission to accomplish. I really think it's great."

What is he proudest of? Ending the addiction? Graduating from law school? His new job?

"The thing that touches me most," Streater said, "is that my boys call me 'Dad.' "