Arletta Hardy's war on drugs does not involve the use of pump shotguns or undercover busts of drug suspects. As a mother trying to help her two sons stop using drugs, she does battle with tears and prayers.
In a city that spends more money trying to arrest and prosecute drug users than operating effective drug abuse treatment and prevention programs, there is not much else for a mother to do.
"I called one government agency to find help for my sons and they told me nothing could be done unless they had been arrested," Hardy recalled. "I said that's what I'm trying to prevent. But in this city, it seems you have to be in trouble before you can get help."
Hardy's troubles started when she found a jar of liquid PCP in the kitchen of her Northeast Washington home one day this summer and took it to the 6th District police station. She told police how a drug dealer had brought the PCP into their home in an effort to recruit her 19-year-old son, Ronald, to sell it.
What she wanted for her son was help. Instead, Ronald was arrested. Later, Hardy learned that her younger boy, Kevin, 17, was working for the PCP salesman and, to make matters worse, had been using the stuff.
Up until two years ago, her two sons had been fine boys, attending school regularly and staying out of trouble. They had even worked in the Mayor's Summer Jobs Program.
"When the summer jobs ended, they still wanted money," Hardy recalled. "I suggested they work for McDonald's, but they said working for McDonald's was a sign that your family was hard up, and they didn't want their friends thinking we were real bad off."
A thriving drug market existed near the Hardys' neighborhood, just off Sheriff Road not far from the Maryland line, and many kids had found ways to make money by working in it. The new cars that the kids drove and the fancy clothes that they wore proved to be a powerful lure. Ronald and Kevin were drawn in.
"There was this one boy that everybody knew what he was up to," Hardy recalled. "When he started showing up at my house with my youngest son, I warned them both about it. But my son thought this guy was super-wonderful. He drove a nice car and would lend kids money to go to movies and buy clothes. But then he'd show up later saying, 'I need my money back,' knowing that they had no way to get it. So he'd suggest a way they could earn some money -- by selling his PCP."
Hardy said she reported this to police. In the process, she said, she encountered other parents who were desperate to free their children, some as young as 10 years old, from the grip of these kinds of drug dealers.
One father, she said, had been arrested for assault when he caught his son selling drugs on a street corner, and began to beat his boy all the way home.
But police could not catch the supplier, and not long after Hardy made her report, her son Kevin was arrested for selling PCP near the Landover Mall.
Hardy's efforts to find drug treatment for her sons intensified. Surely, she figured, her sons were not lost to drugs after a few months of involvement, not after so many years of being clean.
But she was about to find out how fast this city can write off its young people. There was simply nothing available to her. Even as an employe of an insurance company, Hardy was entitled only to compensation for a 48-hour detoxification program. Everything else would cost, at minimum, $25 a day. One drug abuse program required $150 just to have an application processed.
Meanwhile, Ronald languishes in Lorton with no treatment, no nothing. Kevin spent 28 days at Boys Village in suburban Maryland, with no treatment, no nothing.
So now her boys have arrest records -- along with thousands upon thousands of other young men in the District. But as far as solving the city's drug crisis, that, too, has amounted to nothing.