It was April 14, 1972, his 20th birthday, and Ernest L. Reed - all-star Washington high school football player and now a college dropout - was depressed. "I was under a lot of pressure because I thought my football career was over," he told a reporter recently.
"My relatives and some friends wanted to help me celebrate my birthday - they gave me a shot of heroin," he said. "They said, 'Here, happy birthday.'"
That was the day that Reed took his first shot of heroin. Now, six nightmare years later, he is in D.C. Jail, the victim of a $300-a-day habit and the confessed perpetrator of more than 100 burglaries most of them in the Capitol Hill and Georgetown areas.
Reed was arrested recently because he made the mistake of looking furtive when a couple of plain-clothes policemen drove along a block on Capitol Hill, looking for - it turned out - a man like Ernest Reed.
Police Officer Thomas Gallogly, one of the arresting, recalled: "He confessed to 85 burglaries on Capitol Hill, 50 elsewhere, mostly in Georgetown, and those were just the ones he could remember specifically. We know that he committed them because he volunteered to take us to those places - he knew specific addresses and what was taken.
"It's unusual that he would commit so many in that period of time (100 days). There have been a series of burglaries on the Hill, averaging 65 a month, and we were put on special detail because of it. This guy is the biggest catch, to say the least, but there are others still out there."
"I know it was wrong," Reed said. "I did it because of the habit, the habit was the only reason." Reed spoke with a reporter after his attorney had granted permission for the interview.
Gallogly said Reed's method was to kick in the doors of the newly renovated places he burglarized knowing that in most cases, the doors or the frames around them were weak from age.
It was the way he was staring nervously down the street, looking both ways as if watching for something, that tipped off Gallovly and his partner, Gregory Curtis, as they made their routine rounds.
After circling the block, the officers returned to the newly renovated Capitol Hill apartment, but the man in the striped shirt and painter's pants had disappeared. They said they left their vehicle to investigate.
"When we investigated a loud banging noise at a basement apartment, I found Reed there and the door half cracked in two. The door jamb was cracked," Gallogly said. "The upstairs apartment door had been kicked in.So had the two apartment doors in the building next door."
According to police, Reed said he worked alone. He would carry the stolen goods away in boxes after calling a cab to take him to the Greyhound bus station. From there, police said, he would flag down another cab to take him where he could barter the stolen goods for cash to buy drugs. Using this method, Reed figured, police would not be able to look at a cab manifest and track him down.
As there is the side of crime victims, so there is a side to the man who has become one more number in D.C. crime statistics.
Wyman Colona, former football and basketball coach at Anacostia High School said that "I've been burglarized twice and I have no sympathy at all for buglars; but I know Reed, and knowing him, I know there is another side of him."
They all had high hopes for Reed, now 26, at Anacostia High School. Teachers, coaches, the principal and neighborhood kids all admired the high school football star affectionately called "Biscuit" and "Country."
He was the example, the success story of those who remember him from high school in 1969-70, of the misguided boy and street tough who apparently made a turnaround in his behavior from crime and Juvenile deliquency to excellence in football and basketball and into making good grades as well.
His senior year, Reed a high school all-star defensive end, won a football scholarship to Winston-Salem State University. Those who knew him that year in high school said all indications were that Reed had a promising collegiate - maybe even professional - football career ahead of him.
But something happened.
According to Reed's friends, his story could have been one of any number of ghetto success stories - stories about overcoming formidable obstacles, to begin a climb toward excellence.
But like others from the ghetto before him, and those still there, Reed said he could not overcome the pressures. At least, not yet.
As an adolescent, Reed said, he had been in and out of the Juvenile Receiving Home six times.
"Because we were from Virginia, the neighborhood kids called me 'Country,'" Reed said. "I was always big for my age, but a real passive guy then who wore pointed-toe shoes and slacks. One day, during a fight, a guy beat me up pretty bad and broke my nose.
"My mother took me to the police precinct on Nicols Avenue and the police sergeant took one look at me and start laughing," Reed remembered. "I guess he saw kids like me so often, but mother started crying."
It was in another neighborhood, when he was "13 or 14, that a big guy came up to me and said, 'Slim, we're going to make you tough.'"
Reed said he does not know why the big kid took such an interest in him. But, he said, that kid, and others like him, "taught me how to fight, and we were rolling.'"
Soon after, he built a reputation as a braggart and a tough guy so that, "by the time I was in junior high, I had my own little gang. They still called me 'Country,'" but my brothers and sisters could walk the streets safely."
Reed said he entered another home for boys, in Pennsylvania, where he began to make good grades and show the effect of strict discipline.
Reed attended Anacostia High for his senior year, where, according to then-football coach Colona, "he played defense end with reckless abandon."
"We were quite proud of him because we knew his problems prior to coming to us," Colona said. "He seemed to pull himself up and had no problems here at all. He played on the East-West all-star high school football team in 1969, and he could probably have been playing pro ball, he was just that good."
Anacostia principal Russell Lombardy recalled that "in school everybody liked him."
"We thought of him as the guy who had struck out and come back into the game," Lombardy said. "We thought he would play ball and be a success, but I guess the call of the street was stronger."
Reed's play won him the coveted college scholarship. But, he said, he became disenchanted with the football program at Winston-Salem, and did not know when he transferredto Alcorn University at the end of the year that would be required to sit out a year under intercollegiate rules.
"I didn't want to practice with the Alcorn team, but not be able to play or travel with them," he said. "I left Alcorn and tried to play ball at Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia, but it was too late in the year and they couldn't offer me scholarships.
"I didn't know of other ways to get money to go to school and the coaches didn't tell me. I knew I couldn't play ball, couldn't pay my own way and I became depressed. That's when I started using drugs as an escape."
"I knew my career was gone," he said. "I would go outside at night and stand and scream and say there is no God, there can't be to let such a thing happen.
"I lost confidence in myself," Reed tood a reporter, "I couldn't hang out wiht my new group, all my college friends who were into playing ball-making grades and doing things. People kept asking me question about when was I going to play ball, when was I going back to college. To ease the pressure, the pressure of not being able to answer the questions, I went into drugs."
Reed said he tried to keep his addiction from his wife, (A Washington girl he married in 1974), relatives and friends, but that as his problems with the law worsened and social pressures increased, so did his addition.
"In July, just after I got out of jail (for an armed robbery conviction in 1974) my (younger) brother caught me oiling (shooting up) in the bathroom and started crying," said Reed, looking down pensively as he enterwined his fingers and then closed his hands into fists. He sighed.
"It tore me up knowing that they (his brothers and sisters) had looked up to me as the oldest," he said. "I know that I had let them down. I let them all down. Drugs have been the total downfall of my life."
William T. Blair, Reed's court-appointed attorney, said he is being held in the jail on $10,000 bail. He is charged with two counts of burglary, and police say "hard evidence" in 20 other cases would be presented directly to a grand jury.
In the meantime, Reed has volunteered to become a police consultant to help them understand how to prevent burglaries.
As he sat in the private section of the visitor's room at D.C. Jail, Reed shifted back and forth uncomfortably in his chair, suffering from withdrawal.
"I need intensive drug therapy not just confinement in jail," he told a reporter. "I need help, I've tried to help myself, but I can't do it. I don't want to be 30 and still shooting drugs."