Break the Habit

John Schmidt will save Danny. Come hell or a good high.

In 1979 he left Delancey Street and returned to Baltimore. He moved to Miami a year later, living in relative anonymity while working sales jobs and staying sober.

One of those jobs was selling wholesale flowers for International Dateline Corp., a Clearwater-based flower importer. On August 22, 2000, Schmidt was arrested on five counts of grand theft. Peter Wertheim, IDC's owner, alleged Schmidt had stolen $13,497 by asking eleven clients to write out checks in his name.

Schmidt quickly admitted the crime, according to Miami-Dade Police Det. Robert Perez. In his report, Perez wrote that Schmidt said "he had deprived IDC of monies due to them. Mr. Schmidt advised he was having financial difficulty and could not provide for his family on his salary." Schmidt denies he confessed to Detective Perez.

Over the past two years, Schmidt has counseled more than a dozen addicts
Jacqueline Carini
Over the past two years, Schmidt has counseled more than a dozen addicts
“One of John’s most powerful tools is his frank honesty,” says Jim Hall, director of Miami’s Upfront Drug Information Center
Jacqueline Carini
“One of John’s most powerful tools is his frank honesty,” says Jim Hall, director of Miami’s Upfront Drug Information Center

On October 22, 2001, Schmidt pleaded no contest to the grand theft charges and was placed on probation for one year. He was ordered to pay Wertheim $18,200 in restitution. The probation was extended three times in as many years because he failed to repay Wertheim. In 2003 he owed $14,089. A year later, he was still in the hole for $12,860.

And Schmidt had other problems that would seem to make him an odd savior for drug addicts like Danny. First there's his marital history. According to court records, Schmidt has had at least five wives. In San Francisco he married Esther in 1979. They split a year later. On January 8, 1994, Schmidt and Maria Nelly Orrego became husband and wife in Miami. They were divorced before Christmas. On December 20 the same year, he tied the knot with Lilly Picardo Praslin. They stayed together until September 9, 2003, Schmidt's 48th birthday. Fourteen days later, he wed Elizabeth Pulido. That union lasted two years. On March 27, 2006, he married his current wife, Bertha. The couple has two young daughters. Schmidt is reluctant to share much about his failed marriages. "I was not mature," he says. "I made bad decisions."

In 2004 he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a rare illness of the small intestine that can be disabling. In an attempt to end his probation, Schmidt informed then-criminal court Judge Ivan Fernandez that his age and disease were preventing him from holding a steady full-time job so he could pay back what he owed. "No one wants a salesman who is going to the bathroom 15 to 30 times a day," Schmidt wrote in a July 26, 2004 letter to Fernandez. "And at the age of 48, your honor, I am not that much in demand anyway."

The judge lifted his probation. Schmidt claims he has since repaid most of the money to Wertheim, who didn't return three messages from New Times. "It was an embarrassing situation," Schmidt admits.

By the following year, Schmidt had rebounded, landing a job as a counselor at North Miami-based Holistic Addiction Treatment Center. There he began what would become his life mission: treating down-and-out addicts. He'd take late-night calls from desperate users and talk them through a morass he knew well. He'd also advocate for addicts in court. "Confronting and letting an addict know he or she is full of shit comes easy for me," he says. "I've found that they can relate to me and listen to me."

In January 2006, Schmidt resigned from Holistic to launch his own program, Marvin's Corner. He named it after his late friend and ex-drug addict Marvin Tovin, who died in 1984. "Marvin saved my life by taking me to Delancey Street," Schmidt says. "I promised him I would do the same for other people like me."

Since then, Schmidt has counseled more than two dozen addicts from Miami to Chicago. He specifically works with indigent drug users with criminal records. Not only has he performed drug interventions and other counseling services, but also he has found for needy clients free beds at long-term treatment facilities that normally charge tens of thousands of dollars. Schmidt charges a nonrefundable $2000 fee that he collects up front. "I won't do it without the money," he says. "This is my only source of financing, so there is not a huge amount of faith there."

Peter Gallagher, a 57-year-old recovering coke addict, says Schmidt taught him that accepting treatment was better than being locked up. In March last year, Gallagher was awaiting trial on a felony coke possession charge when he met Schmidt outside circuit court Judge Jeffrey Rosinek's courtroom. "He convinced me to take a plea and enter rehab," Gallagher says. "I have been clean for over a year thanks to him."

Danny proved a more difficult case for Schmidt.

Jessie was thirteen years old when she met Danny. In those days she was a spirited tomboy with an affinity for the Sex Pistols, Metallica, and the Circle Jerks. They attended middle school in Miami's Shenandoah neighborhood.

She would accompany Danny whenever he went skateboarding with his friends. One of their hangouts was Shenandoah Park, where Danny and his skate crew built a half-pipe. "Danny was a daredevil, a total maniac," Jessie recalls. "He'd do tricks that no one else would do ... like 360-degree spins."

Danny's promising skate career never took hold. He says, "Since the city made us tear down the half-pipe, and my dad was always putting me down for being a skate punk, I decided I'd rather steal cars and do drugs. For me, being clean means only smoking pot, popping Ecstasy, or doing shrooms."

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