Break the Habit

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

For more than thirteen years, Danny has robbed people and sold drugs to support his habit. On July 16, 1993, he was arrested for grand theft auto. He was convicted and sentenced to one year probation. On March 30, 1994, he was busted on six counts of felony burglary and grand theft. Again he received one year of probation. He scored three convictions between 1998 and 2001 for felony coke possession.

On August 8, 2002, Danny was arrested on a strong-arm robbery felony. According to his criminal court file, he snatched a woman's purse on Flagler Street. A year later he was sentenced to two years in county jail. While incarcerated, Danny would make collect calls to Jessie, who was married at the time, but she wouldn't take them. "Until one day I got curious about what inmate was making collect calls to my house," she says. "When I picked up, Danny was on the other line. He told me everything. How he was on crack and how he kept getting into trouble."

When Danny was released, Jessie was the first person he visited. By then she had divorced. "We started hanging out every single day," she says. "Two weeks later we were together. Six months later he moved in with me."

John Schmidt chats on his cell phone before entering the Miami-Dade courthouse, where he helps criminal drug offenders avoid jail time
Jacqueline Carini
John Schmidt chats on his cell phone before entering the Miami-Dade courthouse, where he helps criminal drug offenders avoid jail time
Schmidt speaks with recovering addicts while visiting the James E. Scott Community Association Transition and Rehabilitation Program
Jacqueline Carini
Schmidt speaks with recovering addicts while visiting the James E. Scott Community Association Transition and Rehabilitation Program

Jessie, who had never tried hard drugs, would take Danny on drives through Overtown. "I'd go looking for crackheads," Danny says. "I wanted to remind myself of a place I did not want to be again. It was self-therapy."

He'd warn Jessie to stay away from cocaine. "Dude, coke is the white devil," he told her.

Soon Danny and a friend started an air-conditioning installation company. "He did the blueprints," Danny says. "I provided the labor. We made decent money."

When the partnership fizzled, Danny went to work for a construction demolition firm. "That lasted about six to eight months," he says. "I was even supervising work sites."

But Danny admits he was never entirely clean. He couldn't resist the urge to occasionally trip on mushrooms or roll on Ecstasy. It didn't help that Jessie sometimes used her after-school hours to experiment with him. "For me it was something I did once in blue moon," she says, adding that she got high with Danny less than five times. "Danny didn't know how to have a good time unless he was high," she says.

This past January, Jessie and Danny broke up. He moved back in with his father. Soon Danny was selling cocaine in his old neighborhood. "Dude, I was selling the best shit I had ever seen," he says. "So I started snorting some of it. It didn't take long for me to cook it up and smoke it."

A month later Danny sent Jessie a text message blaming her for his return to crack addiction. "I was shattered," she says. "I was bawling immediately over the sense of guilt."

On February 23, Danny's birthday, Jessie went to see him. He had lost more than 30 pounds. Then, after he was hacked up in early March, he went to her for money. Jessie estimates she gave him at least $1000 so he wouldn't steal from people. "There was emptiness in him," she says. "His eyes were zombielike. It was very distressing."

In late April she began scouring the Internet for treatment centers. "Most places wanted between $10,000 and $25,000," Jessie says. "Then I found Marvin's Corner. So I called up the number and that's when I first spoke to John Schmidt."

She hired Schmidt to find a treatment facility for Danny. He charged her $1000, half the amount of the nonrefundable retainer. She placed her faith in the ex-con reformed junkie to save her Danny. He had done it with many others.


Schmidt incorporated Marvin's Corner and set up his Website in January last year. One of his first clients was Mark Brown, a 39-year-old battling addictions to crack and alcohol. He had never held down a steady job and had been incarcerated at least five times on drug-related charges. Brown had just finished a 60-day stay at Holistic Treatment Center when he relapsed.

"I tried getting back into the program," Brown says during a recent telephone interview from his Sarasota home. "But they wouldn't take me. They would not even help me find a detox. John jumped right in."

Brown's 64-year-old mother, Mary, says Schmidt found her son a short-term rehabilitation program and continues to counsel him on a regular basis. "He set up the appointment and met us there," she says. "He was extremely instrumental in helping Mark."

She says her son has been sober ever since. "He is definitely on the mend," Mary insists.

Schmidt wants to make Marvin's Corner into a treatment center with at least 200 beds. He's taking cues from Delancey Street; clients will be subjected to therapeutic humiliation and military-style discipline. "I firmly believe you have to break addicts like me down to build them back up," Schmidt says.

And like Delancey Street, Schmidt explains, Marvin's Corner will be self-supported. Clients will work for the treatment facility's business enterprises, from janitorial services to telemarketing.

In January 2006 he hired former TV news reporter, now lobbyist, Ed O'Dell, to lobby county and municipal leaders for public money to buy a building. Schmidt says O'Dell was also supposed to land contracts for Marvin's Corner. He paid O'Dell $1500 per month for six months. "It almost made me go broke," Schmidt complains. "I worked a lot of nights and borrowed money from friends. Nothing happened."

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