ROANOKE, Va. -

What have you ever done with a second chance? Did you make the most of it or waste the opportunity?

What if you were looking at serious jail time for dealing drugs and police caught you, but agreed to not charge you if you promised to make your life and your community better?

It's a novel way to reduce crime and it's been happening in Roanoke for the past three years.
WDBJ7 is checking in again with the Drug Market Intervention program with Roanoke Police that makes such an offer.

And for the first time, one of the former crack dealers in the program is speaking to the public.

"Well when I got started, you know it's an addiction," the dealer says. "There was no going back."

The former crack cocaine addict and dealer anchor Chris Hurst spoke with asked we hide facial features and voice. People in the Melrose-Rugby section of Roanoke City are just now understanding the DMI program the former dealer says. But the label "snitch" is still a major concern.

The program offers a handful of non-violent crack dealers a second chance, with the expectation they will improve their neighborhood. Police caught the dealer on video selling crack, but won't be prosecuted if they stop.

"They had evidence of me trafficking drugs, per se," says the dealer. "I didn't consider myself a dealer. I may have had something and someone wanted some and I may have let them purchase some of what I had. If someone came up to me and was looking for something, then I would go purchase something for them."

It's that seamless movement of addicting drugs that has impacted so much of Roanoke's crime. But police say the DMI program has reduced major felony crimes, called part one offenses, all over the city. The first place they tried the program was in Hurt Park in 2010. Major crime there is down fifty percent since then. Lt. Daniel Hartman oversaw that effort and says crime all over Southwest Roanoke is down too.

"We're down 13 percent for part one offenses in Southwest," he says. "And in the city we're down about 11 percent for part one. Twenty percent for violent crime. So it's not only affected the Southwest neighborhood, but overall the city in general."

Melrose-Rugby is in Northwest. Felony charges are down there as well, 21 percent. And police say the non-violent dealers there have been doing well.

"We initially had six, one passed away from natural causes, we still have five in the program," says Lt. Rick Morrison. "None of them have dropped out and they're all doing well. In fact one gentleman, he's a single dad, he's going to Virginia Western, he's been employed full time with a job and he's seeking his degree and he's a role model."

That's not our dealer. The reality is life is still difficult for many in the area. For this DMI participant WDBJ7 spoke with, the cravings for crack are still there. But the road away from addiction, with this second chance from the city, has brought one family back together.

"Once upon a time they didn't want to be bothered with me, they knew what I'd done, they didn't hold that against me but they didn't trust me in their house," the dealer says. "I have a better closeness with my family, spend more time with them. We do things together."

The program didn't start in Roanoke, it began more than a decade ago in High Point, North Carolina. But recently, members of Martinsville Police and the Henry County Sheriff's Office have contacted Roanoke Police about DMI.  Neighbors say the community in Melrose-Rugby and Hurt Park have become stronger. The relations with police have improved. And open air drug markets are largely gone.