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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 23 March, 2018

The man who lived The Wire, and then turned it all around

Kevin Shird spent almost 12 years in prison in Baltimore before becoming a leading community figure.

kevin shird Kevin Shird today Source: Maryland Voting Rights via YouTube

IT HAS BEEN a long time since Kevin Shird has woken up on the inside of a prison cell.

With the end of his third stretch behind bars coming to an end in 2006, he knew that the life of drugs and crime that he had been caught up since he was 16 was coming to and end.

“I always say it was almost 12 years I did,” he tells

“The first time I was 24 and I did two years, then after that it was three and a half years, then the last time it was seven years – so around 11 and a half years in total.”

This past week Shird has been in Dublin to talk about his book Lessons of Redemption, which chronicles his life as a drug dealer, his time spent in prison, and his transformation into a community leader.

‘They made some tweaks and changes’ 

One of the first thing that comes with Shird’s story are the parallels it has with groundbreaking crime drama The Wire.

Does Shird see the similarities himself?

“I’d say 110% – I knew David (Simon, the shows creator) back years ago when he was a reporter for the Baltimore newspaper,” he says.

A lot of the stuff I was doing in the street he was familiar with because west Baltimore was the area that he reported on.
Now when you look at The Wire most of the scenes originate in west Baltimore. In the western district. That’s where we sold drugs, that’s where he was a reporter. He used to ride around in the car with the homicide detectives and the drug detectives.

Shird was consulted during the making of the programme, and many of the characters were based on real-life people that Shird knew on the streets of the city.

image1 Kevin Shird pictured while in prison

“They made some tweaks and some changes, obviously,” Shird says, “But that’s what made his work so good. Because it’s authentic.”

‘It was unfortunate that a young man lost his life’

Today – a decade out of prison – Shird is heavily involved in community work in Baltimore at a time when, from arm’s distance, racial tensions in the United States to be hitting a high point.

His city found itself in international headlines last year after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in police custody – an event that sparked anger and protests across the United States.

“It was unfortunate that a young man lost his life, and we still haven’t gotten down to who did it,” Shird says.

Earlier this week, Lieutenant Brian Rice – the highest ranking officer implicated in the case – was found not guilty on all charges, making his the fourth trial related to Gray’s death which failed to bring a conviction.

With the presidential election due to take place in November, Shird says that during the Obama presidency tensions have come to the fore – but that it would be unwise to think these hadn’t already been simmering in the background.

“When we elected a black president it intensified, because more people were just exposed,” he says.

“Now your leader is black. It was a different story prior to that. A lot of people got exposed. Including politicians who were racist and discriminatory – their true feelings came to the surface.”

This was brought into sharp focus during Barack Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address.

“Obama was giving his address in Congress – a congressman yelled out ‘liar’ – that has never been done in the history of the presidential address.

Source: Associated Press/YouTube

If a politician was doing that, imagine what his supporters were doing. I kinda thought back then that this Obama changing the world stuff maybe wasn’t going to work. That’s a heavy path to give to one man.

Despite the broader problems, Shird continues his work to make a difference in his own area – with much of his effort focusing on helping people affected by drugs.

“I do a lot of work with drug prevention. In that space I would have a lot of interaction with the treatment side,” he says.

With his background, Shird says it allows him to create a stronger rapport with the people he finds himself working with.

“That’s in anything,” he says.

If I want to become a race car driver – I want to talk to someone who has raced a car before. Like any other walk of life, it helps a lot.

Lessons for Redemption is available to purchase in Ireland through Maverick House. 

Read: Blackface routine planned at fundraiser for cops accused of killing black man

Also: Baltimore police are afraid to arrest people, and murders are at a record high

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