The issue of illegal drug use was a hot topic this election season with candidates for a range of local, state and federal offices pledging to tackle the problem once and for all. The debate is often fueled by stereotypes far removed from the reality of the day-to-day life of addicts and drug users. A new book out called "The Corner: A Year in the Life an Inner-City Neighborhood" seeks to depict a piece of America that is often lost in the rhetoric of the war on drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!: The Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. Well, Election Day is over, and politicians will now go on vacations after stumping around their cities, their areas on many issues, one of them the issue of drugs and crime. And so today we thought we would sit back and have a conversation with one person who lives in one corner of one city neighborhood in this country. His name is DeAndre McCullough, and his story is written about in a new book by David Simon and Edward Burns called The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. Before we go to DeAndre, let’s turn to David Simon.
David, tell us a little about your book, The Corner.
DAVID SIMON: In a way, I think it’s about the logical consequence and, in some sense, the endgame for the drug war. Baltimore is one of the cities with the highest rate of intravenous drug use in the nation, so it’s the place that has sort of landed at one end of the extreme in terms of the drug war. And we wanted to go to a place where that war was being fought, and look at it from the point of view of the people being policed rather than from the point of view of the law enforcement community, which is vested. And we chose Fayette and Monroe Streets in West Baltimore. And one of the first people we encountered was DeAndre.
AMY GOODMAN: What was that first meeting like, DeAndre?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Ah, man, it was—
AMY GOODMAN: How did you meet David?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, they just showed up in our neighborhood. And for like two white guys to show up in our neighborhood without wanting any drugs or trying to lock us up, it was kind of strange. But after being around them for a while, I came to realize they was good people. So we’re still friends.
DAVID SIMON: Tell them about what your mother thought at first.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Oh, my mother thought they was police. She told me to stay the hell away from them. I mean, a lot of people didn’t trust them for a while, but people got used to them, seeing they wasn’t try to go anywhere. So, people just learned to accept that they wasn’t going away and just took to them.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you doing there, especially that corner? What is the significance of that corner?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, that’s the neighborhood I was born and raised in. I mean, I did everything there, a lot of things I’m not proud of, but it was part of growing up for me. I mean, for me, the book was about a lot changes that I was going through in my life. I mean the drugs. I mean the violence. A lot of things. But it was a learning experience, and I’m trying to leave that behind now.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Twenty.
AMY GOODMAN: Twenty. Well, David, you said we wanted to go somewhere to do this, but why?
DAVID SIMON: Well, with the first book, which was Homicide, I was doing an ethnography covering the interior lives of police, following a squad of detectives. And that’s one-half of the story. But I think in terms of the drug war, there’s something that’s gone awry with the nature of the thing. I think it began as a war, quite nobly, against drugs. I think it’s effectively become a war against the underclass. That’s not the intent, but I think that’s what’s resulted. In Baltimore, you have 19,000 arrests a year on the average for drug-related crimes. For the whole state of Maryland, you have maybe 22,000 prison cells for all crimes, for all jurisdictions, Baltimore being one of about 24 jurisdictions. So there’s no place to put these arrests, and what you’ve effectively created is a sort of meaningless stat game. We’re spending a lot of money. We’re doing—we’re accomplishing nothing. We’re not serving the interests of those neighborhoods in any way.
AMY GOODMAN: You say that you started by doing your book Homicide following police. So what was it like to go from one side to the other?
DAVID SIMON: It was strange at times. I can remember one particularly awkward moment when there was a shooting in the neighborhood, and I was on the other side of the yellow tape watching with everybody else, and a detective that I knew from the first book made a point of sort of singling me out and having an amiable chat, which required all kinds of explanation for the next day or two to people who had seen that occur. I think most of the police that knew me from the first book were smart enough just to ride by and not—you know, not throw anything out to me that got me in trouble on the corner. But it was strange.
AMY GOODMAN: Because they knew what you were doing.
DAVID SIMON: Yeah, I think word got around after a couple months that the second book was about a drug corner and not to bother Dave when he’s out there.
AMY GOODMAN: DeAndre, what was your relationship with the police over the years?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: My relationship with the Baltimore City Police Department, I mean, I think that my relationship was the same as any other kid my age in any ghetto in America: I mean, I couldn’t stand them. I mean, I was—I didn’t want to be their friend; they didn’t want to be mine.
AMY GOODMAN: What was your first encounter with the police?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: My first encounter with the police, I would say I was about 10 years old, and I got caught throwing rocks at a train. Police took me home. My mother seen the police escort me through the door, and she gave me a beating that I still remember. And ever since then, I never liked the police.
AMY GOODMAN: What about on that corner?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, the corner, I mean, every day. I mean, running into the police was an everyday event. Every day, they harassed us. Every day, we said the hell with them. They wasn’t going away; we wasn’t going away. I mean, neither one of our situation was getting any better.
AMY GOODMAN: What about your involvement with drugs? How did that start?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I started selling drugs when I was about 12, started smoking weed when I was about 13, started sniffing heroin when I was about 15, maybe a little younger. And now I’m trying to leave that behind me, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Was any of those steps a major decision, or did you sort of just fall into it?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, I mean—
AMY GOODMAN: Like selling.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, no one forces you to do anything. I mean, if you want to do something, you’re going to do it. But no one tried to encourage me not to do it, either, so it wasn’t a hard decision. I mean, I was going through a lot of pain in my life, and getting high was my way of relief. Getting high was my way of saying the hell with everything. But as soon as you’re high wore off, the pain was still there, so you get high again. And it never solved anything, but it made me feel better.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the pain?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I mean, everything that was going on around me. I was in a house that I didn’t want to live in. I mean, I had people running in and out my house all day using, selling. My parents were getting high. I was living in a neighborhood where it was as though if you didn’t get high or you didn’t sell drugs, you didn’t fit in. So, I mean, the choices to do something right, I mean, it wasn’t many. So, like so many other people, I got caught up.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did you come out of it?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I’m still not out of it, because for the rest of my life I’m always be a dope fiend. All I can do is say I’m not going to get high today. I can’t tell you what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m just living day by day now.
AMY GOODMAN: How long have you been drug-free?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: For about a month and a half.
AMY GOODMAN: What keeps you determined to do it, at least today? Why did you wake up and say you wouldn’t do it today?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Because I feel as though if I start going hard running streets again, something’s going to happen to me. I know something’s going to happen to me, because with these kids these days, either you’re going to have to kill one of them, or one of them going to kill one of you. I mean, nowadays if a kid smack, you’re thinking, "Should I hit this kid back?" Because if you do, he might kill you. Therefore, you ain’t taking no chances, you’re just killing him first. And I’m not trying to be a part of that, so I just stay home and mind my business. I mean, I haven’t—I ain’t got that much clean time far as drug-free time under my belt, but I haven’t been running streets for a while now. I mean, when I was getting high, recently, I mean, it was like maintenance use. I wasn’t out there running hard, selling drugs and doing all the things that I was doing. It was a getting high because I was bored type thing. But that’s not even right, either, but the streets is not for me no more. It’s a kids’ game. I mean—
DAVID SIMON: Your last run was with Sweetpea, right? Is that the last run?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah, yeah.
DAVID SIMON: That was about six months ago.
AMY GOODMAN: And who’s Sweetpea?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: A neighborhood drug dealer who was killed about six months ago.
DAVID SIMON: Got you out of a debt.
AMY GOODMAN: How was he killed?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Oh, yeah, I had owed him some money, right? And I was like worrying about it, and he was killed. I’m not happy that he died, but I guess he won’t want his money now.
AMY GOODMAN: How was he killed?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: He was shot down.
AMY GOODMAN: On the street?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah.
DAVID SIMON: Of the kids that we were—of DeAndre and his crew, the kids that we followed that year, two are dead. DeAndre’s cousin Dinky was shot to death. Boo was shot to death. Two others, Tae and R.C., were wounded on that same corner. But R.C.'s doing well now. He's got a job now. I think Tae’s still struggling. Brian came back. Brian was locked up, up here on Rikers, right?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah.
DAVID SIMON: He came back recently.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: He’s back out there. I would say, out of everybody who I grew up with, since as far back as I can remember, I would say about a handful, about three to five, are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Everybody else is dead or getting high. I mean, selling drugs used to be fun. There was a time where you sold drugs, I mean, go to the strip bars, buy you a little stripper, to her to a hotel, handle your business. You go smoke some weed, go get drunk, go rent a car. I mean, it was fun for a while, but now people are getting high to support their habit. And it’s a place in Baltimore, Monroe and Fayette, where you sell $3 vials of coke. If you’re selling $3 vials of coke and it costs you $10 to get high, how do you make money? You don’t. I mean, people—I mean, kids that I grew up with, now they’re basically just getting high to support their habit.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to DeAndre McCullough and David Simon. David Simon and Edward Burns wrote a book called The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, talking about DeAndre’s corner. Did the presence of David and Edward change your life? I mean, is that part of why you’re trying to get out of it? Or do you think that would have happened anyway?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: No, that has nothing to do with it, because if I want to do something, I’m going to do it. And the influence of another individual, I mean, they do their thing, I do mine. When I first met them, it didn’t stop me from selling drugs. It didn’t stop me from getting high, didn’t stop me from carrying firearms or any other things I was doing before I met them. But I tried to keep it out of their presence, but as you see in the book, they found out anyway. But—
AMY GOODMAN: David, how did you find out?
DAVID SIMON: Well, the corner is a kind of insulated place. It’s really sort of a watering hole for the whole neighborhood. And what one person doesn’t tell you, five others will. And one of the things that I found from doing this kind of journalism, this sort of stand-around-and-watch journalism, is that the longer you go with your subjects, the more truth comes out. If we would have written this book after following DeAndre and Gary and Fran and the other characters in the book for six months, a certain amount of deception would have passed muster. I mean, things that we thought after six months, we learned the exact opposite were in fact true maybe a year later or a year and a half later. We’ve been—when we met, DeAndre was 15.
And I think you were onto something before when you talked about it being sort of the absence of a decision. It’s not really—in that environment, you know, DeAndre’s grown up in a shooting gallery. Both his parents were deeply involved in drugs at the time, although his mother is now doing very well. But at the time, it’s the absence of a decision, the absence of believing in any kind of tomorrow. And that’s where sort of the drug war has gone wrong, is that we have the "just say no" thing down, and we have the police chase down, but we have no clue what it is that, you know, a kid like DeAndre is supposed to say yes to in that neighborhood. It wasn’t that he decided to sell drugs or he decided to get high. He just—the moment never came where he decided not to sell drugs. And I don’t think we’ve developed a weapon system against that kind of thinking yet in the drug war.
AMY GOODMAN: DeAndre, what about your parents?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, my father, he passed away last year. My mother, she has a couple years clean under her belt. I mean, I’m proud of her. She’s—I mean, she’s my all. She’s my best friend. Sometimes we disagree on a lot of things, but, I mean, she’s my mother. So, sometimes I find myself humbling myself. But my father, he died of a drug overdose after he had a couple months—he had like three months clean.
DAVID SIMON: Mm-hmm.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah, three months clean. He came home. He hadn’t even been home for two days. And his brother, my uncle—I’m not saying that my father was not old enough to make his own decisions, but turned him—turned him out again, started him using again. His first blast, I guess, he died.
AMY GOODMAN: Back from where?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Say again?
AMY GOODMAN: He was back from where?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: He was back from out of a treatment center. But my mother, she’s doing very well. I’m proud of her. She was a drug counselor, but they stopped funding it. Now she’s transporting disabled patients to the hospital.
AMY GOODMAN: How did your mother get involved with drugs to begin with?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I mean, my mother been getting high for 28 years. I mean, I wasn’t there. I mean, from my understanding, back then, getting high was fun. I mean, people getting high now to hide their pain, but it was a time where you could get high, have fun and still go to work and maintain and handle your business. But now people just sitting around and get high all day. From what she was telling me, they still did—they did their thing, but they also had a time for it. And now the time for it is all the times. So, times changed.
DAVID SIMON: I think the difference there is coke and dope. Heroin was much more of a maintenance drug than cocaine can be, two different pharmacological effects. And I think one of the things that we’re finding with cocaine, I think, became pretty clear by the late '80s in Baltimore, and I'm sure up here, as well, is that while you could get by on $20 or $30 a day and maintain a heroin habit, coke would just go right through your pockets. I mean, any money you had was going right up to the corner, so that it became much more of a chase for people using, particularly since in Baltimore most of the people who started out just on straight heroin ended up shooting speedballs of—most intravenous users anyway. So, the climate of the drug corner has actually changed in the last five, six years.
AMY GOODMAN: What about crack?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Oh, man. Whoever invented crack, I mean, he should burn in hell. I mean, that’s—that’s a drug that—it’s a form of coke, but its potency is like triple. I mean, crack will have you stealing from your mother, selling your kid’s clothes. I mean, it’ll have you doing some things that you definitely wouldn’t normally do. I mean, I think it’s the most addictive drug out there. It’s insanity.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you use much crack?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I always said that I would never do it. I did it one time. And when I did it, I had just re-ed up. I had just went and bought me a half ounce of crack. I took on hit. I stayed in the house for three days. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. All I did was smoke. And when I came down off that high, I felt 14-karat stupid. For one, I just smoked $1,100. For two, I was broke. And for three, I was embarrassed, because I always said that I would never do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the distinction? Why did you say, "I’d do this and this, but I wouldn’t do this"?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Because I think it’s like—it’s different levels of being—I mean, it’s worse. Some people think that it’s worse to shoot dope than to sniff dope. Some people think that coke is the mother of all drugs, and that’s definitely a no-no. I mean, it’s to each his own. I mean, if it’s smoking a joint, getting high is getting high. I mean, drugs are drugs, but people’s distinction in how they look at them is different.
AMY GOODMAN: Fayette and Monroe, that’s the corner in West Baltimore that we’re talking about, where the full price of the drug culture is being paid. You’re listening to DeAndre McCullough, who lives on that corner, and David Simon, who’s the author of the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. He wrote it with Edward Burns. We’re going to come back to this conversation in just a minute here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we talk about life on a corner in West Baltimore, inner-city neighborhood, and we’re talking about an extraordinary book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, that tells the searing true story of one year in the life of this place. It’s written by David Simon and Edward Burns, and one of the people it focuses on is DeAndre McCullough. David, DeAndre was just talking about drugs and distinctions between them, who uses, who sells. Go on with that conversation.
DAVID SIMON: By way of comparison, that summer, that we—the summer of the year we spent in the neighborhood, DeAndre’s father, Gary, had a heroin habit, even had a speedball problem, but he managed to work every day of the summer at a crab house, worked hard—he was in fact their hardest worker—and maintained his addiction, as well as being, effectively, a taxpayer. I mean, well, he wasn’t paying taxes, but he was—I mean, he was making legitimate money. Anybody who’s on the pipe, they’re not going to be able to hold down a job like that, if they’re hardcore on the pipe.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is providing the crack? Who is providing the dope and the coke?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: What do you mean?
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, who was selling? Were they different, or was it the same person selling everything? And was that you?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: It depends. I mean, who I got my stuff from? It depends on who had the best product at that time. I mean, you ain’t gonna get garbage. If you know someone’s selling garbage, of course you’re not going to buy from them. But my connects varied. I mean, I had no particular person that I would cop from. I mean, sometimes—
DAVID SIMON: How many—how many were New Yorkers, of the people dealing?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, the New York thing, that really changed. I mean, like back when I was a little younger, when I first started hustling, that’s all I was really working for, was New York boys. I mean, it was a lot of New York-to-Baltimore traffic down there then. But now these kids in Baltimore, with the games that they’re playing—they’re playing, you stay home. I mean, they don’t like people from out of town coming down there selling drugs. And I watched a lot of people from out of town get killed just because they were from out of town, because—not because they got better product or nothing like that, but just a jealousy thing. I mean, these kids, they ready to die for a corner that don’t even belong to them. That’s just how it is now. But that’s—I’d say that’s like with anywhere you go. I mean, if you put your hours in on a block and you’re making money out there, you’re not going to see nobody, especially if you’re not from that town, come there and take your money. I mean, that’s cutting your throat.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to your mother, because, well, obviously, what you say, she’s your best friend, she had tremendous influence and continues to have tremendous influence on you. But the whole issue of her using drugs through your life, when you were growing up, even before you got involved with drugs, what was that like in your house? I mean, was just drugs a main part of your house?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, from as far back as I can remember, I mean, my mother always got high. And I didn’t really understand 'til like—how severe the problem was until I got older and realized what drugs were. I mean, I would always see her sniff or, you know what I'm saying, something like that, but I never knew what it was. I knew what it was, but I didn’t know that it was so bad to be doing, 'til I started getting older, and my friends started talking about it, and people started commenting on it and things like that. But she's still your mama. I mean, there’s still a certain amount of respect that you have to have for her no matter what she does.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there any sense in the house that you shouldn’t do this? Or was this just something you were going to grow into?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: My mother never put vials in my hand and sent me out on the corner. She always did her best to like try to keep me away from that. But I mean, once you’re 12 or 13 years old, you know, your mother the same size, the ass whipping stop. I mean, my father wasn’t there. I’m basically the man now. I mean, once you outgrow those ass whippings, you do what you want to do. The beating stop hurting. I mean, I remember the last time my mother hit me, I was watching Soul Train. And this girl came on it, and I said, "Damn!" She said, "What you say?" And she picked up a broom, and she smacked me on my head with it, and it broke. I looked at it, and I laughed. And she had this look on her face like—like I scared her. And it made me feel good, 'cause she never hit me again. And after that, it was—I just did what I wanted to do. I mean, my mother's gone so far as to call the police on me. I’ve been in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet, vialing up, and the police come knock on the door. I mean, things like that. She never encouraged me, but at the same time she couldn’t stop me.
AMY GOODMAN: She called the police because you were—because she knew you were using?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: She called the police—I wasn’t using then. She called the police because I was selling the product and wouldn’t give her none. That’s what it basically boiled down to. It had nothing to do with me, her worrying about me at that time. She just knew that I had a ball, and she wanted a hit.
DAVID SIMON: This was on Lorraine Avenue?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: No, this was on Fayette Street. But, I mean, that’s some of the things I went through.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Simon, who is co-author of the book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, and one of the people he focuses on in his book on a West Baltimore neighborhood, specifically a corner, is DeAndre McCullough. And that’s who you’re listening to right now. What about jail? Did you go to jail?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Fortunately, I’ve never spent—I’ve been there, but I’ve never spent as much time there as I should have spent. And I can say that now because it’s behind me. But I’ve been lucky with the system. I mean, I got so many charges, it’s ridiculous. And the most time I spent in the juvenile system was what? Like eight days? Something like that.
DAVID SIMON: Down in Boys’ Village, yeah.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Adult system, about the same amount. But—
AMY GOODMAN: How did you stay out?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Luck. It had nothing to do with how street-smart I was. It had nothing to do with who I knew. It was just luck. 'Cause I got friends who only been locked up two, three times; every time they've been locked up, they did a year or better. I’ve just been fortunate. I mean, my mother always told me I had a horseshoe in my back pocket. But I just been lucky, that’s all.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think jail would be—would have been good for you?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I mean, it couldn’t have been no worse than what I was already going through. I mean, you would get more respect for coming out of jail than finishing school. So, if I was to go to jail, I would come home, I would be broke, someone would give me a package, and I would start all over. Whereas though if I finish school, everyone would, "Ah, you think you’re [bleep]. You think you’re so smart." I mean, that’s the attitude that’s out there. I mean, people don’t respect you for doing things that’s right. I mean, they look at me different now, and I’m not even doing half the things that I want to do. I mean, I go down the way now, I forget where I came from. I ain’t gone nowhere. I mean, I’m in the county, but I’m not that far away. I mean, I just changed my address. I didn’t forget where I came from. So I can always go back.
DAVID SIMON: DeAndre’s friend in the book, R.C., I think he’d been out of the neighborhood about six months. He was working a good job as a forklift operator. He was living with a girl that he was engaged to. Everything was going great for him. And then Boo got killed, and he came back to the neighborhood to hear about what was up with Boo. And he got a load of grief from Tae and from the other kids in the crew about having forgotten where he came from and having been out of the neighborhood. So he missed a day of work to hang around. Then he missed another day. And then he started getting high. Then he was out on the corner. A couple days later, he got shot, you know, just wounded, but, you know, lost the job, lost the girl, went to jail. He’s doing well now, but there is that pressure to—you know, not to make a move. The absence of a decision again.
And I guess with the book—you know, our reason for writing the book is that all the law enforcement in the world can’t come to terms with that. You know, we can’t reach that portion of the people down on Fayette Street that is validated—that gets validation from the fact that they’re getting high or selling drugs. I mean, when there’s nothing else in this neighborhood, there’s no other viable economic system, the corner not only becomes a marketplace, which is what it began as, but it becomes something more than that. It solves everybody’s, for lack of a better word, existential crisis. I mean, when you’re getting high, you know every morning what it is you’re supposed to do, not only with that day, but seemingly with the rest of your life. When you’re selling drugs, you know what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to vial up and get down there for the shift change, and, you know, when the police aren’t there, make your money. And for people that aren’t getting any other validation—they’re totally disconnected from the rest of—from the country—they’ve manufactured their own reason for being and meaning. And the fact that it’s destructive, that it’s going to tear down themselves and the neighborhood, that’s almost secondary to the fact that, you know, they don’t have to wake up and wonder what the heck it is that they’re supposed to do. And nothing that we’ve constructed, no weapons system in the war on drugs, has gotten even close to dealing with that yet.
AMY GOODMAN: DeAndre McCullough, what do you think would work?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, I mean, if you want to go into a neighborhood where drugs is running the neighborhood, and you want to take that away from them, I mean, what are you going to offer them? For some, I mean, the drug market meant money. If that meant money to them, you’re going to offer them jobs? Getting high makes you feel good. What are you going to put in their life to make them feel good instead of clouding their mind? I mean, you can’t take something away without offering anything in return. I mean, that’s not fair. I mean, it doesn’t sound right, but it’s not fair. I mean, these people are used to doing this their whole life. I mean, selling drugs, getting high is their way of life. If you want to take that from them, you’re going to have to offer them something in return.
AMY GOODMAN: What about school? What role did school play in your life?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I don’t even remember school. I mean, when I went to school—last time I went to school was, I think, '95, ’94, something like that. I was in the ninth grade for three years. I was so high, I don't even remember. I remember going there. I remember the first day, because of course you throw on the new clothes and everything, but after the first week, I mean, it’s like cloudy. I remember being in the principal’s office. I was like in one of the—I don’t know if I was like in the only school in Baltimore where you didn’t get in trouble for smoking weed. I mean, I used to sit in the hallway, smoke weed. Every day was my same routine. I’d go to school, get high, go to class, be made to stand in the hallway for 10 or 15 minutes to air out, go to sleep in class. I mean, next period—
DAVID SIMON: But then—but then you would give teachers an occasional glimpse at just how smart you were and what you could do.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah, when I wasn’t high.
DAVID SIMON: Every now and then.
AMY GOODMAN: Like what?
DAVID SIMON: Well, there was the moment when he raised his hand—this is in the book. He raised his hand to become the orator for the class. There was a citywide oration contest for public speaking, and the kid who was supposed to do it didn’t show up that day. And from back of the class, probably in a marijuana haze, I’m not sure, but DeAndre’s hand went up. I think everybody else in the class was stunned, the first act of class participation in half a year. He raised his hand. He walked to the front of the class, and he did the "I Have a Dream" speech from the March on Washington, Martin Luther King, did it well enough that the teacher wanted him to do it citywide. And I think despite a few attempts to get out of it, he showed up, and he did really well. He did extremely well. And then, having done this, having had this epic moment, he disappeared below the waves for the rest of the school year, but leaving that English teacher, I think, with something to think about of the mind that was locked inside that was—you know, it was just hell getting it out.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember that, DeAndre?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yes, I remember that. I remember the tight pink shirt with my stomach hanging out. I remember the high-water khakis. And I remember sitting up there on the stage with the two finest girls I had seen that day.
DAVID SIMON: The other contestants.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Who had my attention, who I could not stop staring at. I mean, how could you beat someone who you was in love with? I mean, I was—
AMY GOODMAN: How did you know you were in love with them?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I just knew I was in love with her. But I remember there was—it was pretty funny.
DAVID SIMON: That’s about 15 times a day he falls in love.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah, I fall in love—
DAVID SIMON: Twenty times a day here in New York.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I fall in love a lot in New York. I love this city. I love it.
AMY GOODMAN: What in school would have reached you? Was there anyone that tried?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I think a drug counselor would have reached me, who knew, who understood my problem, instead of a drug counselor who has book knowledge without hands-on experience. I mean, I needed a—I needed a drug counselor more than a teacher back then. I mean, I was just—I was lost. I was out there. I couldn’t have been reached, because I didn’t want to be reached, by anyone. I mean, if anyone would have reached me, it would have been my mother, because, for one, she understood my problem; for two, she had the same problem. But I was just a man back then.
DAVID SIMON: The power of the corner is such that you see kids being lost to it earlier—I mean, in that neighborhood, by seven and eight and nine, you start seeing kids—the younger kids at the rec center, we could see them start to be around the fringe of the game and to learn. And you learn a way of thinking that will do well for you on the corner. But it won’t—it’s not going to help you at all in the external world. Things like turning the other cheek or letting something go by is—or allowing yourself to be humbled by a boss, that’s stuff we all got to learn in the external world. You know, you’re at McDonald’s, boss humbles you, you’ve got to deal with it. On the corner, being humbled is going to get you hurt. So that all the skills that you learned and that DeAndre was learning—I mean, by the time we found him when he was 15, he was—not only he was a half-foot in school a half-foot on the corner, but he was really—the corner rules had been pretty much ingrained in him. And those are things that it’s very hard to shed.
And the even scarier thing is, is that even people who don’t grow up in the corner culture—for example, DeAndre’s father Gary got out, in every fundamental way, working two jobs, learned to invest his money by reading the daily investor every day, built up a brokerage account to about 150,000. I mean, he showed me the old statements. I was stunned. I mean, a very bright man who had pretty much fashioned his future. One year of college, he was a supervisor at Beth Steel. Yet when cocaine hit—he elected to stay in the neighborhood rather than move to the suburbs. There was a moment when they actually looked at a house. And they didn’t. They stayed on Fayette Street. And cocaine hit, and the neighborhood just collapsed. And you hang around long enough, it drags you down. Gary ended his life completely in the corner there.
AMY GOODMAN: David Simon, I want to continue this conversation tomorrow with you and DeAndre McCullough, and also find out about, DeAndre, the fact that you’re a father and what that means to you, and find out about the girls and women in your life and the effects that they’ve had on you, in addition to your mother. Yes, DeAndre McCullough is the subject of David Simon and Edward Burns’s book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, that neighborhood in West Baltimore, the corner, Fayette and Monroe, a forgotten intersection. The American dream has crumbled to a nightmare there, but there’s also a story of hope, caring and love on that corner, and we’ll find out more about that. Tomorrow also on Democracy Now! we’re going to take on the issue of fast-track authority. Will President Clinton get the vote he wants on Friday, when the big vote comes down in Congress, the right to pass—to approve trade legislation that Congress will not be able to amend?