I recently became hooked on The Wire. I know I'm about five years behind the rest of the world, but then, if you know me, this isn't a surprise. The writing is fantastic - the characters are richly drawn, believable, full of the contradictions and foibles that make life interesting. No one is good or bad - every personality is textured and authentic.
The other draw of the show is that it creates a world so different from the ones I've lived in. The closest I've come to 'the urban crime environment' is Camden, New Jersey and I don't really think it counts since I was living in the cocoon of the Rutgers campus.
I did visit such a world once, briefly, when I spent a day with Youngest Brother (YB) at a construction site in a neighbourhood near Howard University in Washington, DC. YB spent two years in the Americorps program, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. The build near Howard was a bit of different for the program because they were renovating two row houses. Ordinarily, Habitat buys sites and builds from scratch.
One of the row houses was on the end of the row, with an alley running along its side. The local drug dealers often used this alley to stash their drugs, while they worked the corner about 50 yards up the street. I can't remember how long I was on the renovation site before I asked YB if that was really drug dealing going on. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. It's apparently best if you don't notice too much.
I was fascinated by all of this. It was a regular neighbourhood, with kids playing on the street and neighbours sitting on their porches. But no one seemed to notice the there were drug deals happening right out in the open.
A few months later, YB told this story:
Two rich high school kids from one of the ritzier areas of Washington, somewhere like Georgetown, were sentenced with community service for a youthful indiscretion-type of misdemeanor. I think it was underage drinking or possession of a minute quantity of pot. So the Frat Boys show up at the Habitat site to put in their community service.
They were awful workers, skiving off and not taking anything seriously. They had an attitude of entitlement and acted like showing up was enough to meet the conditions of their community service. They were such bad workers, no one was really surprised when they called it a day and left the site early.
One of the drug dealers approached YB the next day and informed him that the Frat Boys had stolen their stash from the alley. YB apologised profusely, explaining that the Frat Boys were just some random volunteers who showed up to do some community service. YB didn't know them or anything about them.
The drug dealer was all calmness and reason. "Listen, I could take out what happened on y'all, mess up your houses or your people, but I'm not going to. I respect what you're doing, trying to help our community. But next time, man, you gotta be more careful about who you bring into our neighbourhood."