Earlier this year, I started on a journey of reading one of the most heart-wrenching, raw and powerful books I’ve ever picked up. David Simon & Ed Burns’ The Corner had been on my reading list for a long while, but it was only this year that I finally lifted the cover and began turning the pages, taking me to the gritty corners of Baltimore.
This was a world that I was already familiar with after watching The Wire, which coincidentally was created by Simon and Burns. The Wire is a show that has a special place in my heart and tugged at my heart-strings a number of times, so much so I’m surprised they didn’t come apart. However, The Corner did so much more than that, because these were the lives of real people unfolding and unraveling in front of my eyes.
Reading this book was a process that took a whole lot of reflection, which was necessary after the completion of each part, because this book is seriously heavy. I needed time to think over all of the situations that had been brought to my attention, consider the utter brokenness of the system and sometimes cry a little in despair or anger.
Anger was a common feeling while reading The Corner. My anger was not only directed at the system, but also the members of society who look down on those who are caught up in this drug culture, without actually wanting to help or even accept that they are part of the problem. This is a dangerous, heartbreaking culture that no one should have to be part of, but unfortunately many are and it is a cycle that is beyond difficult to break.
One of my stand out passages for The Corner reads:
“…We’re furious at the drugging and terrified by the shooting and unnerved at the notion that unless something is done, it won’t be contained, that this horror show will creep beyond the rotting cores of cities. We have lost patience with the idea of our own culpability, with the corruptive message that accompanies the bribe. For three decades, we bought them off with the small coinage of charity at the beginning of every month, telling them they were not necessary, that their nation could do without them. Now, with that lesson of helplessness learned and learned well, we feel entitled to say that we can no longer avoid the coins.”
I began to realise that those on the corners are in a country of their own, ostracised from the United States and living by their own rules. Their life is nothing like the lives of others and trying to get out of that life, off those corners, is like entering into foreign territory. What I think broke my heart the most was reading about individuals trying to get clean or break free of the corner life, but finding themselves right back where they started, because being back in the “real” world was too difficult and complicated.
That isn’t helped by a government and the other powers that be who simply do not understand or have the best interests of these individuals stuck in the corner world at heart. As I read the final parts today, this segment caused fierce anger to burn up inside of me:
“Just before Christmas, a few months after Fran had celebrated a full year of being clean, she was laid off — the result of a federal audit of the detox center. It seemed that the grant money funding BRC required all counselors to be fully trained and qualified; to preserve its budget, the center was forced to let go of some of its best and most reliable staffers, men and women who had survived the corner and were now using that experience to great effect. Fran, Antoinette, and about a dozen others were corner veterans on a hero’s journey, trying to salvage something of themselves, trying to give a little back. The government, being the government, could not see it.”
You see, this paragraph – like the whole book – remains incredibly relevant today not only in the US, but also in the UK and many other countries in the world. Problems surrounding the lower class continue to persist while those in power continue to thrive off it and act as if they are coming up with solutions, when it is blatant that their solutions do not work. More and more of the same was a major issue in The Corner, and I’m sure that it is an issue that continues to persist today. It genuinely makes me sick.
These are human beings and members of society who deserve to be treated as such – it was evident that many of them did not want to be in that corner life, but what other alternative did they have? As I mentioned earlier, breaking away from the corner is no easy feat. Getting an insight into their lives was honestly a privilege and it broke my heart to see the tragic endings for many of them, particularly for one individual who I was especially rooting for – I was tearing up by the end.
The Corner is honestly one of the most devastatingly, beautiful pieces of work I have had the opportunity to read. It has vastly opened my mind and made me more adamant that we should not put labels on others, or judge others by the labels put on them. We have no idea what life can be like for other individuals and we don’t know how we would act if we were in the same situation.
If you have not read this book already, I seriously suggest that you do, because it is something that we can all learn from. I challenge you to be the same person you were before reading by the time you get to the end.