The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood

by David Simon, Edward Burns


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The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon, Edward Burns

The crime-infested intersection of West Fayette and Monroe Streets is well-known—and cautiously avoided—by most of Baltimore. But this notorious corner's 24-hour open-air drug market provides the economic fuel for a dying neighborhood. David Simon, an award-winning author and crime reporter, and Edward Burns, a 20-year veteran of the urban drug war, tell the chilling story of this desolate crossroad.

Through the eyes of one broken family—two drug-addicted adults and their smart, vulnerable 15-year-old son, DeAndre McCollough, Simon and Burns examine the sinister realities of inner cities across the country and unflinchingly assess why law enforcement policies, moral crusades, and the welfare system have accomplished so little. This extraordinary book is a crucial look at the price of the drug culture and the poignant scenes of hope, caring, and love that astonishingly rise in the midst of a place America has abandoned.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767900317
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 06/28/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 97,289
Product dimensions: 5.51(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.18(d)

About the Author

DAVID SIMON is the creator of the HBO television series, The Wire for which he served as executive producer, head writer, and show runner for all five seasons. He is also is the author of the bestselling Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which won an Edgar Award and inspired Barry Levinson's Emmy Award-winning television program of the same name. A freelance writer based in Baltimore, he is also a writer and producer for Homicide and received the 1994 Writer's Guild for America Award for outstanding script in an episodic television drama.

A teacher in the Baltimore public school system, Edward Burns retired after serving twenty years in the city police department. For much of that time, he worked as a detective in the homicide unit.

Read an Excerpt

Gary McCullough nods, flustered, looking out at the Wabash Avenue courtroom for some better truth, or some better way of telling it.  From the middle of the third bench, his mother covers her frown with both hands, terrified at the image of her son's life hanging in the balance.  Gary catches her eye and tries to smile, then loses his train of thought.

"It's like . . . judge, please, this is just crazy."

Judge Bass, sensing the panic, tries to put the defendant at ease.  "Take your time, Mr. McCullough, I'm listening to you.  I just need you to speak louder."


"Go ahead."

"All right."

Where to begin?  What to say?  What to leave unsaid?  So much to worry about now that all that foolishness with Ronnie is getting its day in court.  Gary has taken a charge behind this nonsense; he's seen the bullpen on Eager Street because of it.  And now, when he should be speaking up for himself and putting it all to rest, he's a stammering wreck.  It's hell getting the God's honest truth out of your mouth when the damn thing is wrapped up in lies.

"We had an argument . . . ," says Gary.

True enough.

". . . about some money."


"An' Ronnie, I mean, Veronica began yelling."

True again.

"So I asked her to leave . . ."

Still true.

". . . but she kept cussin' me and telling me she wasn't going to go without the, ah, the, um . . . the money."

The lie again.

"Mr.  McCullough, you'll have to speak up."

"Um . . ."

"You'll have to talk louder so I can hear you."

Gary nods, agreeable.  "She just wouldn't leave," he tells Judge Bass, "so I finally shoved her a little, toward the door, like.  I didn't hit her, I just pushed her to get her out of the house."

Truth, or close enough to it.

"And she threw a brick at me . . ."


"A brick?"  asks Judge Bass.

"And a knife," adds Gary.

Lie.  A home run swing from Gary McCullough.

"She threw a knife at you?"

"I was standing in the doorway."

"What kind of knife?"

"Kitchen kind.  Had a big blade and all."

The judge can't let that one go.  He's looking up at the acoustic-tile ceiling, giving words to the thought running through the heads of everyone else in the courtroom.

"Where did she get the knife?"

Gary shrugs, wondering what that has to do with anything.  He's sweating profusely, a prisoner inside his gray pinstripe church suit.

"I mean," says the judge.  "Did she have the knife on her or did she go and get the knife from somewhere?  She didn't just find it lying in the street, did she?"

Gary shrugs again, then scratches his ear, thinking about it.  To look at him, to catch even a glimpse of the sincerity in his face, you'd think there might actually have been a knife involved.  Who's to say?  With Gary McCullough, a man far too honest about most things, the occasional lie always takes on a life of its own.  Today, on a bright May morning, eight months after the fact, he truly believes Ronnie tossed a knife at him.  If she had a knife, she surely would have.

Judge Bass raises an eyebrow, then glances over at the assistant state's attorney, who lets the judge continue the redirect.  "Do you know where the knife came from?"  the judge asks Gary.

"From Ronnie's hand.  She threw it."

Laughter breaks from the clustered humanity on the court benches.  Even Judge Bass has to smile.

"But you don't know where she got it."


"Okay, go on."

Go on, Mr. McCullough.  Tell the tale as best you can.  But leave out the part about the vials of heroin, the part where you wouldn't share a blast with Ronnie and she started to raise hell, calling you all kinds of names.  By all means, mention the brick—the kitchen knife, even—but leave out the part where you ran out of the house afterward to confront her, grabbing her neck, and then shoving her down the sidewalk.  Tell it in small pieces, as if it's a broken puzzle.  Tell it the way you think they might want to hear it.

"I didn't hit her," Gary says.

That this case is now being played out in court is, in itself, an incredible thing.  That it couldn't be stetted or nol-prossed or reduced to some unsupervised probation is testament only to the current political imperatives.  Gary and Ronnie both had come to court today certain that they could make the thing go away; Ronnie would decline to testify and the prosecutors would shrug and toss the casefile into a tall stack of district court dismissals.

But no.  It wasn't just the usual Western District prosecutor in court today, but an assistant state's attorney from downtown somewhere.  And this case could not be dismissed as everyone desired because of its status as a domestic violence complaint.  In the eyes of the government, Ronnie Boice is no longer the quick-thinking, game-running, syringe-switching wonder of Fayette Street.  Consciousness has been sufficiently raised so that now, by a policy new to the prosecutor's office, all domestic assault cases are fully pursued—even when a wife or girlfriend has attempted to back away from her original statement.  For today at least, Ronnie Boice will be representing battered womanhood.

It's a noble effort by the state's attorney's office, a worthy strategy in those cases in which abused women are too frightened or intimidated to testify against their assailants.  In the present case, however, the new policy is a source of unintentional hilarity.

Ronnie never had any intention of pursuing the case; she just wanted Gary to know that what was his—coke, dope, or both—was hers as well.  But now she'll have to testify or risk being charged with obstructing justice.  And if she tells the truth on the stand—tells them that it was a shoving match over a blast—well, that will mean a charge of false statement or perjury for her original complaint.  When Gary declined a plea offer of six months in jail followed by spousal abuse counseling, the court trial was the only option left.

"Why would Miss Boice make a complaint against you if you didn't hit her?"  asks the prosecutor, picking up the redirect.

"I don't know," says Gary, looking genuinely hurt.

"But you're saying she made all this up?"


"Why would she do that?"

Gary's mouth gapes open, then shuts.  He wants to say it.  He has to fight himself not to say it: Why do you think, fool?  She wanted my blast.  She wanted my blast and I said no and so she called the police.  If Gary told them that, if he let it fall from his lips in the Western District court, everything would make sense.  And neither the judge nor the prosecutor would bother to bring any charge from the admission of drug use, not in Baltimore, anyway.  But Gary can't see that; he keeps his secret.

Ronnie, too.  Just before Gary took the witness stand in his own defense, Ronnie gave her own grudging testimony.  Questioned by the prosecutor, she made no mention of the blast, choosing instead to pretend that the argument was about Gary giving his attentions to some other girl.  In sharp contrast to Gary's later panic, his girl managed to thread the needle masterfully.  Droll from the witness stand, her eyes bouncing between Gary at the defense table and his mother three rows back, she destroyed the case without directly contradicting her original complaint.  No, she did not throw a brick.  No, there was no knife.  Yes, Gary did shove her, and later, on the sidewalk, he slapped her.  But yeah, well, she did push him, too.  In fact, she might have pushed him first, now that she thinks on it.

"Mutual combat," said Judge Bass, looking at the state's attorney in bland resignation.  Once Ronnie left the witness stand, it only remained for Gary to make some kind of denial and now, testifying in his own defense, he manages that much.

"Your honor.  I didn't hit her.  I swear."

Not guilty.  The Western District prosecutor nods agreeably, then tosses the file into the discard pile.  The domestic violence specialist from downtown looks crestfallen.

Out in the courthouse hallway, the victory celebration is brief and ugly.  Gary walks out with his mother on his arm; Ronnie, right behind him, with her own mother, who apparently didn't want to miss her daughter's big day in court.

"Well," ventures Roberta McCullough, "at least that's over."

"Over and done with," agrees Miss Sarah.

"But I don't think our childrens should be together," Miss Roberta says, eyeing Ronnie fretfully.  "They're just not good for each other.  They don't do each other any good."

Ronnie's mother bristles.  "What the hell you mean by that?"

Hands braced against her hips, she stares down at the smaller woman with contempt.  Gary is behind his mother, looking at Ronnie in horror.  Ronnie is smiling.

"I just mean . . ."

"They'se grown-up children," shouts Miss Sarah, performing for the entire building.  "You can't tell them what to do, you ol' bitch cow."

Roberta McCullough's small frame seems to warp from the verbal assault, her eyes falling to the floor.  Shaking, she holds one hand to her heart; Gary takes the other and tries to lead her to the stairs.

"Who the hell you think you is?"  shouts Ronnie's mother.  "Tell my daughter what she can and can't do.  You can go an' fuck yo'self, you ol' cow."

From the top of the stairs, Gary helps his stricken mother to the rail, then looks back over his shoulder to see Ronnie and her mother following.  Miss Sarah keeps bellowing insults; Ronnie is behind her, smiling so wickedly that Gary realizes that this is part of the price, that Ronnie—having known that his mother would be there for him—had contrived to bring her own mother to the show.

"You think you so high and mighty," yells Miss Sarah.  "Your son ain't no better than my daughter."

The words echo down the stairs.  Without turning, Miss Roberta falls back on the grace that she knows: "I'll pray for you," she tells her adversary.  "That's all I can do."

"Don't need your got-damn prayers, bitch."

They leave the courthouse separately: Gary, consoling his mother, promising to have nothing more to do with Ronnie or her family; Ronnie, heading to Lafayette Market with the matriarch of the Boice clan, the two of them reliving the hallway battle in all its detail.

The episode is enough to keep Gary from Ronnie all that night and the next day.  He runs the streets telling himself that nothing—no caper, no blast, no game—will be enough to subject his mother to anything like that again.  And it is true that Gary loathes nothing so much as the idea that his life is bringing grief to his mother.

What People are Saying About This

Nicholas Lemann

If you want to understand street-corner life in the inner city, you should read The Corner, an amazingly intimate, detailed work of reporting that makes human and vivid a world that outsiders ordinarily are forced to learn about through statistics, sound bites, and stereotypes.
(Nicholas Lemann, author of The Promised Land)

Richard Price

The Corner is an intimate, intense dispatch from the broken heart of urban America. It is impossible to read these pages and not feel stunned at the high price, in human potential, in thwarted aspirations, that simple survival on the streets of West Baltimore demands of its citizens. An important document, as devastating as it is lucid.
(Richard Price, author of Clockers)

Glenn Frankel

The Corner is a remarkable book — very tough, very demanding, very rewarding. Some of it is brutal and all of it is heartbreaking. As a reporter, I can only stand back and admire David Simon and Edward Burns for an amazing piece of reportage. To be there for an entire year, to make sense of random events and a list of characters long enough to make Charles Dickens envious, and to write coherently — it's a breathtaking achievement. And they manage to make West Baltimore as much a character as any of the flesh-and-blood people in the book.
(Glenn Frankel, author of Beyond the Promised Land)

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The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my top two non-fiction books of all time. Here is why: First, it is well-written and intriguing. There is little to no academic jargon to wade through. It is a plain spoken book about the realities of inner-city life. It is not difficult to read in a literary sense, but certainly in an ethical and moral sense. This brings me to the second reason why I found it to be such an important book: It puts a face on the experiences of poor minorities living in urban areas. I'm 23 and I've been working in inner-city communities since I was 15. When I hear people talk disparagingly about minorities, inner-city youth, single moms, 'welfare moms,' my heart breaks, and in many ways, I am also angry that people talks so much about a life they know so little about. I found that this book accurately put a face on the people who are so often referred to as one statistics or another (related to drugs, single moms, incarceration, welfare). There was no glorification and little over-victimization of the people in the book and their experiences as poor, black, and affected by drugs and the underground economy. This book should be required reading for all Americans who wish to learn more about and develop informed opinions about poor, inner-city communities and the people who live there. I find it particularly relevant to those interested in drug laws and sentencing, as well as access to drug treatment. I think that this would also be a very helpful book for people who work in urban areas or are planning to someday (social work, education, ministry). The book leaves very big questions to be answered by the reader. How do I judge the people in this book? What would I do if I grew up in such a community? How do I go forth from here? A very powerful book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book in sophomore year of high school. And then I read it again. And again. It is a book you just cannot ignore. 'The Corner' had everything in it - a fast story, perspectives, wit, hope, cruelty, defeat, sadness, and sometimes, an unexpected joyous victory. It centres around the life of a young boy, DeAndre from one of Baltimore's worst neighborhoods. It deals with a year or so in his life and the people who affect it. Life in the street and the constant struggles poor people on drugs face are the recurrent themes. Gary is an unforgettable, lovable character. He is DeAndre's father, and a very good example of how life can get the better of you. Reading 'The Corner' makes you realize how much of a blind eye America is turning on a whole bunch of people who do not even have a regular dollar and yet manage to go from day to day barely living out their dope-ridden existences. There are people who come out winning however, like Miss Ella the rec center lady, and Mike who gets away to the Marines and a new life. Read this book. It just might change your attitude.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I live right up the street from where the family in this book lived. and all the stuff in this book is TRUE no lie!!! if i looked outside right now, i could probaly name at least 10 things that went on in this book thats happening now! And thats the truth! and i also know some of the people who were in this book.
Anonymous 9 months ago
I mean it. For years and years I kept asking how did we, as a country, end up here a-washed in drugs and human tragedy. This books does not answer these questions, but it offers hints and clues to the answer. I hope you read it. May God Forgive Us
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
David Simon and Ed Burns do a fantastic job of capturing the lives of real people in the inner city of Baltimore as they navigate the daily struggle of drug addiction and crime in their neighborhoods. Simon and Burns also give great commentary throughout concerning America’s drug problem. Although the people featured are oftentimes imperfect I was riveted from page to page wanting to see how it ultimately ended for them and learning about their day to day lives. Must read especially if you’re interested in the drug war or are a fan of The Wire.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner- City Neighborhood, is the best book about a ture story that i have ever read. After just begining the book, you already feel as though you know many of the characters and after not too long, you begin to share their pain. The book is based around four characters lives, Gary, Fran, Fran's son DeAndre and Fat Curt, who has been addicted to heroin for so long that he has shriveled up into a little man with bloated feet, arms and legs. The book follows these charcters around, introducing you to a neighborhood that so many dont know exsist. this story shows how the way the government is dealing with the war on drugs is not right. by putting these people into jail is only making their problem worse. David Simon and Edward Burns show that people with serious drug problems belong in rehab were they can get help, not behind bars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book a few years ago, it was actually the longest book I had read at the time (8th grade), and I just ordered it because I really want to have my own copy to memorize. I live in Jacksonville, Florida, and although I do agree that every person in this world has the ability to "rise above" and do whatever he or she chooses, so many bigots in this city blame the black people in the ghetto for being lazy and not wanting to do anything to make their situation better. This shows, beyond a doubt, that if you were equipped with the skills that people in the ghetto are equipped with, you would probably not do any better than they're doing. This is a crucial work in my life. I'm glad I read it when I did, and realized that the mayor, sheriff, and all the politicians in my area may not agree, but black people are in a vicious cycle of survival, oppression, and complete self-loathing. I have so much more sympathy now than I ever did before I read this book for the less fortunate. I can't put into words exactly how great this book is, so I'll stop now :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Grimey,and Real. For those of you who want to learn, the corner will show you its real in the battlefield.It'll show you why you lock your doors when you ride past the corners in your area.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having taught at the same school with co-author, Ed Burns, I was more than curious to find out what The Corner was all about. After reading it, I feel like I've have gained insight into humanity. The book has also helped me to better understand some of the students I have the most difficulty relating to. This book is truly a must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
An exceptional fact-based view of the many facets of the drug business and how we're all connected with it.This book is the closest many people will ever get to understanding how a day can feel like two weeks or how to carry on when there's little hope to be found.A world in which most see two choices -- either to become another victim or find a way to survive.Hopefully,this work will open many minds to the bleak reality and closeness of the drug situation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book. After I saw the HBO special I wanted to read the book. But I didn't but my teacher brought it for me. This book should be in everyones personal collection. Much Love
Guest More than 1 year ago
The corner is a very real and yet underrated true story. The people who go throw this are just like me and you. I would love to see more true and touching story like this , so everyone can relize that a the corner is everywhere
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was the most gripping book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. After watching The HBO special, I was compelled to find this book. I was completely enveloped in the realism. I think this book will touch a familiar chord in anyone who has experience substance abuse either in themselves or a loved one, and, give a crash course in urban authenticity to those who haven't. This book will become required reading for my children as they come of age.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed watching 'The Corner' on HBO, and also enjoyed reading the book, and I think what we all need to realize as individuals, is that no matter where we run, or no matter how much we try to escape, that there is a 'corner' everywhere. I hope DeAndre McCullough will finally realize his mistake, and change for a better world. As goes for Fran it's good to hear she is clean for more than 4 years, and also good to hear Blue made progress. As for Tyreeka, I wish her well, and hope that DeAnte Tyree McCullough does not turn out to make the same mistakes as his father.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After seeing the HBO special 'The Corner' I decided I had to read the book it was based on. Although I have never lived in the city and never had to experience some of the things DeAndre, Fran, and Gary have, I felt very touched by the struggles they faced. The book has opened my eyes to alot of things.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't read many books. This book, however, is excellent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Donna1962 More than 1 year ago
I watched the mini-series againa coupke of weeks ago. I can't wait to read the book. 
Guest More than 1 year ago
One Word- 'REAL!' I read the book & saw the Miniseries on HBO. I have contacted HBO in regards to releasing the miniseries on DVD. Please do the same. Very Real... Very Raw.
Guest More than 1 year ago