Talk of redemption is rife in Baltimore, with its ever-renewing roster of street survivors and its long list of groups with grants to hold hands on the long, hard road out of the game, lined so temptingly with too familiar ways to grab quick money rather than earn it the old-fashioned way. Rarely, though, is the word affixed to people who've genuinely attained it, and those who have, like Larry Donnell "Donnie" Andrews, are often loathe to explain it, or maybe they can't. Andrews, a portion of whose life story formed the basis for Omar Little, The Wire's anti-heroic robber of drug dealers who personifies a brutal, horrifying form of integrity-more than any other character, he hews without fail to a code-didn't say how he did it, but clearly, he ended up redeemed.
Andrews' path out started when, despite little evidence of his guilt, he turned himself in for a contract murder, asking nothing in return. It continued when he helped law enforcers put an end to a few other criminal careers; when he made the best of his long prison stint despite the penal system's anti-rehabilitative tendencies; when he met and fell in love with another protagonist of a David Simon story, who herself found redemption from addiction; and when he and his wife, Fran Boyd Andrews, started and steered a nonprofit, Why Murder?, to try to keep youngsters out of the game and en route to reach their potential.
Donnie Andrews' childhood was scarred by seeing a lynched body hanging from a tree, by watching an old man beaten to death for pennies, and by physical abuse at the hands of his mother. His rough, inauspicious start led seamlessly to a life of crime: When standard holdups proved insufficient, he learned how to rob drug dealers. He was in his 30s before he started to turn things around, after committing his only murder. Heart trouble took him out this year, at age 58. Somewhere along the way, over the past 20-some years, he must've come to believe he was in the clear. Perhaps that's the trick to true redemption-you never really know when you get there. If Donnie Andrews can do it, surely anyone can.
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