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Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: The Wire’s Sonja Sohn

Actress Sonja Sohn, known for her role on the HBO series The Wire, talks with host David Onek about her work as co-founder of Rewired for Change, a nonprofit supporting at-risk youth in Baltimore. She also discusses how her personal life has shaped her commitment to ending children’s exposure to violence, the power of leveraging celebrity to fuel social change and much more.  

Interview Highlights

On what motivated her to start her own nonprofit:

"During the 2008 election cycle, some of the actors from The Wire were invited by the National Urban League president, Mark Morial, to accompany him on a voter empowerment tour of Virginia.  During that tour, we engaged in some very thought provoking conversations with Mark and his colleagues on the bus around how celebrity can be used to support grassroots change, and how important entertainers were in the Civil Rights movement. He had just observed how that seemed to not be occurring as much now, and what a shame it was, and that seed was planted certainly with me and the fellows who were on that bus at that time." 

On her own experiences with violence:

"There were just far, far, far too many days when going outside to play was also fraught with tension and anxiety. Am I going to have to defend myself against something today?  What kind of fights are going to go on? You know, there was domestic violence in my house, and so being in the house was fraught with tension and anxiety and sometimes felt unsafe, and going out in the community, you know, with my kids, with my friends, there was that same feeling.  There always seemed to be some sort of threat, and there was always ways that we would have to negotiate that threat." 

On playing a cop on a major TV show:

"There were some insensitive cops when I was growing up that I came in contact with, and I’d found them not helpful in situations when I needed assistance.  But, after having to do ride-alongs with cops – that was part of my research, to understand why certain people became cops – I got an inside look at some good “police.”  And there’s one, Major Melvin Russell, who’s the Eastern District commander here, who is just an absolute dream, and an angel, and a God-send to this city. He puts a tremendous amount of effort into developing relationships with the community, caring for the community, connecting community police into the faith-based movement." 


The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek features in-depth, thirty-minute interviews with a wide range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials, policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and others.

The Podcast gets behind the sound bites that far too often dominate the public dialogue about criminal justice, to have detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Podcast host David Onek is a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and a former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission.

You can find more information on the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast and listen to all past episodes on the Podcast web site.

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