Special to the AmNews
Kevin Shird knows a thing or two about the Baltimore streets, and his knowledge is from firsthand experience, not from watching HBO’s critically acclaimed series “The Wire.” Today, Shird is an author, public speaker and nonprofit co-founder, but in his teens and 20s, he was a big-time drug dealer, selling heroin, crack and marijuana.
Shird was a smart kid and did well in school when he wasn’t bored, but he also came from a home with an addict father.
“My father was an alcoholic. Our neighbors would call us because he would be passed out in the middle of the street, and we had to go get him,” said the Baltimore native. “I didn’t really see Black architects, doctors and other professionals. The people I saw dressed well and getting money and women were drug dealers.”
In an exclusive interview with the AmNews, the 45-year-old father shared his story. “I started selling drugs at 15 years old. Eventually, I was making about $20,000 a day off of the corners and probably another $60,000 a week with my other operations. I remember sitting on my bed counting out $500,000 in cash. I would go to the mall and spend $10,000 like it was nothing,” said the 45-year-old father in an exclusive interview.
It was a life of fast money and local celebrity, but when he was 24, Shird was sent to prison for the first time. He received a two-year sentence. “That first time in prison, I really didn’t learn anything. As soon as I got out, I went right back to the streets. I was addicted to the lifestyle, the culture. Some people are addicted to the drugs and some are addicted to the drug life,” said Shird. His operation expanded to smuggling drugs over the Mexico-Texas border to Baltimore.
Eventually, Shird spent a total of 12 years in prison on the east coast and in California. It was while in California in his final bid that he began on an new path. “Before I went to prison that last time, I definitely had the ‘I’m next’ syndrome. I knew that it was just a matter of time before I was going to be shot, killed or in prison. It was just a matter of time. Gradually, I just started towards a different mindset. You have to de-program yourself and then re-program yourself,” said Shird, who took college courses while in prison and mentored younger prisoners in gangs. “I was thinking about what I was going to do when I got out of there. I had to figure out a way to eat, and I wanted to do it in a legal way. I learned that I could make money without destroying people. I always tell people now that drug dealers often have what I call ‘transferable skills.’ There’s marketing, accounting, leadership, sales—things like that.”
Shird used those transferable skills for his first job out of the prison, which was a telemarketing gig. Through persuasion and persistence, he eventually landed a better paying job as a loan officer. Later, he co-founded the Mario Do Right Foundation along with his longtime friend, R&B singer Mario. The nonprofit focuses on substance abuse prevention and provides services to children of addicts.
Shird is also a newly minted author with his memoir “Lessons of Redemption.” The book is an unflinching look at Shird’s life from the rough and tumble streets of Baltimore to prison to his present situation and everything in between.
“It’s not a book about how selling the dope in the streets is great. We have enough of those books. I didn’t want to do another ‘New Jack City.’ I wanted to put a human face on the lifestyle. I wanted to show what the dope game really looks like. It’s not all glamorous,” said Shird.
Shird’s father is in his 70s now, and according to Shird, he is proud of his son’s turnaround. For his part, Shird is working on his relationship with his 22-year-old daughter, who is graduating from college this year. He spent half of her life in and out of prison. He was released for the last time in 2006. Shird now spends his time nurturing healthy relationships with his friends and family, and trying to be the mentor and role model he felt he needed when he was younger.