The Hard-Won Triumphs of a Life on the Corner in West Baltimore
by Susan Orlean
Published May 26 in The New Yorker
Excerpt: In the bad old days, Denise Francine (Fran) Boyd Andrews (1956-2022) could be found most of the time rooted on a stoop on Fayette Street, in West Baltimore, fuzzed out on heroin but still as ornery as she could be. According to David Simon, who chronicled her story in “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,” a book that he began writing in the early nineties with Ed Burns, a former homicide detective, she was a “tough bird.” Convinced that Simon was a cop, Fran Boyd, as she was known then, wouldn’t speak to him for more than a month after he first showed up. He had low hopes for her. “If you had asked me then, is Fran going to get off Fayette Street, I would have said no,” he said recently. As described in “The Corner” (which was later adapted into a miniseries, on HBO), the tribulations of Andrews, her estranged partner, Gary McCullough, and their son D’Andre, all heroin users, seemed intractable. By the time that Simon met her, she had been an addict for fourteen years.
The odds were lousy. The neighborhood around Fayette and Monroe Streets operated as a sort of open-air drug market, and getting “off the corner” was a herculean task. Gary McCollough died of an overdose before “The Corner” was published. D’Andre died of his addiction in 2012. Andrews, who first tried heroin when she was twenty-three, had stolen money from her family and traded sex for drugs at her lowest moments. Even so, she made a reach for better outcomes. “No matter with all that was going on, we were always taken good care of,” another of her sons, De’Rodd Hearns, a Baltimore firefighter, said recently. “We were different from some of the other kids in the neighborhood, who weren’t taken care of.” After her brother and sister died, Andrews, despite being in the throes of addiction, even took over parenting two nieces and a nephew, and, later, D’Andre’s girlfriend.