Sonja Sohn interview
Sonja Sohn: Changing Baltimore Long After 'The Wire'
For five seasons, actress Sonja Sohn played Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs on the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which chronicled life — and death — on Baltimore's toughest streets.
When the series ended, Sohn stayed in East Baltimore, where she co-founded a nonprofit called ReWired for Change. The organization works with young people who have been incarcerated and who are out on parole, to try to help them straighten out their lives. Sohn uses scenes straight from The Wire to help make her point through education, media and advocacy.
The project hits close to home for Sohn, who grew up in an underserved community in Newport News, Va. As a teenager, she went through several traumatic experiences — some that she continually had to revisit on set.
"It wasn't the scenes so much as the location," she says. "I realized that what was happening was that I was working in neighborhoods that were very reminiscent of the neighborhoods that I grew up in. I was seeing people that reminded me of the people I grew up with. I was essentially, on some level, experiencing a retraumatization. And my brain was just short-circuiting all over the place."
Despite having years of training both in acting and in the slam poetry world, Sohn started forgetting her lines on set. She contemplated quitting the award-winning series after the first season.
"It didn't dawn on me that possibly some of that stuff [from my childhood] could still be affecting my life," she says. "I started to learn a bit about trauma toward the end of my tenure on The Wire, and in the following years, I started to dive into that."
What was most difficult for her, she realized, was playing a cop on The Wire, in part because of her own experiences with the police as a child.
"My own perception of cops was that they came into your neighborhood, they roughed up people that you loved for no reason and took them away," she says. "As a child you saw that."
When she was older, Sohn started calling the police herself, to protect her mother, who was being abused.
"To call the police is a really big deal because you don't snitch — that's the culture you grow up in," she says. "You certainly don't want to call the police on your father. But if I thought my mother's life was in danger, I would pick up the phone and call the cops."
After one serious altercation, Sohn says, she remembers the police coming to her house and essentially doing nothing about the situation.
"I saw the cop look at the other one and roll his eyes and smirk and kind of laugh, and that angered me so deeply," she says. "I believe that sealed the inner dislike of the cops. So I had to overcome all of that to play this cop [on The Wire]."