Drug Arrest of “The Wire” Actor Is a Reminder of Prison Churning

Felicia Pearson is hardly unique as a formerly incarcerated African American who lands back in jail.

By Thoai Lu Mar 21, 2011

Former Wire star Felicia "Snoop" Pearson made headlines earlier this month when she and dozens of others were arrested and charged for conspiring to sell heroin. The actress–whose role reflected her own real-life history–says she’s innocent and being unfairly targeted. Whether or not that’s true, what’s certain is she’s not unique as an ex-offender who returns to the grasps of the criminal justice system.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent study revealed dramatic numbers. Nearly four out of five black people who are released from prison return there within three years; more than half return within a year. Those numbers tracked people released from state prisons in 1994; the bureau is working now on data for people released in 2005.

The reasons for the churning incarceration are many-fold. But as Colorlines’ publisher of the Applied Research Center explained in its 2009 "Race and Recession" report, one big problem is that ex-offenders struggle to get a fair shake in the job market. That’s particularly true for African Americans. Bill Quigley, Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, broke down the numbers in a 2010 Huffington Post essay.

"Even when released from prison, race continues to dominate," Quigley wrote, "17% of white job applicants with criminal records received call backs from employers while only 5% of black job applicants with criminal records received call backs."

Felicia Pearson was famously given a rare break when "The Wire" star Michael Williams met her in a club and decided she’d be a perfect fit for the show. Since the series’ conclusion, she’s been reportedly trying to beat the odds as a black female actor with a rarely-cast butch persona. 

Pearson is among 64 people charged in a joint state-federal prosecution of a large east Baltimore drug gang, according to NewsOne. She is charged in state court with conspiring with two men to distribute heroin.

Local television showed a video of DEA agents leading Pearson from an apartment building downtown to a waiting police van. She was one of 37 people arrested by about 450 federal, state and local officers in Baltimore.

Pearson’s publicist maintains her innocence:

In Felicia’s case, she feels that she is being targeted not only because of her portrayal of the memorable character "Snoop"… but also because of where she is from in Baltimore… Felicia has made strong statements against drugs and violence of any kind. She is focused on living a positive life-style encouraging youth and formerly incarcerated women to make positive choices for themselves.

Pearson is currently working on 3 films that are shooting in Philadelphia with T-Town Music Group. She hopes to return to the set immediately, and wants to let fans know she is keeping her head up, prepared to face the new charges against her.

*A previous version of the graphic detailing call-back rates for black and white applicants inverted the numbers by race.