BRIAN LAMB: Sonja Sohn, when did you first think about becoming an actress?
SONJA SOHN: Wow, you know I did not recall ever wanting to be an actress when I first started studying and I found acting, until just before my mother passed away, she presented she presented my husband with a little piece of paper that I had type-written it was the story of what I wanted to be when I was 10 years old. And that Christmas, my husband gave me this piece of paper along with some childhood photos. And lo and behold, in the middle of that little story I stated that I wanted to be a movie star.
I had no recollection of ever wanting to pursue acting. As a matter of fact, when it was first suggested to me when I was in my 20s on the poetry scene in New York, I was completely appalled by the idea. There had been some suggestions, just folks in passing would say, oh, you should do print modeling. You should be an actress. And I thought it was the most vain profession that anyone could get into and it was very ego-driven and I was quite opposed to anything of that nature, in terms of career anyway.
So I had always thought that the story was I never wanted to be an actress and this profession just kept knocking me in the back of the head. And eventually, I felt I had to turn around and face it.
LAMB: What was your first acting job?
SOHN: My first acting job was a small independent film titled, ”Work.” Rachel Reichman was the director. Very few people have seen that film, because at the time I didn’t consider myself an actress. I was a spoken word artist. I was I had gone back to school. I was pursuing a degree in English and I had planned on teaching English in an inner city high school and writing writing a novel. That was the track that I was on.
But there was a fellow by the name of Greg Tate. He was a film and music critic for the Village Voice at the time and he was a friend of mine who had seen me on stage quite a bit and had he thought that I should actually I should I should audition for this role. And the way he got me to do it was simply just he simply told me that the roll call for someone with an athletic build the character was a track star in high school. And I had played sports in high school. And he just thought, you know, you should just you know, just go out for it, you know.
He was someone I respected, so I thought what do you know. What harm does it do, you know. And I ended up with the role and so I thought I’d just try it. I have sort of an adventurous nature, and I thought I’ll try anything once. It was a six-week shoot. How, you know how many times in your life is someone going to ask you to be in a film? So I thought, hey, let’s just do it for fun.
LAMB: What year was that?
SOHN: That was 90 let me see, ”Slam” came out in ’98; we shot it in ’97. It had to be probably five years before I studied for five years ’92. It probably was ’91, ’92, I would say. Because just after that, I the director thought that, you know, she said, ”You know, you might have something. You might want to look into this.” And I said, ”Thanks, but no thanks. I’m going back to school to get my degree.”
At any rate, a year later it just kept sort of niggling at the in the back of my mind. And when something sticks like that with me, generally speaking, I take it as a sign that perhaps I should investigate. So I took a class in that summer at Lee Strasberg in New York and had an experience in the class that was very moving and really opened up opened something up inside of me and revealed to me that perhaps there was another place to put all of my experience and my expression a place that would hold a bit more than maybe the written in that poetry work because at the time I was..
LAMB: The HBO series ”The Wire” ran for five years. You starred in it. First of all, what does ”The Wire” mean? Where did the name come from?
SOHN: Oh, well, we were we essentially, we were I mean you’d have to ask ask David that, to be quite honest with you, but just I would say simply that, you know, we we were running a wire tap the entire five seasons on someone. So ”The Wire,” you know, comes from that for sure. I don’t know if there’s some sort of, you know, symbolic metaphorical or some meaning that David was intending.
LAMB: What was your part?
SOHN: I played Detective Kima Greggs. She is was just she was known to be the I guess everybody just knows me as the lesbian cop. But I see her as, you know, more than more than that. You know, I think in a certain way she was the moral compass of the police department. I thought I think she held all of that.
LAMB: We have just a clip from a trailer it doesn’t show much, but just so people who haven’t seen it can get a flavor of it. Let’s watch.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
Cheryl: You see I went to journalism school, all right? Northwestern. So ya’ll can’t stay with me. And I said ”Not even, no.”
Kima: Girl, you’re talking like you’re some crusty old reporter.
Cheryl: Well, excuse me.
Kima: Bitch, you’re working at a TV station.
(Cheryl): It’s the same thing, all right. Look. Come on. Stop talking.
(UNKNOWN): Here we go.
Cheryl: Bring it.
(UNKNOWN): Come on, Kima. Come on.
Kima: I gotta work.
(UNKNOWN): It worked.
Cheryl: Candy ass. That’s all I have to say.
(UNKNOWN): I’m with you.
Cheryl: All right. Look at Tonya. And she runs a damn art gallery in the city.
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
LAMB: What were we watching? What was that?
SOHN: That was actually one of my favorite scenes. You get into the monologue just after that, where Kima talks about what moved her to become a cop and stay a cop and the moment when her connection to the job was really sealed. Cheryl, the woman who was speaking most of that clip, was played my she was my girlfriend in the show. And she was an attorney and did not like the fact that Kima was in law enforcement and really wanted me to wanted me to she wanted me to she wanted she wanted me to get out of the, you know, that line of work. And so it was a moment where we we really where you realize that Kima is really connected to her job. And her girlfriend realizes that she’s very connected to the job and that it means more to her than she may realize.
LAMB: What impact situated in Baltimore
SOHN: I’m sorry wait a second I just said that Cheryl was an attorney. No, she she played you know, she worked at a television station. She wanted Kima to become an attorney. That’s what it was. She wanted Kima to study law.
LAMB: But this program was centered in Baltimore
SOHN: Oh, absolutely centered in Baltimore, yes.
LAMB: At the Harbor a lot of it was around the Harbor?
SOHN: Actually, it a lot of it did not take place around the Harbor
LAMB: I saw some of it it was Season Two, so I
SOHN: Yes, Season Oh, oh, right, right, right. No, Season Two absolutely that’s at the ports. You’re right. Yes, absolutely.
LAMB: Let me just characterize it quickly.
LAMB: And you tell me how wrong I am.
LAMB: Lots of smoking, lots of drinking, lots of swearing, lots of real world language what I mean, what was the reaction that you got during these five years with this program?
SOHN: And when you say reaction from whom?
LAMB: Just the world. I mean, this is a seems to me, it was a rough I mean, it showed you what, I assume, what life is like up close and personal and that whole world up there in Baltimore.
SOHN: You know, I there were there was certainly a population of people who could not watch the show. It was too raw and too real and painful for them to see, either because they came from that environment or because, you know, some folks use television as something to sort of unwind with. And so they didn’t particularly care to spend their time in that world in that way.
However, many, many, many folks felt as though a story that’s not been told truthfully, clearly, and without apology was being told. And I’m talking about folks in law enforcement. I’m talking about judges and attorneys, politicians, as well as folks whose lives were depicted by some of the street characters. They felt as though someone was finally getting it right.
LAMB: We grabbed some testaments how we saw you for the first time when you testified up in I believe it was up in Baltimore the Attorney General’s National Taskforce on Children Exposed to Violence. Let’s just watch and then we can catch up with your story.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
SOHN: I remember lying in bed on alert one night as I heard an argument brewing in my parents’ bedroom, only to be shocked by the deafening sound of my mother’s jaw being crushed. I remember watching in horror as my mother’s head lay on the chopping block of our kitchen counter while my father held a large butcher’s knife to her throat as she cried and begged to be put out of her misery.
My mother used to tell a story of how I stopped an argument between her and my father when I was a toddler by telling my father to stop it don’t make my mommy cry. I was two years old. That incident kicked off a pattern of my believing that I had some control over and some responsibility for the situation.
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
LAMB: How hard was it for you to do that?
SOHN: Well, it’s it’s a it’s been many years and a long process of healing, so I would say, at this point in my life, you know, I’m there is there is some distance from the from the, you know, the emotion and the sort of trauma of all that. So now it’s a part of my story, but it’s not me.
So it was I wouldn’t say it was difficult for me to tell the story. I think really it’s you know, I want to I think what was most difficult for me if we can call it difficult or challenging for me was just you know, you know, my father is still living and we have a great relationship. You know, members of my family are still a part of my life. So I was just concerned as to how it would reflect upon them and how they would how they would, you know, take it. So, you know, and just trying to navigate, you know, those ways of being respectful and honorable and to, you know, honor their journey, you know.
LAMB: Born in Newport News, Virginia.
SOHN: Yes. No, no, no, not born in Newport News, Virginia. I was born in Georgia Fort Benning.
LAMB: Father African American; mother Korean.
LAMB: What’s what’s that impact on your life having those two backgrounds?
SOHN: Well, I tell you, you know, growing up at times it was difficult. I grew up in an all-black neighborhood, you know. Just in general, I think, you know, with kids, you know, you don’t want to stick out or be different, you know. But particularly, growing up in the South and newly desegregated South newly desegregated. Busing had just started when I was in elementary school and Virginia was sort of one of the last states on that on that track.
So, you know, it you know, there was a sort of a challenge there of always having to or many times, having to sort of, you know, feeling as though I had to prove that I was as black, whatever that means, as the rest of my peers. And later on in life, I began to see that my definition or perception of blackness of the time was quite skewed. You know, it really was, you know if you were tough and you could kick butt, then you were respected and that became that was sort of a part of the running definition of blackness at the time.
So you know, there was that sort of challenge; however, I believe that it has, you know, being, you know, growing up a mixed race person, I think has had its advantages for me, in terms of how it’s shaped my world view and my perception. I was always very aware that, you know, I’m a person first, as opposed to a label and an amalgamation of, you know, what people can see, in terms of my mother and my father, that I’m a female, or what have you. And so there was always this strong impulse to unite and get folks to understand that we are that I’m just a person, you know, and that we are all people first.
LAMB: At this hearing, you talked about your father.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
SOH N: My father was mentally ill. I later found out that he was paranoid schizophrenic. He was on lots of medication. My father is a brilliant man. He had moments of brilliance as a parent. My father you know, there were phases in our life where we tried to have Sunday dinner. Now it might’ve been a tyrannical nightmarish affair at times, but there were times when there was laughter at the table. My father thought he should teach us how to play chess. By the time you were six, you knew how to play chess. He had these moments of brilliance, but he had these there came a time when he just turned into a monster and I could no longer justify loving him.
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
LAMB: We also learned that your mother died some time ago. When was that?
SOHN: My mother died in ’98.
LAMB: Again, when you go back in your own life, you grew up in Newport News. You talk about you were into the drugs at some point. How did that happen in your life? What how old were you and why did you why were you attracted to them?
SOHN: Wow, you know, well, I guess, the story sort of speaks for itself. After awhile it becomes a, you know reality is a bit tough to take. You know, I started smoking pot when I was 11. And at the time, it wasn’t as though I was doing it as I wasn’t conscious that I was doing it as an escape. I mean it was an 11-year-old in a neighborhood with other 11 and 12-year-olds experimenting with, you know, pot. But by the time I was 13, I was smoking every day. And again, at that time, you’re not aware that you’re doing it to sort of, you know, just keep things manageable or, you know, create some distance between you and what’s really what’s really bothering you inside.
And I would also say that around that time was about the time that I pretty much gave up on fixing my family. I was just trying to bide my time. I spent a lot of my childhood many childhood hours trying to figure out how I could fix this situation. And around that sometime between 11 and 12 is when I just decided that there was nothing I could do about it, but I couldn’t leave. And I had a whole plan to leave, and I was confident that I could leave. And I wanted to leave town. I didn’t want to go to a foster family or anything like that. I wanted to go to New York and be on my own and start my own life.
And it’s kind of strange, I’m sure, for people to hear that an 11-year-old is, you know, making this plan. And I had to but I was literally, you know, about to walk out the door. I had a bag packed and everything. And I just kept seeing just sort of like, in a way visions, I guess, that my mother was just heartbroken and crying and feeling as though she had failed. Because I knew that my mother stayed in this marriage because she believed that we needed a father. And there was nothing I could do to convince her that regardless that perhaps this was not the arrangement. You know, we could have a father, but maybe not living in this arrangement. But my mother grew up without a father and I, you know, realize that that had a lot to do with, you know, her being adamant that we needed to keep our father in the home.
LAMB: Where had they met, by the way?
SOHN: They met in Korea.
LAMB: During the Korean War or after that?
SOHN: Just after, I believe. It was just after the War when they met. Yes.
LAMB: How did your mother do in this society?
SOHN: My mother was quite successful, you know, considering where she considering where she came from. My mother had maybe even in Korea, I think, my mother had maybe a six or seventh grade education. She could speak English, but reading and writing was a challenge for her. There were times there was a point when we were growing up that she started taking classes at a local church.
But my mother was very gifted not simply just a seamstress but she could just make anything from scratch. And, you know, she spent most of her life working for the government in a civil service capacity as an upholsterer down in Virginia on the various bases down there. And she rose to the rank of a supervisor in a shop down in the Norfolk Naval Base. She always had a dream to build her own home. You know, we grew up in a mixed-income housing unit and, you know, I saw my mother buy her first home when I was a senior in high school. And then within I guess 10 years, my mother had bought a piece of property out in Gloucester, Virginia, and had her brick house built on an acre and a half of land. She was quite successful.
LAMB: Did you move from marijuana to cocaine?
SOHN: Well, I mean not like that, but yes.
LAMB: No, but I mean, did one thing lead to another?
SOHN: Yes, yes. You know, in junior high school, you know, it was speed and acid and marijuana. Then in later years of high school was when I first became introduced when first when I was first introduced to cocaine and that and then, you know, that was pretty much
LAMB: What I really want to know was you know, a lot of people use the drugs and we all wring our hands and say it’s horrible, but do people enjoy these drugs? Is that why they use them? Or are you hiding from something?
SOHN: No, you enjoy your drugs awhile- there comes a point where you no longer enjoy them. You know, but initially there has to be some sort of enjoyment for you to for instance, when I was 10 years old, I smoked my first cigarette. You know, cigarettes were 50 cents a pack. I put a quarter in the pack, so for me, I owned the pack. I took one hit off the cigarette and got so dizzy and fell on, you know, someone’s bed and I just, you know, I didn’t care about the peer pressure. I didn’t care that they were teasing me. I just said, you know what, I’m not smoking. You can have them. And I got teased and I didn’t care. And I never really smoked a cigarette again. You know, occasionally, socially, I have in the future, but you know I didn’t I didn’t enjoy it.
But when it came to pot, pot in particular, I enjoyed it. It was relaxing. You know, it just for me, it just calmed my nerves. It got me out of my head, you know. That’s what the initial attraction to that was. You know, drinking was never something that I really took to. It was something that, you know, you know, eventually, you know, when I got into cocaine, drinking was something that became a little bit of a balance for the edge that the coke would give in the years that I started to not like it. And I started to see where it was taking me. But
LAMB: How did you get out of it?
SOHN: I got out of it, initially, you know, through, you know, a therapist through meeting a therapist. My first husband saw that there was a problem. We were having problems and saw there was a problem and suggested that we go to therapy. And this was the first time I had ever tried therapy and I went to therapy with him. And after our first session, she said listen, you guys don’t you guys need individual therapy before you even touch couples I’ll see you separately. And when I came back to see her, she completely pulled my card and no one had ever been able to pull my card. No one there I had written for three years in my journal that I was not living up to my potential. No disrespect to housewives, but that I knew that I was I should be doing more than just kind of raising my kids. I had a great life. You know, we had a middle class lifestyle. I was a good mom.
LAMB: Living where?
SOHN: Living and this was in New York Brooklyn at the time. You know, the pic I had become very adept at creating a beautiful picture. This is something I learned, you know, when I was biting my time in junior high school, you know. And I said, OK, I’ve got to be here. I can’t leave my mom. This is a miserable situation. They’re miserable. I can’t save them from their misery, but I’m going to be happy.
And I picked up drugs and started to create this sort of happy picture for myself something that was tolerable for me to live in. That’s when I became very active in sports and for awhile I did very well in school. I was in the junior honor society. I was a cheerleader. I mean, I did all kinds of things and there were a lot of cool, fun people who were doing those things, and we were you know, we created, you know, a scenario in which there was some level of comfort and we presented this picture to the world that allowed us to function and earn money, have jobs and whatnot.
And in a way, this is sort of tied into I think sort of like you know the dual sort of existence that I think many African-Americans live, you know, in this country. You know, you there is a face, you know, that you know you have to show when you’re trying to get, you know, you know, certain things accomplished x, y, and z. But then there is sort of, you know, the down-home side, and the you know, the part of the culture that you can share with each other than you can’t really share with the with the larger world because there’s some judgment attached to that. So this I believe that this fed into the kind of picture that I was able to create, you know, in my 20s in my first marriage. It all ended up
LAMB: I’ll come back to that, but you talked about this when you testified. Let’s watch this segment of it.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
SOHN: When you live in a world that is never safe, where you feel abandoned and uncared for, numbing the pain, and finding some kind of support becomes an essential survival skill this is how I became and how many children today become easy prey for pedophiles. This is why our young people create the nurture as they so desperately need by forming and joining gangs. This is why many children enter into the drug world at an early age. This is why the sex trade begins to seem like a viable option and this is how we lose our nation’s future.
Without resources to deal with trauma, numbing your pain with drugs and sex, and creating an illusion of family by seeking support on the streets become your coping mechanisms. You will take what is given easily and freely, oftentimes these children end up in a pattern of using these self-destructive acts to escape the smallest of discomforts, never gaining the proper ability to handle simple stresses of everyday life. They end up having sex as a way to find emotional support and may become very young parents. The effects of the violence they live with just add up in layers, burying them
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
LAMB: Why did you agree to testify?
SOHN: Because I actually I believe in the mission of the taskforce that I believe that the fabric of our nation is being is disintegrating and being ripped apart at the seams because our we’re not paying enough attention to the trauma and the pain and the struggles that our young people are facing today.
LAMB: How old are your kids?
SOHN: Oh, my children are older. I have a 21-year-old and a 25-year-old.
LAMB: Boys or girls?
LAMB: That’s by your first marriage?
LAMB: Did you marry again?
SOHN: I did.
LAMB: Any children by the second marriage?
SOHN: No, no.
LAMB: By the way, what kind of work are your daughters in?
SOHN: My youngest daughter is graduating from California Institute for the Arts this year. She’s theatre major. She’s about to follow that path. My older daughter she’s been working in retail for the last few years and interested in fashion, and right now, that’s she has her sights set, you know, in that direction.
LAMB: And you live where now?
SOHN: I live I’m telling everyone I live where I work, essentially. I spend quite a bit of time in Baltimore. When I’m working on ”Body of Proof,” I’m in L.A..
LAMB: That’s the ABC show?
SOHN: That’s the ABC show that I’m a part of right now. And when that show is down, I come back to the East Coast and I spend, you know, part of my time in Baltimore, because ”ReWired for Change,” the nonprofit that I run, is based in Baltimore. And I have a home in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which used to be a vacation home. Now it’s basically my primary residence. And then I have connections in New York, family and friends. My oldest daughter is in New York. So I pretty much kind of hop between those three places. But I’m using North Carolina as my primary residence right now.
LAMB: But the main reason to ask you to come here was to talk about the impact of ”The Wire” on you and the organization that you formed. What’s it called again?
SOHN: ReWired for Change.
LAMB: When did you start it?
SOHN: The seed I guess the vision came to me in 2008 and then 2009 is when we officially started. And that’s when we got our 501(c)(3) in 2009.
LAMB: What’s it do?
SOHN: Well, ReWired for Change we, you know essentially, our mission is to support, empower, and affect the lives of high-risk youth and their families in the communities in which they live. We started by offering our pilot program - ReWired for Life, which is a program that was geared to high-risk young people who had been arrested before. And we used ”The Wire” as a ”The Wire,” the show as a springboard for discussion and to awaken them to the possibilities of personal transformation.
LAMB: How did you raise the money?
SOHN: Oh, gosh. How am I raising the money? You know, initially, you know, really, the organization you know, it was my money that I used for the organization. You know, we’re that’s still something that’s ongoing right now, you know...
LAMB: How many people are working there now?
SOHN: Right now, we have we for the last year and a half, we have been gosh, has it been two years 2010 for the last year and a half, we’ve been running a we’ve been running a community home in Baltimore called the Village House. And, you know, at the Village House, we offer an after-school program and we sponsor a local community group called the Village Council, and essentially, open our doors to the community to be supports for them in any way that we can. That house, right now, employs four people.
LAMB: How many what’s the age group that you’ll take into that house?
SOHN: Well, through the through the through the after-school program, we’re talking about seven to middle school. I think what we have now is about 7-13. And then we were running our ”ReWired for Life” program out of there, but right now ”ReWired for Life” program is down because we’re revamping the curriculum and we’re going to reintroduce it. It’s that was a two-year pilot, and we learned a lot and now we’re actually revamping the curriculum and putting out the official ”Rewired for Life” program later this year. So that’s down.
And then and then the community one of the things that we discovered after offering the ”ReWired for Life” pilot program
LAMB: By the way, what is the difference between ”ReWired for Life” and then you have the
SOHN: Oh, ”ReWired for Change” is the name of the organization. ”ReWired for Life” is the program for high-risk young people. OK? The Village Council is the local community group that’s sponsored by the Village House. And the Village House is an initiative of ”ReWired for Change.”
One of the things that we discovered when through our work with the pilot program was that, if our young people had to go back to families and communities that were broken and not unified and not healthy, then it made their it would make their transformation much more challenging. And that there was no way to sort of isolate a population and truly help and truly assist them to the to the truly we’re looking at we’re looking for real healing.
We’re not looking for, OK, you get your GED. You get a job. Then you’re set. You’re off the streets. That means something to us. But what has unfolded is that what we want to see is a deep level of healing in the life of a young person, but also in the lives in the entire community. And so our overall mission really is to uplift and empower communities of folks to re-create community in a way that we have not seen in underserved communities since I was young in the 70s.
LAMB: Statistics. I just saw this in the paper the other day 80 percent of African-Americans don’t qualify to be in the military. That was the headline. Interestingly enough, 70 percent of white people men don’t qualify and women to go in the military. And I don’t know I mean, it’s a rather large statistic. Because of being obese and all the other things the drugs and all that. And then the statistic that I know you’re aware of that roughly 40 percent of the American people have children out of wedlock. Seventy percent of the black community has children out of wedlock. How did this happen to us? And how do you get out of it?
SOHN: You know, that’s a big question, Brian.
LAMB: I thought it was small.
SOHN: You know, that’s a big question. I mean, and how do we you know, I certainly can have an opinion about it. I’m no one’s authority on those issues for sure. But, you know, I think this boils down to something really simple, but that, you know, you say 70 percent, you know I actually was not familiar with that statistic. Seventy percent of African-Americans have children have children out of wedlock. Now I’d like to know how that’s broken down within age groups. I think that would inform, you know, my answer.
LAMB: I think a lot of them are young births.
SOHN: Are younger. You know, well, I talked about it in the clip, where, you know, we all, you know I the deepest need I believe of every human being is to be loved. I mean, that’s a that’s a core need you know, that’s something as an actor, you know, you’ve got to know that, you know, any character somewhere in there, you know, is a need to be loved.
And when you don’t get that nuturance and that not to say that children who are involved in that kind of behavior aren’t loved, but you know, to love in a healthy way entails a lot more than, you know, being cared for in sort of basic ways. You know, it calls for, you know, an emotional, you know, nurturance. It calls for guidance. It calls for, you know, a whole host of, you know, other, you know, aspects that, you know, a young person needs to grow up healthily.
And when you don’t have those things, you know, you reach out any way you can to feel that. And sometimes it’s just touching and then one thing leads to another and you become invested in a you know, you start to you become invested in another person in an unhealthy way. You know, things that, you know, by the time you’re in your late teens or early 20s, things that a healthy young person a person that’s been nurtured properly, fully, and wholly you know, they’re at the point now where they can self-nurture where they can go inside and there’s confidence. There are principles and there are values. And there are things that they can hold onto and anchor themselves, so they don’t have to anchor themselves to another person attach themselves and enmesh themselves with someone else to give them what they, you know, are lacking inside. And I believe that, you know, that pattern has a lot to do with that statistic.
LAMB: Going back again in your life, we have some testimony here where you decided to do something to your father. It’s rather strong stuff. Let’s watch that and then ask you to explain it.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
SOHN: I spent weeks figuring trying to figure out how to get my hands on a gun, but I had no success. So I resorted to a new option after reading in a magazine how a popular an R&B singer of the day had been scalded by a hot pot of grits. My last attempt to save myself and the family came one day when I was washing dishes. I watched myself calmly take the biggest pot we had, fill it with water, put it on the stove to boil, and went back to doing the dishes.
I now know that when I began to watch myself as though I were outside of my body, I had disassociated. Once the water boiled, I took the pot and I walked slowly into the living room and I stood over my father as he slept on the sofa. All the scenes of violence I had witnessed flashed before my mind’s eye and then I saw us without him. I saw myself happy and free in my home. I saw laughter on the faces of the rest of my family. I stepped closer to the sofa.
Just as I was about to throw the water on him, a horrifying thought suddenly jolted me to consciousness. The singer did not die. This pot of water was not going to kill my father. Suddenly the pot seemed to shrink in my hands and so did I. I began to see myself as this tiny child I was. A wave of grief and sadness rushed over me. I stood there growing smaller and smaller until I felt completely insignificant and totally useless.
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LAMB: Have you ever talked to your dad about that?
SOHN: I’ve never spoken to my father about that.
SOHN: Yes. My father is a different man now. And I really want to make that clear, you know, regardless of the various diagnoses and, you know, problems he had, you know, when we were younger. You know, he had a bad 20 years, you know, but he’s 80 now.
LAMB: Did he see that?
SOHN: No, I don’t think he’s seen that. We but I have I have spoken to my father about the past and I have tried to, you know, gingerly kind of prepare him and speak to him about some of the things that are, you know, being revealed right now. But, you know, he has shared with me that he would rather not go back and revisit, you know, that time in his life. And that he’s a changed man and he’d like to sort of keep his focus on, you know, where he is now. And I need to respect that.
And that’s why it’s always a little uncomfortable when I see this stuff coming out in the public, because, you know, I care about my father very deeply. And I want to make sure that folks understand that our life is very long, that redemption and transformation is possible. It happened in my life. It happened in the life of my father and my family is not the family that I grew up in any more. It is a different family.
LAMB: But when we read about your life, for instance, you were molested by your babysitter?
LAMB: What impact did that have on you?
SOHN: Oh, that had a grave impact on me. I think that was probably one of the you know, that was probably the most challenging the sort of wreckage of that abuse was the most challenging for me to get through, because for it took me decades to really understand that I was a victim, because as a I thought that there was a relationship. And it was a really you know, I was a I was, you know this was probably between the ages of four to nine. And what was most difficult for me at the time was a sense of betrayal and abandonment. Because when this babysitter left the neighborhood, she said she was coming back and she would visit me and see me. And what was most devastating to me was that she never came back.
And so that, you know, as you can imagine, informed, you know, my intimate relationships, you know, moving forward. And, you know, a lot of, you know, you know, you know, played into, you know, a lot of my own sort of relationship dysfunction. And that was followed by a, you know, in years later, as a teenager, I was also, you know I I I was raped as a teenager and that was, you know, all of that sort of tangled up. Those were quite a few knots, so but
LAMB: The reason I bring it all up is because you’ve obviously lived all these things and you’re now working with young people. Do they have a chance? I mean, what would you advise them knowing what you’ve lived through. And now if you look back on your life, what would you have done differently to get out of that situation? Or would you?
SOHN: I did the best I could with, you know, dealing with the circumstances you know, within those circumstances, I definitely I did the best that I could at the time. So I wouldn’t say there was something I would do differently. You know, there were things that had shaped my mind to make the kind of decisions that I was making.
I was, you know, incredibly bright. I, you know, but because I didn’t somewhere inside despite all the sort of accomplishments and the picture that I created in high school you know, active in sports and, you know, basically, had a B average. You know, I wasn’t studying. You know, I could, you know, I could have a B average without studying and getting high every day and working and all those activities. I had decided not to you know, I was a straight A student pretty much in elementary school, but I decided, you know, what was all that work for, you know, if I wasn’t if I couldn’t be happy.
And so, you know, I believe if I’d had a mentor in high school I think I looked like the kid that was going to be fine, so no one really no one thought that I needed a mentor of any sort. She’s going to be fine. And they were right, essentially. But I believe if I’d had a mentor who could see beneath the surface that I would’ve gone on to absolutely, would’ve, you know, finished college. I probably would’ve gone to, you know, an Ivy League type school. Because there was this sort of idea that Sonja, you would be a lawyer or something down the line. But I threw that away when I gave up on when happiness really was what I was striving for.
But getting back to what I would say to young people in these situations, I’ll tell you what really led me got me to the light, you know brought me to where I am today. Because if it can happen for me, it can happen for every single young person who is struggling with the issues that I was struggling with and even worse. I have friends who have stories like mine who have, you know who have who are successful now, personally and professionally. And the thing that I think we all have in common is that we were that unbeknownst to ourselves, we listened and nurtured the we nurtured the ability to listen to our inner voice. You know, there is an inner voice and an intuition, if you want to call it that, that I strongly believe that is connected to something much greater than myself and other people.
And it is knowing when to move, when to fall back, you know, when to jump off a cliff even though it looks as though you’re not going to make it, because that voice will never fail you. Getting to know that inner voice and following it in every instance that you can. You know, this is the thing that I see that folks who come from that background who find success have it’s a muscle that they have trained and nurtured and is very strong within them. And that’s something, you know that’s what, you know, we like to teach you know, in the ReWired for Life program what we like to give these young people.
LAMB: Did your kids have any your two girls have any trouble like you had?
SOHN: My oldest daughter probably had the most challenges, because she - -when she was born, I was still using. I I I changed my I did my sort of 180 in my life when she was about four or five years old. And you know, those early years, you know, when you’re after you’ve done the 180, everything doesn’t just clear up. I mean, that’s you’re putting in all of that hard work, and while you’re processing and going through and all this stuff is being drummed up, you know, and you’ve got to raise kids and be in a marriage. And you’ve created a bit of a mess there, and you know, it’s a messy process. And so, you know, the people around you get splattered with some of that, and it’s, you know, which is, you know, unfortunate, but it’s a part of the process.
I did it for myself and I did it I was inspired really moved to do it for my children because I saw what I was creating in the home. I saw that I was becoming that the type of entity that my father had become in our home and that it was affecting my older daughter. So my older daughter has had to, you know, work through, I think, quite a few more challenges than my younger daughter. My younger daughter was born just before I turned around, so she has seen, you know, the best of me; whereas, my oldest daughter definitely was affected by some of the things.
LAMB: Do you talk to them about this?
SOHN: Absolutely. We’re quite honest. They I’ve probably talked too much. In the past, I think I’ve probably spoken too much with them about it. But I think in the end, we are very transparent. As I was going through my processes, as I was healing. You know, if, you know if if you know, if I was not you know, if I was having a rough time, you know, with the girls, you know, in the home and you could see it and I knew what was happening, you know, I would share it with them. I’d say, listen, mommy’s having a rough time here and some other things. And as they became older, I would I would you know, I was able to share more and more of my story with them, so that they could understand, so that they because I wanted them to be able to do to to to take that journey.
You know, I think that every person, regardless of how you grew up, there’s some sort of journey that you have to take in terms of getting to know yourself and I wanted them I wanted them to know that that’s important in life that that is that is a part of of of living a full and a whole life.
LAMB: One of the rehabilitation clinics in this country, I remember a statistic coming from them that 83 percent of the people that go into rehab don’t turn it around. That means that 17 percent do and that’s drugs and alcohol. What do you think of those statistics and how did you did you go through detox or did you go through any kind of a 28-day program or did you just do it on your own?
SOHN: No, no, no. I didn’t go through a program like that. You know, I had a really supportive husband at the time and we could afford therapy. And I was in therapy. And I, you know, for some years I did get, you know, the help of an outside support group. And I, to be quite honest with you, you know, within that support group, you know, all I saw around me was successful lives you know, a great number of people successfully turning their lives around. So those numbers I, you know, I can’t, you know, I certainly, you know, I can’t refute or validate.
LAMB: Go to this I also - they did an article on you in the Washington Post magazine. And I wrote down some words. Thuggin’ it up. What’s that mean?
SOHN: Just cruel behavior you know, robbing, stealing, fighting, you know.
LAMB: Well, that’s those are the other words selling drugs, partying, stealing, robbing, and all. How much of that goes on in the inner city or not just inner city the drug thing is all over the place.
SOHN: Now it’s happening in the suburbs and it’s not just no, absolutely. You know, how much of it goes on? A great deal of it goes on. It just depends on the community that you live in. But I believe even in the communities where you can’t see, it’s happening. Again, this is this is what I believe is tearing, you know, you know, this, you know, this country apart, you know.
You know, what we what we refuse to see what we think is none of our business because it’s uncomfortable to deal with until someone in our family is affected. And you know, we, you know, if we don’t, you know, if we don’t collectively address, you know, some of the, you know, shadows, and you know, the dark, you know, what’s what’s what’s it’s no longer hiding in the dark corners of the recesses of society. It’s out in broad daylight now. If we don’t address, you know, and address this, you know, full-on, it’s just going to, you know, you know continue to tear to tear the country apart.
LAMB: At the end of 2011, you made a speech out in Los Angeles. And I want to show you what you looked like.
SOHN: Oh, my goodness. What was what is this?
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SOHN: But I know the population that I’m working with on the streets of Baltimore who don’t believe that anything can be different. They don’t believe that anything can be different in their families. They don’t believe that there’s anything bigger than the four-square blocks that they live in. They believe that that’s just the reality that is.
So what what what I want to, you know, pose to some of you folks is maybe changing the language a little bit and maybe creating a new model. Maybe kind of like healing from a whole other dimension. One that leaves that takes us out of this this position of being victims of the government and victims of everything that has happened to us. Because see that shit’s going to go on forever, as long as there are human beings, OK? That’s just the nature of man. All right?
So what can we do to operate from the now and to say healing is our focus? And I’m particularly talking to the people who are reaching folks on the streets and saying, listen guys, if you want things to change in your life, you want things to change in your family, you want something to be different in your community, then you’re going to have to be a part of this change.
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LAMB: Why are you doing this?
SOHN: Because it’s who I am. It’s my life’s mission. All my life I’ve been I’ve known I was born to for some purpose. This is what’s coming through and I’m simply trying to honor that. I’m simply just trying to honor what’s true for me.
LAMB: So I am a kid now. I’m about 13 years old and I’m doing what you used to do. I’m smoking pot or maybe moved to speed or cocaine or whenever you do that. And I’m robbing and stealing and all that stuff. Am I robbing and stealing, by the way, to get money to buy the stuff? Is that why I’m doing that?
SOHN: Oh, my gosh. A lot of these young people are robbing and stealing so they can have food and clothing.
LAMB: But how do you get the money for the drugs, by the way? How did you get it in your day?
SOHN: I sold you know, I worked. I worked and I sold drugs. My brother was a drug dealer in the neighborhood and..
LAMB: Your brother was killed.
LAMB: How? When?
SOHN: He was murdered in North Carolina in 1988.
LAMB: Because? What were the circumstances?
SOHN: Oddly enough, my brother was down there trying to make a change. He had moved from Virginia to North Carolina. My father was down there and he was really trying to trying to make a change. And he had he was living in my uncle’s home and next door was a young woman who had an abusive boyfriend and from time to time he would talk to her. And the boyfriend basically was jealous and told him to stay away from his girlfriend. And my brother wasn’t going after the woman. He was just befriending her and speaking with her. And eventually, he killed him because of that.
LAMB: I started to ask you you know, I’m a 13, 14-year-old. What would you tell me? And what do you interact with these kids at the University of Maryland where this is or up in Baltimore, where you’re doing this program?
SOHN: Well, when we were running the pilot program, I was a part of the facilitation team, because it was important for me to see what was working and what wasn’t working. But also because I have such a passion for young people, particularly young people who are caught up in, you know, those cycles, and such a desire to see them transform and overcome. It’s you know, that work I love. I love doing that work so much. However, I just don’t have the capacity, you know, in terms of the time, resources. And just there and I’ve you know, in this line of work, I’ve seen a lot of folks who’ve been very well-trained to do that kind of work and it’s been better for me to sort of empower them to do that work.
But, you know, it’s very, you know, preaching to these kids and talking at them is not the way that they’re going to make that shift. The shift is experiential. It’s something that has to happen internally. And so, you know, the gift of being able you know, the gift of those who know how to guide those young people, you know, through that transformation, is this gift of knowing, you know, you know, when to fall back and allow them to express themselves and make the mistakes they need to make without condemning them and without abandoning them and always knowing that you’re there to support them, regardless.
Because it’s unconditional love that these young people need to need to need to connect to on a very deep level that I’m not bad there’s nothing wrong with me that no matter what I do, I’m still I’m still worthy. That’s one piece.
And then there’s finding the curriculum that will that that I think a really good curriculum allows these young people to explore themselves to get to know themselves and explore a lot of issues and raises awareness about things that they may not know about, but at the same time, understand that they have that what they have inside their thoughts, their feelings, their opinions, their experiences are very valid and very valuable.
LAMB: Five years of ”The Wire” on HBO you can buy it in the stores. You can watch it ”On Demand” some of the episodes. But if they want to our audience wants to see you today, what time, what day, what’s your character? And then I’ll let you go.
SOHN: Well, you can see me these days on ABC ABC’s ”Body of Proof.” That’s Tuesday nights at 10 o’clock. I play Detective Samantha Baker. I’m a homicide detective and we my partner, Bud, who’s played by John Carroll Lynch we are the support team for the medical examiner’s office and the medical examiner in particular is Megan Hunt, who is played by Dana Delany.
LAMB: Sonja Sohn, thank you very much for joining us.
SOHN: Thank you.