One Baltimore #22, Baltimore Comic-Con


This past weekend, I braved the marathon and the rain to hang out with friends who were vending handmade reusable cloth menstrual pads (more on them below) at Baltimore Comic-Con. Now in its 20th year, the convention brings together hundreds of artists, from big name professionals to fans taking their first shot at selling their own works. When I wasn’t encouraging potential customers to pet the pads (they’re so soft!), I went looking for Baltimore-area artists to talk to.

The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.


Tony Calandra,

Me: How long have you been publishing GCP Comics?

Tony: Ten years now.

Me: Wonderful! And you do it yourselves?

Tony: Yeah, we do it all ourselves, part-time since we both have full-time jobs. We have friends that work at a couple small publishers, so we might go that route soon.

Me: So, tell me about your comic.

Tony: Our latest one we have here is The Patrol, we have two issues. A second ice age happens, these mysterious beasts show up, and it actually takes place all in Maryland, and the story’s gonna end in Baltimore. People always skip over Baltimore, it’s New York, DC —

Me: — the end of the world happens other places too!

Tony: Yeah, we wanted to show some Baltimore love.

Me: Are there any other local artists you’d wanna highlight?

Tony: I know another local guy down here who does Spaghetti Kiss, Michael Baracco, he does Super Art Fight as well. He did our first t-shirts that we got screen printed, now we screen print our own


Michael Bracco,

Me: Tell me about your comic.

Michael: The one I’m working on right now is called The Creators. It’s a kind of dark science-fiction about a small grouping of kids scattered across the globe who suddenly develop the ability to bring their imaginations to life through their artwork and the crazy social ramifications of that power. It’s kind of my way to do a socially relevant kaiju book, where these kids are trying to do good things, and then when they’re mistreated, things go out of control, there’s all this collateral damage. It’s my way of exploring the idea of if we took one percent of every one percent of every teenager in this country and gave them the power to do anything they wanted to, how would that change American culture and how would we stifle these kids.

Me: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be a working artist?

Michael: Oh, I think as an artist this city is the best city in the country! And I mean that wholeheartedly, with evidence, not just off the cuff. One, there’s just a really active art scene in the city, craft shows, art festivals, comic conventions… a thousand different ways to do it. We have very supportive shops and people who live in Baltimore because they love the forward motion of the city and they look to support local artists and musicians, local restaurants.

On top of that, this is the only city, I think, in the country that’s in the center of so many other cities full of opportunities, Philly, Richmond, New York, DC, Pittsburgh. So there’s just so much art with so many different voices happening in this radius of Baltimore, but Baltimore is actually I think kind of the epicenter, it’s right in the middle of it all.


Rod Van Blake,

Me: Tell me about the books.

Rod: Ancient Illumination came about from me thinking of things that happened long ago and beings made of pure light. I had a what-if scenario, what if there were beings made of pure light, what would that interaction be if they came to stay with us when we were cro-magnon, still in the caveman days, and they tried to teach us? But one kind of thinks we’re too dumb, so he starts experimenting, messing with us.

He gets exiled here on Earth for doing that and is tasked with enlightening mankind. He forms a bunch of different mutated races, we evolve technologically with his help, a bunch of societies raise up with his help. He looks at all the conflict that happens, he watches it and influences it, it’s like a soap opera to him. So we evolved, but not in the proper ways, we become like an entertainment mechanism for him.

Me: That’s a really fascinating premise. So, have you been to Baltimore Comic-Con before?

Rod: This is our third one. When I first came in 2017, I only had one book. We were telling people, hey, next year when I come I’m gonna have book two. So next year we came, I had book two, next year we’re gonna have book three, and hopefully next year we’re going to have the graphic novel of it, which will be a different experience.

Me: Any other artists you’d tell people to check out? I guess there’s the person who did the art for your book?

Rod: JP Jackson Art! He’s local here in Baltimore, you should definitely check him out.


Jordan Purnell Jackson,

Abby: Is there a particular project you’re working on right now that you wanna uplift?

Jordan: When I graduated from college three years ago, my thesis project was called Land of the Wolves. It was an animation, but I also made a prequel comic to it. It’s basically Little Red Riding Hood in a post-apocalyptic future. She’s an Afro-Latina shaman and she’s tasked to go to this forest and find these missing Black women that have been abducted by these wolf-men. My plans are to continue the series where each chapter will alternate between a comic and animated form.

Abby: That sounds awesome! So how do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?

Jordan: I feel it’s a very interesting place, I feel like there’s these pockets, niches, but this city has a great history and culture of cultivating artists.


Timothy J Stambaugh

Abby: So, how long have you been making art?

T.J.: I have been making art since I was a little kid, but I would say that, realistically, I haven’t really been doing it seriously until about, I don’t know, five years ago. I always doodled around, but I never really tried, I guess is the best way I could say it. I had some pretty shitty things happen about five years ago and I felt like I needed something to kind of focus on instead of being sad all the time, so I just put all my energy into that. I started reading and trying to get different artistic theory down and stuff like that. Just every day, drawing, painting, trying to get better, never being happy with what you’re doing, always trying to push myself.

Abby: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?

T.J.: I like it a lot. There’s a lot of places where you can go show your work, it’s pretty welcoming to kind of every skill level. And it was easy for me to find people that were interested in what I was doing, which is nice, you know what I mean? Especially when I started, I didn’t have any experience, I didn’t know what I was doing. A lot of times with artists, you get that snobbery or that cliquey-ness, like if you’re not one of them, it doesn’t really count, and I never really got that here.


Kata Kane,

Abby: Tell me about Altar Girl.

Kata: I started it as a webcomic, it’s a shojo manga style comic with all of my favorite things that I love about manga — magical girls and supernatural stuff, angels and demons, romance and crushes, all fun stuff.

Abby: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be a working artist?

Kata: I love Baltimore, there’s definitely an art scene here. I actually help run a group called Bmore Into Comics (, it’s writers and artists and just comic book fans and creators, we get together and we do small local shows in different places in the city. We used to do a lot of shows at the Windup Space, which has since closed, that was kind of like our home base. So right now, we’re kind of in a transitional period where we’re trying to find the next spot. Yeah, so I love the art scene in Baltimore, it’s a great place to be a creator.


Erin Whitt Hilker,

Me: What got you started doing Bleed Geeks?

Erin: I cloth-diapered Bjorn, but I hadn’t been using cloth pads at that point. It wasn’t until Erica, who was selling mass market cloth pads at Greenberries, came to me with their question of “Can we make a cloth pad that is water-resistant but doesn’t cut off air flow, that’s not water-proof?” because a solid water-proofing is what was preventing the airflow, and they were finding that their customers were saying, “Well I want to use cloth pads but the humidity is giving me a rash or causing me discomfort.” And there just weren’t any commercial options for that one, so I sat down to see if I could.

Me: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?

Erin: I love it, it’s… coming from a more rural area, it’s lovely to be able to walk around and not be visibly, obviously weird. There is so much creativity in our town. Baltimore is creative on a fundamental level, and I just love being adjacent to it, I love being a part of it, I love living here.


Many thanks to all of these talented and fascinating folks! I had to cut a lot to get everything to fit, and one of the questions I asked but didn’t include was “What’s your favorite comic shop in Baltimore?” Shout-out to Collectors Corner, which no fewer than four of the profiled artists cited, with multiple people saying that the owner, Randy, was a huge support to them when they were starting out.

On a more somber note, like many, I reacted with shock and sadness on Thursday when I woke up to the news of the untimely death of west Baltimore U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a man whose work for civil rights and accountability commanded respect across all levels of society. Congressman Cummings once wrote of Baltimore, in the Afro-American newspaper (, “We are a community that is almost compulsively honest and candid. We do not hesitate to critique and protest what we see as lacking and wrong in our City.”

Amen, sir. In that vein, and I can’t stress this enough — Free Keith Davis, Jr.!!



Cultural Event of the Week: This Saturday night, 10/26, a spectacular Baltimore tradition celebrates its 20th birthday — the Great Halloween Lantern Parade & Festival! Produced by the Creative Alliance and the Friends of Patterson Park, in partnership with Baltimore Recreation & Parks, the day starts at 3pm with a kids costume contest, lantern making, hayrides, an arts and crafts market, and live music by Albert Bagman, Cultura Plenera, and others. There will also be food trucks and a beer garden. And of course, when the sun sets, the lanterns come out for their procession, with floats and glowing sculptures lining the pathway around the park. /

Green Event of the Week: This Saturday morning is the Mayor’s annual Fall cleanup, when people around the city arm themselves with gloves, bags, and roll-off trash containers to do battle with litter. More than 100 neighborhoods are signed up to participate this year; check the list below to see if yours is one and, if so, reach out to your local community association for details.

Song of the Week: “Artists Only” by The Talkings Heads
I don’t have to prove / That I am creative / I don’t have to prove / That I am creative / All my pictures are confused / And now I’m going to / Take me to you

Tony Calandra
Michael Bracco
Rod Van Blake. All of the pictures were taken by me except this one, I totally blanked on getting a shot of Rod. His photo was lifted with permission from his Amazon bio (
Jordan Purnell Jackson
T.J. Stambaugh
Kata Kane
Erica Love [also of Bleed Geeks] & Erin Whitt Hilker

One Baltimore #21, The Line


“The century and a half of intense belligerency between Baltimore City and Baltimore County, largely over the suburban territory…”

Dr. Joseph L. Arnold, historian

In the very first One Baltimore (, I talked about the weirdness of growing up in Woodlawn, just barely on the county side of the city-county line (a five-minute walk, according to Google Maps). It was this strange sense of a place arbitrarily divided, more than anything else, that inspired the name for the column.

Of course, despite my desire for Baltimorean solidarity, in everything I’ve written so far, I’ve focused on events and issues within the city and ignored the county. Partly, it’s because, hey, there’s a lot going on in the city and I know a lot more about it since I live here now. Partly it’s a reflex, after many years of working for programs that are only applicable to people within the city limits. And yeah, my single-minded focus on the city also comes from a feeling of partisanship… we just get shat on so much and suffer so much as compared to our wealthier, encircling neighbor.

These thoughts in mind, I decided to do some research on how the city-county line came to sit where it does today. Below is a short recap of highlights from “Suburban Growth and Municipal Annexation in Baltimore, 1745-1918”, published by the late historian Joseph L. Arnold (you can read it here, starting on page 109: I know that a book report probably isn’t what you came here for, but bear with me, there are quotes about beer and near-riots!

Baltimore Town, as it was then known, was founded in 1730 on sixty acres around what is today the Inner Harbor. Its first expansion occurred in 1745, at the request of the residents of the adjacent Jonestown. Over the next half-century, the city boundaries were expanded twelve more times, mostly taking on small open stretches of land for new development.

By the early 1800’s, large numbers of people lived in “the precincts” of Baltimore County, adjacent to the city. In 1816, the city proposed taking them over, expanding the city line up to North Avenue and out to encompass about a third each of today’s east and west sides. City residents initially supported the annexation, while those in the precincts opposed it, not wanting their taxes to go up. However, the fate of the bill ultimately hinged on considerations altogether different.

Baltimore City had just two state delegates then, while Baltimore County had four. The city and the precincts at the time were largely Republican, while the rural parts of the county were largely Federalist, and the Federalists realized that by putting all of their opponents in one under-represented place, they would gain more power. The Republicans tried to amend the bill to give the city more delegates, but this failed and, in the end, the bill was passed in 1817 “against the consent of nine-tenths, perhaps, of the people” in the city and precincts.

For decades afterwards, most of Baltimore’s population growth was within the new boundaries, but by the close of the Civil War, the suburbs had sprung up once again. Known this time as “the belt”, they contained one-third of Baltimore County’s population but two-thirds of its tax value, so rural residents had a huge incentive to hold onto them. Belt residents had reason to resist annexation too, since they used city schools, fire, police, and other facilities without having to financially support them. As one city leader said at the time, “They want to receive all the benefits of the city, and then evade their share of the burdens.”

In addition to these factors, a change to the state constitution in 1864 ensured that any new fight for annexation would be much harder. While before, all that had been needed in order to expand was approval from the state legislature, now no territory could be transferred from one county to another without the consent of the affected electorate.
In 1874, after a bitter political struggle, the state permitted the city to expand one mile to the east, one mile to the west, and two miles to the north, subject to the approval of the majority of voters in those areas. City leaders campaigned strenuously, promising that newly-annexed residents would get all sorts of new services but only pay half the city tax rate for the first ten years.

The belt-dwellers were unconvinced. According to the Baltimore Sun at the time, “One of the City Senators told the somewhat inebriated assembly that with annexation they would have pure piped water instead of polluted wells; but the crowd shouted back, ‘We don’t want it, we have plenty of beer!’”

Residents of Highlandtown and Canton to the east had special concerns about annexation, particularly that city nuisance regulations would drive out the area’s many refineries, distilleries, breweries, and slaughterhouses. They also worried that the closing of saloons and beer gardens on Sundays would cramp their style. “The mere attempt of city leaders to hold a pro-annexation meeting in Highlandtown almost led to a riot, the organizers of the meeting cutting the program short and rushing back across the city line before actual violence ensued.” The bill went down in defeat.

In 1888, a new annexation bill passed the legislature, offering even more generous terms for delayed taxation of the areas to be added. This time, the north, east, and west sides of the Belt were allowed to vote separately. The west and north sections voted in favor, expanding the city up near Cold Spring Lane to the north and out to cover about two-thirds of today’s west side, while the eastern area stayed out in a close vote.

The annexation was challenged in court, but the Maryland Court of Appeals declared that not only could the legislature expand the city boundaries, voter approval was not in fact required to do so, because the state law about it referred to the counties, not to the city. What a bitter pill for the people who brought the suit!

The final push for expansion of the city started in 1912. This time, it was not so much about practical issues like who pays how much for what services, but rather about a perception of competitiveness. Baltimore, once one of the largest cities in the nation, had been pushed down to 7th place by Pittsburgh’s “mad rush to absorb adjacent towns” prior to the census of 1910. If the city dropped lower in the rankings in the next census, the region’s business class feared that it would be seen as a “slow place” and that this would “do the state and the city incalculable harm.”

The ensuing fight in the legislature took years and caused great political upheaval. Various proposals, one to annex a whopping 150 square miles and to divide the new areas into semi-autonomous boroughs, came and went without success. In 1918, with the next census almost at hand, business interests launched a major campaign to bring 52 square miles of new territory into the city, including a sizable portion in the south that belonged then to Anne Arundel County. It was a narrow thing, but this time, thanks in large part to another sweetheart deal on taxes, the bill passed, leaving us with our current city boundaries.

In 1948, with the suburbs rising once more, a Baltimore County Senator introduced an amendment to the state constitution that would keep the city from expanding again without the consent of those to be annexed. The bill passed easily, and annexation since then has been seen as a political impossibility, with no one even trying to make it happen.

Hope at least a few of enjoyed this little dive into history! I think I’ll be doing more from time to time, I really enjoy learning about how we got where we are.

A couple of additional notes for this week:

Free Fall Baltimore is underway! Every year, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts and its partners make a bunch of local cultural events admission-free. It lasts through November 10th, check out the list here:

Also, Happy Indigenous Peoples Day (in our hearts, if not yet by law)!

Finally, I want to acknowledge that it’s been an incredibly bloody week for our city. Seventeen people were shot over the weekend, including a two-year old child caught in what appears to be a road-rage incident, of all the senseless things.

I haven’t focused much on community violence in Baltimore so far, feeling like I don’t understand it as well as I could, and also like dealing with police violence, on which I’ve spent a considerable amount of words, is a necessary step to solving any other violence (a former BPD detective, who’s turned her efforts towards community empowerment since leaving the force, agrees:

There are a LOT of people on the ground devoted to stemming the tide of community violence, and it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to get to know what they’re doing and support them. This Tuesday, 10/15, check out the The Real News Network’s monthly Real Talk Tho segment, a community forum for conversation, as they cover “How Baltimore Ceasefire Cuts Violence in Half” (

And lastly, Free Keith Davis Jr.!! (I realized it might not be wise to clutter up the tag with articles that don’t actually deal with his case)


Cultural Event of the Week:

Opening on Friday, 10/18, and running for three weeks, the Strand Theater Company on Harford Road is producing A Shayna Maidel, the story of a pair of Jewish sisters in the late 1940s, one raised in America, and one just arrived from Poland after a harrowing ordeal in a concentration camp. The Strand focuses solely on the works of women artists, and has an outstanding track record of thought-provoking and beautiful pieces. /

Green Event of the Week:

Stormwater! It gets contaminated on its way downhill by everything from oil on the streets to trash in the gutters to sewage in the streams, and then it fouls up our water bodies (did you know that before European colonization, the waters of the Inner Harbor were crystal clear? blew my mind too). This Wednesday, 10/16, join a committee of local experts as they present their recommendations to the City Council as to how we can clean up our dirty, dirty water.

Song of the Week: “Living on a Thin Line” by The Kinks

Is there nothing we can say or do? / Blame the future on the past / Always lost in blood and guts / And when they’re gone, it’s me and you / Living on a thin line / Tell me now, what are we supposed to do? / Living on a thin line / Tell me now, what are we supposed to do?

An illustration from Dr. Arnold’s article cited above, with colors and additional labels added by Redditor Joke_Insurance in this post:

One Baltimore #20, Update Roundup


I tossed myself into writing this column just over six months ago, not knowing for sure if I could keep it up or if people would be interested. So far it’s going strong on both counts! Thank you so, so much for following along with me this last half-year, I deeply appreciate it. With this being a minor milestone, twenty being a nice round number, and a LOT having happened on the topics I’ve covered so far, I figured this would be a good week for some updates.

#5, “Atiya Wells” (

I didn’t set out intending to do many interviews, but it’s become one of my favorite ways to tell stories. My first was with Atiya Wells, founder of BLISS Meadows, a new agricultural and educational project in northeast Baltimore. Her group was then in the midst of a down-to-the-wire funding campaign to purchase a vacant building for conversion into a community center. Hundreds of people chipped in with donations large and small… and the project reached full funding in time to move forward!!

Phase one, the acquisition of the property, is now wrapping up. Phase two – putting in the major work necessary to get it open and running – will be beginning shortly. You can follow up with them and donate at

#7, “Keith Davis, Jr.” ( and #11, “A Single Life” (

Many police and state actions in Baltimore shock the conscience, but this case defines the phrase. I find myself wanting to recap it all in detail again, but suffice to say that Keith Davis, Jr. was shot by the police over a robbery he didn’t commit and then sloppily framed for murder half a year later when they couldn’t connect him to the original case. Most everyone without a vested interest in the state’s success expected Keith to finally be exonerated this summer at the conclusion of his third trial for the same crime… but the jury found him guilty.

On the Undisclosed podcast, Amelia McDonnell-Perry breaks down some of what happened to tip the scales of justice ( In closing arguments alone, there were multiple shady doings by Patrick Seidel, the state’s prosecutor, such as showing the jury a powerpoint that hadn’t previously been entered into evidence, misrepresenting how DNA analysis works, saying that Keith robbed a hack driver (the event which precipitated his shooting by the cops) despite the hack driver himself stating multiple times that Keith was not the right man and a previous jury clearing him of those charges, and bringing up irrelevant personal details of his relationship with his wife to smear his character.

On Thursday, November 14th at 9:30am, Keith’s sentencing hearing will take place in the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse downtown. The judge is also expected at this time to rule on the defense’s motion for a new trial in light of the state’s misconduct (of which the examples above are a drop in the bucket). Supporters will be packing the room in a show of solidarity – hope to see you there.

#9A & 9B, “Opal” ( and and #13, “The Barricade” (

Over several columns, my friend Opal and I explored some of the events surrounding the JHU Sit-in this spring, in which students occupied and eventually shut down a main campus office building in protest against issues of injustice. Let’s review where things stand on the sit-in’s demands.

1) No private police – Ongoing. In July, administrators finally sat down with student protesters to discuss the university’s plan to create its own armed, private police force, a conversation which before they’d refused to even have. While all parties agreed that more meetings were needed, none have yet been scheduled, and the timeline for the rollout of the new force, as well as its footprint beyond the campus’s borders, remain unknown.

2) End contracts with ICE – A major win! After a year of resistance by students and supporters, notably the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE, JHU announced last month that it was ending its multi-million dollar contract with U.S. Immigrants & Customs Enforcement ( However, much work remains to be done to dismantle the university’s other collaborations with state violence, as eloquently detailed by organizers here:

3) Justice for Tyrone West — Ongoing. Tyrone’s family remains without accountability for his murder. However, all these months after the movement for justice for Tyrone West and the sit-in first connected, the two groups are still participating in each other’s events and uplifting each other’s messages, so chalk it up at least as a win for solidarity.

Last week, student organizers hand-delivered a letter to the JHU Board of Trustees detailing major concerns with institutional governance revealed by the response to the sit-in. Read it here —

#12, “World Class” (

All summer long, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians were picketing in front of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall after the orchestra’s board abruptly canceled the summer season and locked them out. Last month, the musicians and the board finally agreed on a one-year compromise contract ( that will see their season shortened but their salaries mostly remain intact. 

The future is unclear, with revenues down and with Governor Hogan still withholding millions of dollars allocated by the state to support the symphony, but for now, at least, the music continues.

#15, “Highs & Lows” (

Back in August, I was suspended from my job with the City of Baltimore after coming up positive for marijuana on a random drug test. After seven weeks out on sick leave, I’m finally cleared to return to work this week.

In order to keep my job, I’ve been going once a week to a substance abuse group session. Literally every other person in the group is there because of a DUI/DWI charge, so I’ve learned a lot about the effects of alcohol on the body. I’ve also learned that while I wouldn’t prefer it, sobriety is a breeze for me, so… nice to have it confirmed for myself that I do not, in fact, have a problem. Great use of city time and money all around. 

I’ve gotten a touching outpouring of support from colleagues, both publicly and privately, and I have some leads now on how I might challenge the policy that led to this wasteful and aggravating situation. But it turns out I might not need to take on that slog alone! A couple of weeks ago, Council Member Shannon Sneed introduced a bill to ban marijuana testing for new City employees ( It wouldn’t help someone in my situation who’s already employed (I got caught up in a new policy of testing people with licenses to drive city vehicles), but I’m reaching out to her to see if she would be willing to expand the scope of her bill.

#16, Welcoming Committee (

For a few days in the middle of last month, the Republicans of the U.S. House of Representatives were in town for a retreat, and a bunch of us made it our mission to make sure they knew they weren’t welcome (shout-out to uber-organizer Cristi Linn). We organized events, slapped flyers up on poles all over town, made banners and costumes, and even built a big ol’ prop guillotine on wheels.

While it was a symbolic set of actions, it felt great to be out and doing something, and it also had some real, positive practical results. We got to know each other better, built new connections, created new art, and pushed out the messages that were most important to us. There’s a picture of me in USA Today with a Free Keith Davis, Jr. shirt, so that’s pretty sweet (

At the press conference we held for the Welcoming Committee events (watch it here:, Opal and I debuted Baltimore for Border Justice (the page is still just a stub, but follow us for more), an idea we first developed while out west this summer, as described in OB # 10, “Borders” ( The “LGBTQ+ & Allies Dance Party Protest” we held on the waterfront outside the hotel was officially BFBJ’s first event, and was covered in Baltimore OUTLoud, the local gay paper (! Reading the article at Night Shift Nightclub, the area’s newest LGBT bar, was a special thrill (also, fyi, it ROCKS, I’m looking to interview the manager soon).

#17, Voices (

In this one, I examined a City Council bill that would end the practice of forcing victims of police brutality to sign gag orders in order to receive settlements. The hearing for the bill took place the week after the column went up and it was intense. Families and advocates shared emotional personal stories and pleas for almost two hours (video here: The bill passed out of committee and will now go to the full Council for a vote.

This is an excellent step for fairness and transparency, but we’re not in the clear yet. Mayor Jack Young has the power to veto bills, and he has placed himself squarely against this one. Right before the hearing, he actually released an executive order which he touted as ending gag orders, thus appearing to render the bill unnecessary (… except that if you actually read the language, it only bans “unreasonable” gag orders, and the person who decides what’s reasonable or not is the City Solicitor, the very person writing the gag orders in the first place. 

The Council needs a ¾ majority to overturn a veto, so every vote will count. I haven’t yet reached out to any of these folks to confirm their stances, so take it with a grain of salt, but I’ve been told by another advocate that Council Members who may hesitate to override the Mayor if it comes down to it include Pinkett, Bullock, Cohen, Reisinger, and Costello. Please reach out to your council rep about this issue whichever district you’re in, but maybe make a special point of it if you’re in one of theirs.



Cultural Events of the Week: Everything is on fire in 2019 – on this we can all agree. But can we do anything about it? Maybe while also having fun and drinking? This Friday, 10/11, the wonderful Grayson Gross has organized an evening of comedy, music, poetry, puppets, and mead at Charm City Meadworks to raise funds for Amazon Watch, which fights to save the planet’s lungs by supporting the indigenous populations leading the fight. There’ll also be open mic slots, which I’m definitely jumping on!

Green Event of the Week: Planting trees is so satisfying. You’re outside working up a mild sweat and then these big, beautiful living things are in the ground at the end, and you think about the lives they’re gonna live and all the good they’re gonna do. This Saturday morning, 10/12, the Friends of Herring Run Parks will be holding a tree planting and, as a bonus, DJ 4/4 will be in attendance laying down beats! Tools, gloves, and snacks provided.

Song of the Week: “Baltimore” by The Extra Glenns

Will you hold on for just a minute / Will you hold on while I catch my breath / Listen, in Baltimore / You’ll uncover what you’re digging for / In Baltimore, ah / You will find what you’ve been waiting for

Opal and I at the Night Shift selfie station with a copy of OutLoud. We’re gay news, y’all!!

One Baltimore #19, The Accused


“I wouldn’t raise cockroaches in that place. I preferred working at the animal and medical waste facility. I recall everything being grimy, it was all under-lit… can a building be malevolent? Like, can a building hate you?

Just being in it made me tired in my soul. The inmates are hostile, and the guards have this air of malice, indifference, and contempt. And then you have the building itself, which is ancient and run-down. Where it’s lit well, it’s harsh fluorescent, but mostly it’s dim.

It’s just an aggregate of misery, despair, a melange of human suffering. I hated it, I hated being there, I hate driving by it… I avoid that block whenever possible. It’s a storage facility for humans that we don’t want to think about.

I’ve been in a juvenile facility in PA as an inmate, and I did work for a county facility, and in both of those cases, it was still an institution, but they were both cleaner, less oppressive in a medieval sort of way. They were places you sent and housed people, not an oubliette.”

— My friend J, who did camera maintenance at Central Booking through a contractor.

In September 2018, Shawn Leak was accused of a non-violent robbery and charges were filed. Shawn was dismissed from a job around that time but didn’t know why. They got a new job, only to be fired once again in February of this year, which was when they learned about the charges. This month, over a year later, the charges were dismissed when the accuser failed to produce evidence they’d claimed to have.

Was Shawn innocent or guilty? They’re my friend and they say they didn’t do it, but I’m not actually speaking to that question. Instead, I want to look at what they experienced simply facing an accusation.

In many ways, when it comes to Baltimore’s criminal justice machine, this is a non-story. Shawn wasn’t beaten, held for months, forced to scrape up exorbitant bail, or anything like that. They just took a stroll through the system. And yet, when they told me about it, I could see the visceral horror that the memories elicited. Below is our interview, edited for length and clarity.


Shawn: My name is Shawn Leak, I’m 27 years old. I guess if I had to give myself a title, I’d say that I’m a community-building activist, organizer, and artist. I come from Washington, DC, I rep my city wherever I am, and I’ve been living in Baltimore for a little over a year now.

Abby: How’s it treating you?

Shawn: It’s been an interesting little rollercoaster… Baltimore is slowly but surely growing on me.

Abby: I’m glad to hear that! I wanted to talk about your experience going through Central Booking. It’s just such a dark and traumatizing place from everything I’ve heard, and I wanna get more people to look at that. So… what was it about?

Shawn: Long story short, I got caught up in some mistaken identity stuff. There was a warrant out for my arrest that affected my employment. After months of trying to figure out a way of rectifying the situation without turning myself in, because I have solid proof that it wasn’t me, I just gave up and was like, “You know what, fuck it, if this is the process I have to go through, I’m gonna have to go through it.”

I willingly turned myself in, and surprisingly, I had an easier time than I know the average person has. The officers that I was interacting with, they were kind of like, “Damn, sorry you gotta go through this…” But still, yeah, it’s a shitty-ass, unnecessary-ass process, it just… it fucking sucks, man.

Abby: So what was the process?

Shawn: I had to turn myself in to the district where the warrant was issued, and then they took me to Central Booking. From the moment I was in the paddy wagon, “UGH, germs!” ’cause I’m sitting in this metal box and I’m seeing blood smears —

Abby: Oh!

Shawn: — on the chairs and stuff across from me. I’m like “Y’all don’t clean shit out, no? Y’all just leaving DNA, ok… germs…” So, the whole ride, I’m like, “I wonder what other bodily fluids I’m sitting in!”

Abby: Are you shackled at this time?

Shawn: Yeah, I have flexie cuffs on, ’cause like I said, they were kinda sympathetic, and I was like, “Yo, can I not have the bracelets…” And I know, especially as a Black queer person, that is not typical whatsoever, but thank god, that was my experience.

Abby: Was that the first time you’d been arrested?

Shawn: Yeah, as an adult, as something not attached to activism. So, we get to Central Booking, and then, while we had to wait for the guards to come and open two sets of jail doors, that’s when it got real to me —

Abby: “Oh shit, I’m going inside.”

Shawn: I’m going to jail and it’s not just gonna be some quick… when those first set of metal door closed behind me, I’m like… fuck, I’m going through this for realsies, I don’t have a whole team of people —

Abby: — waiting outside to bail you out.

Shawn: Right. At this point, nobody knew, because I got up one morning and I was like “fuck it, let me take care of this shit.” I didn’t realize that I was gonna have to go through the entire process.

Abby: Ohhh, you thought it was maybe gonna be more like a paperwork situation…

Shawn: Yeah, or I thought at the most it would be a quick in and out.

Abby: So the doors close, now you’re inside.

Shawn: Yeah, and I can’t even explain it… you walk in and you’re aware of the cameras, you’re aware of these thick-ass metal doors, you’re aware that you literally cannot go any-fucking-where or do any-fucking-thing without being told. If you had any hope of having some type of freedom in any part of this process prior to then, all that shit was just stripped the fuck away.

You have people who are not all there mentally for various reasons, whether they are off their psych meds, whether they are off of their drug maintenance meds, whether they are withdrawing, it’s just so much going on! And then you got people like myself who are just like… I just gotta go through this process.

It’s crowded, it’s loud, and then the first cell I was put in was, like, seven of us, and it was an interesting bunch, it was like all of those different types of people that I just described in one little tiny… probably, my room [where we were conducting the interview] was definitely bigger —

Abby: Oh shit, this is not a large bedroom as they go. You can stretch your legs out a little bit, but —

Shawn: Not in that holding cell… so yeah, you have this one lady passed out, and you could tell she’s homeless or whatever, and then she’s also high out of her fucking mind and is like, withdrawing and shit, she’s wrapped around the base of the toilet, just passed out. And her body odor, it was a lot. And then you’ve got her friend who is slouched, taking up literally an entire section of the only seating area along the wall and I’m like yo, can you watch your feet, I don’t want to have to hit you out of reflex because your dirty ass feet touch me ’cause you shifting in your sleep, like why you even stretched out, people are trying to sit down.

Abby: So it’s not ringed with benches so everyone can sit…

Shawn: No, no, it’s very cramped, it’s like you get in where you fit in. And then it’s freezing fucking cold, which kinda thank god, because, uh, germs every-fucking-where, but also, you look up and you see the ventilation, and nah, cold air is not a saving grace because it’s filtrated through wads of toilet paper and jail toilet water that has been thrown up there to stop the air flow… so yeah, like, germs… germs!! Germs. I was literally sitting like [holds body tightly], “Don’t touch me, I won’t touch you, if it’s anything other than my person it belongs to this facility, I don’t want it any more. I’m gonna burn these clothes once I get out of here!”

After umpteen fucking hours, and maybe three rounds of the holding cell shuffle, I finally see the first Commissioner.

Abby: How long do you think it had been at this point?

Shawn: There’s no window, if your cell ends up somewhere not near a clock, then you can’t tell what time it is. I feel like a good five or so hours? They had just finished up lunch when I had got there, there was a few leftovers they were able to give me.

Abby: What was it they give you?

Shaw: You get four slices of bread. I wouldn’t call it bread but they call it bread. It was just the driest… I could karate chop it, like hi-ya, crack. A tube of this thick-ass peanut butter and a tube of some thick-ass strawberry jam, and both the jam and the peanut butter are super cold, so yeah, how are you spreading that on this damn near crumby bread. And then, they have this little snack-sized package of dry sunflower seed kernels with like regular table salt just sitting in the bottom of the bag. You get one little kindergarten carton of orange drink.

Abby: And after five hours, you get to see a Commissioner?

Shawn: Yes, and this first Commissioner literally just asked me if I wanted a public defender or not. I waited five hours for someone in business casual attire to ask me if I wanted a public defender or not and process the paperwork. I waited five hours for that.

I went back and I didn’t see the next Commissioner until two or three o’clock in the morning. I briefed my public defender on the situation. You’re sitting in this little box, there’s plexiglass between you. They’re sitting in their office and you’re on the jail side, and they speak to you through the intercom, they ask you two or three questions.

She went over my information and was like “Since my client has turned themselves in, we’re asking for them to be let out on their own recognizance until the trial date,” and of course the Commissioner had no other choice because I don’t have a previous record. But yeah, I turned myself in at nine o’clock in the morning, and I did not finish that entire process of being through Central Booking until five or six in the morning the next day.

Abby: And you’re still in limbo?

Shawn: Yeah, there’s this process where you have to check in with a pre-trial officer. You might as well say you’re on probation, similar rules apply. I have not been able to be gainfully employed, because every time an employer pulls up my record, it shows that I have an active criminal warrant, because I’ve not been able to go to trial yet.

Abby: When was it you turned yourself in, back in April?

Shawn: Yeah.

Abby: And July was supposed to be your trial, but you went in and found out it was postponed?

Shawn: Yeah, because of the holiday. The new arraignment date was supposed to be August second, but because I’ve been in pre-trial status for so long, that has to get re-reviewed, which pushes my arraignment back to September twentieth.

[we sigh deeply together]

Abby: Fuck.

Shawn: Big fuck.


Even though the charges have now been dismissed, in order to have an unbiased shot at employment, Shawn has to get them expunged, which can take up to 90 days. In the meantime, they’re hustling hard to get by. You can find ways to follow, donate to, or hire them for dog-walking here:




Cultural Event of the Week: Abdu Ali is one of the biggest names in Baltimore’s music scene, with a sound described as a “phantasmagoria of Rap, Free Jazz, and Avant-Garde electronic music.” Catch Ali at the Ottobar with a whole mess of other artists this Friday night! /

Green Event of the Week: Repairing the everyday items in our lives can feel like a lost art, but it’s one of the simplest ways to reduce our impact on the planet. In a world of planned obsolescence, save your dollars and some carbon at the Fix It Fair, hosted by the Station North Tool Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library this Saturday and Sunday. / 

Song of the Week: “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson
This is the test, no struggle, no progress (Lend) / Lend a hand to help your brother do his best / Things are getting worse, we have to make them better / It’s time to give a damn, let’s work together / Come on now / People of the world today / Are we looking for a better way of life? / We are a part of the rhythm nation

A selfie provided by Shawn.

One Baltimore #18, The Comptroller


Last Thursday, Councilman Bill Henry was kind enough to sit down with me to talk about his run for Baltimore City Comptroller against Joan M. Pratt, who’s held the position for the last 23 years. Full disclosure, I’ve known Bill for many years thanks to his volunteer work in the local arts community and from working together occasionally at my day job.

I’m actually holding a Meet & Greet for him at my house this Sunday, 9/22, from 12-2pm! Snacks and drinks provided, email me at bmore4borderjustice at gmail dot com for the address.

We covered a ton of ground in our talk, including:

  • His childhood in Govans, growing up with a network of civil rights activists and local elected officials,
  • Why he ran for the House of Delegates at the age of 22, while still in college,
  • How he then worked for various politicians, in non-profits, and as a consultant, before spending 12 years on the City Council, and
  • Some of the legislation he’s most proud of from his time in office plus the most frustrating things about our system.

Below is a small portion of our conversation, focusing on what the heck the Comptroller does anyway, and why it’s time for a change. Read the full transcript of the interview here:


Abby: What made you decide to run for Comptroller?

Bill: I had announced to my constituents back in 2016, if I got re-elected, this would be my last term, because I introduced a charter amendment on term limits, and even though it didn’t pass, I still believed that three terms for a council person is enough.

Abby: Give a fresh blood a shot!

Bill: And last fall, I was looking at the Comptroller’s office and what I realized was, there’s a lot of wasted opportunity there. The Comptroller is actually a very powerful position, much more so in many ways than definitely any individual council person, and in some ways, even more so than the collective power of the council in terms of their access to information.

The City Council has oversight over the agencies but they’re really very challenged by what information they have. Whereas with the Comptroller’s office, whenever an agency wants to spend money, it has to be approved by the Board of Estimates, which means you have to send a detailed memo to the Comptroller’s office explaining what you wanna do and why.

Abby: Yup, I’ve written a number of Board of Estimates memos.

Bill: Right, so here’s the thing, if you think about all the information that goes into a Board of Estimates memo, and then you think about the paragraph summary that actually shows up on the Board of Estimates agenda, that paragraph summary is all the rest of us see. Now, you could say that the purpose clause of a bill is like the paragraph summary on the Board of Estimates agenda, because that purpose clause is all that shows up on the City Council agenda.

Abby: Yeah, but I figured out how, on the City Council website, to look at the full text of a bill, because it’s all about what it actually would do in detail.

Bill: And not just the full text of the bill, but you can go on to Legistar, the tracking database, and you can also see everything else in the bill file, all the agency reports, amendments that were passed, if people have written letters in support. But on the Board of Estimates, the only information… if you wanted to find out about when was the last time we put out a contract to dredge Druid Lake, the way that you would find that out on the Comptroller’s website would be to click on the scanned-in PDF of last week’s Board of Estimates agenda, look in the table of contents, and if it’s not there, go click on the week before, and if it’s not there, go click on the week before, and keep doing that for the last three or four years until you find it.

Abby: Holy shit.

Bill: Because there’s no database. And even when you click on that PDF, all you’re seeing is the summary. All that back-up information that agencies put a lot of work into is just sitting in a file in the Comptroller’s office where only they have access to it.

Abby: So, I take it one of the things that you’d be interested in doing as Comptroller is increasing transparency.

Bill: Oh my god, yes. That is… it is such low-hanging fruit. The City Council has had Legistar online since 2006. That’s 13 years that the second floor [of City Hall, where the Comptroller’s office is housed] has seen the fourth floor [of City Hall, where the council members have their offices] doing this and gone “ehh.”

Abby: So, the Board of Estimates is the Mayor, the Comptroller and one other person?

Bill: Five people on the Board of Estimates, the Mayor and the Comptroller, the Council President, they’re the three elected officials on the board, but then the City Solicitor and the Director of Public Works also sit on the board and that is why the city is the way it is, because they both work for the Mayor, so…

Abby: Oh, so the Mayor ends up having, like, three votes out of five. So the Comptroller, my understanding of that role is that they’re in charge of financials for the city…

Bill: The Director of Finance is really the CFO for the city, the Comptroller is more responsible for being the financial watchdog. The Comptroller sees everything that the Mayor and the administration are doing, and it’s the Comptroller’s job to go “Hey… this doesn’t make sense.” And one of the problems we’ve had for the last 23 years is our Comptroller never says, “Hey…” Previous comptrollers went to the media and said, “Hey… did you see what the Mayor is trying to do here?”

Abby: Ah, so there was a much more public facing role to the office.

Bill: If you knew that DOT had repaved Roland Avenue [which runs through well-to-do parts of town] multiple times in a relatively short span of years and each time had paid millions of dollars to do it… if you’re the Mayor, you’re not gonna go out of your way to play that up, but every time that is done, paperwork goes through the Comptroller’s office.

Abby: And you feel like that watchdog role is not being played by the current Comptroller.

Bill: Not being played at all. And I mean, to some extent it’s a personality thing. Joan [M. Pratt, the current Comptroller] is a very nice lady, she’s very low-key, just as an individual, and she’s not naturally communicative. And when I say that, I wanna be careful about my criticism because I don’t think of myself as being particularly good at self-promotion, compared to some of my colleagues and former colleagues. But when the job itself requires you to communicate information out, I’m happy to do that, and I try. She doesn’t even try.

Abby: One thing I say to people when I’m talking about this race and why it matters is that it doesn’t seem like the finances have gone great in the last couple of decades…

Bill: I think that Baltimore has made a lot of bad decisions, and I have to ask, would we have made better decisions if more of us had been better informed?

Abby: So, aside from the transparency, oversight, public watchdog stuff, is there anything else to say in terms of what you would do as comptroller?

Bill: Sure, so that first thing is modernizing the office and making it more open and transparent. The Comptroller oversees the Department of Audits, that is also very under-utilized.

Abby: Do we have agency audits at this point?

Bill: We do have agency audits, we’ve spent some serious time over the last couple of years putting requirements in the charter as to how many agencies have to be audited and how often. The charter now requires us to audit 16 key agencies every other year, so 8 a year. And my problem with that is the Comptroller’s office treats that as their goal and not as the floor.

We should be auditing specific operations, we could be doing performance audits on specific operations in each agency. How does DOT determine the inspections process for construction jobs? I cannot believe with all the complaints and concerns we’ve had over the last several years that the Comptroller has not done a performance audit on the water billing system.

I don’t usually do Bible or religious things in campaigns, but there’s a story in the Bible called The Parable of the Talents. Are you familiar? Okay, so a master takes two servants, and gives them each of measure of wealth —

Abby: Oh riiight, and one of them buries it, one of them invests it and comes back with more.

Bill: Right, and the one who buried it says, “Look, I kept it safe.” Like, Joan is so the servant who buried her talent. She’s just run it, or technically just kept it running. It hasn’t been run as much as it’s been administrated, or managed, and there’s been no proactivity, no vision.

Baltimore can be so much better than it is, but if we’re gonna be better, we’re gonna have to make better choices, and if we’re gonna run Baltimore differently, in a lot of cases that’s gonna mean we’re gonna have to get comfortable with different people doing things. We have a tendency to just treat incumbents like if they didn’t make a big mistake —

Abby: Right, if you’re just scandal-free…

Bill: We just send them back. Incumbency shouldn’t be about being a default choice. The advantage of incumbency should be, you have an opportunity to show the people what you have accomplished.

Abby: Speaking of scandals, there is one more thing I should mention, and that’s that Joan Pratt is… well, was, I think the store’s closed now… business partners with [former Mayor] Catherine Pugh for many years. And so that was a red flag for me, with Pugh’s scandal. Is there any there-there to your mind?

Bill: I have no idea whether the fact that she was business partners with Catherine Pugh is going to mean that she’s gonna get pulled into any of Catherine Pugh’s legal problems. I do know that I found it troubling that when that issue was raised during the 2016 mayoral campaign, and it was raised on Catherine’s end, because Joan’s already Comptroller, and now one of the Comptroller’s business partners is running for Mayor —

Abby: — and theoretically they’re supposed to be, like, checks and balances on each other, and they have a vested financial interest in each other!

Bill: — and what Catherine said at the time was “I don’t think it’ll be a problem, but I’m happy to just divest my interest in the business,” but then she never did. So, the one thing I would say that I find troubling is it apparently never occurred to Joan that it was also an option for her to divest herself of the business.

Abby: It seems like a pretty strong conflict of interest to me.

Bill: I would think so too.

Abby: Okay, well, we gotta wrap up. Thank you, Bill, this has been great.


To learn more about Bill’s race for Comptroller and how you can get involved, visit or

Also! The Maryland Trans Resilience Conference is coming up on Saturday, hosted by Trans Healthcare MD and The Baltimore Trans Alliance, check it out!





Cultural Event of the Week: Ducky Dynamo was kind enough to donate her DJ talents to the LGBTQ+ Dance Party Protest we held last week in response to the Republican retreat, and DAAAMNN, we couldn’t have lucked out more, I couldn’t stop moving!! This Thursday night, she’s presenting (you)SB: Open Ducks s2:e3 at The Depot, an open mic night for local DJ’s.

Green Event of the Week: In advance of the UN Climate Summit next week, there is a Global Climate Strike ( starting this Friday, 9/20, largely led by young people. The Baltimore Climate Strike is being led by Sunrise Movement Baltimore. If you can, ditch work that day, get down to the Inner Harbor and add your voice to theirs.

Song of the Week: “It’s Money That Matters” by Randy Newman
Of all of the people that I used to know / Most never adjusted to the great big world / I see them lurking in book stores / Working for the Public Radio / Carrying their babies around in a sack on their back / Moving careful and slow / It’s money that matters, hear what I say / It’s money that matters in the USA

The man himself.
Meet & Greet invite, mildly redacted (and yes, I know you can all easily find my last name and I’m being silly blocking it out, idk, just tryna make any trolls do slightly more work).

Announcement & Invitation

Astute readers will already have noticed that the column is running late… I was hoping to put it out today, but at this point I gotta admit to myself and y’all that it’s gonna be tomorrow at this point. Got the interview transcribed but still gotta edit/package it. I’ll reveal the topic, though — Councilman Bill Henry’s run for Comptroller, which I think is super important to Baltimore’s future.

The reason I didn’t just skip this week entirely, considering the non-stop-ness of last week (the Baltimore Welcoming Committee stuff, as outlined in, went really well!!), is that I’m actually hosting a Meet & Greet for Bill at my home this weekend, and want to get the column out in time to help promote it! It’ll be this Sunday, 9/22 from 12-2pm, with snacks, sodas, and wine provided.

The original version of the flyer has my irl last name (which is not exactly a secret, but which I’m trying to use less when it comes to the type of writing and activism I do in this space) and my home address, so I’ve blocked those bits out. If you’d like to attend, just email me at bmore4borderjustice at gmail dot com. 🙂 Would love to see you!