New Criticals

D'Angelo most explicitly emphasizes this point. We see all of his reservations and hesitations about the various unavoidable facts of "the Game": betrayal, suffering, senseless violence. He tries to "buck" at various points, even encouraging Wallace to go back to school and get out before it's too late. But he always finds himself dragged back into the game. Before he is sentenced to prison, while being interrogated by McNulty and Bunk, D' articulates this perfectly: "Ya'll don't' get it. You grow up in this shit. My grandfather was Butch Danford. All my people man: my father, my uncle, my cousins. It's just what we do. You just live with this shit, until you can't breathe no more" He then looks down to a picture of Wallace's bloody body and continues: "I was courtside for eight months, and I was freer in jail than I was at home." ("Sentencing," Season 1, Episode 13).

This is the irony of incarceration. For many criminals, the experience of freedom and autonomy sometimes only becomes possible precisely in an actual prison, when they are finally forced to extract themselves from an environment inside which the horizon of "choices" are rigidly predetermined. Very rarely can one simply "decide," through a heroic effort of "metaphysical free will," to change who they are without a corresponding change in where they are: habits are always interpenetrated by habitats. The ghetto and the "street" are not simply geographical places, but identities, moralities, cultures. Just like any other sense of local or national pride, there is an irrevocable identification and loyalty to one's terra firma, one's "land," one's turf, one's home. The organism and its environment, the individual and her community, exist in a diaphanous and dialectical relationship—to think one is necessarily to think the other. In matters of culinary taste—wine, coffee, tea—the term terroir is used to describe the taste of the soil, the season, the history that made possible the final fruit. So too do "individuals" retain these traces of their terroir. "Who" they are cannot be separate from "how" they came to be. Hyper-individualistic, liberal notions of the individual—a paradigm that dominates American politics, economics, and culture, and, subsequently, the responses to crime and justice—assume that the fruit that is the "individual" somehow grows in a vacuum—sans  soil, sans sun, sans water. It is a notion of individuality—most certainly influenced by religious notions of creation—where we somehow emerge ex nihilo, ahistorically, over and above earth upon which we tread. But this view reduces the individual to a creature that is effectively dead. To have no terroir is to have no distinguishable qualities, no refinement, no "taste," no life at all.