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Baltimore crime figure who inspired Cutty on 'The Wire' writes novel based on his experiences in prison

Baltimore crime figure who inspired Cutty on 'The Wire' writes novel based on his experiences in prison
Dennis Wise, shown in this 1994 photo taking part in an inmate program that taught peaceful solutions, has written a third novel, "The Last Stop." (Andre Lambertson / Baltimore Sun)

David West, the creation of novelist Dennis Wise, is a jailed felon serving a double life sentence and tagged an "ongoing public safety threat" by the authorities, who is nevertheless suspected of still wielding tremendous power — and making a lot of money — from his jail cell in one of America's "most dangerous prisons."

If "The Last Stop" has the ring of truth to it, no wonder. Dennis Wise has been imprisoned on a life sentence (he was released under an agreement with prosecutors in 2017). He's been suspected by law enforcement of wielding power and influence from behind bars. And he served time at the old Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, by all accounts a pretty dangerous place (it was ordered closed in 2007 after two guards were stabbed, one fatally).

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Doubt Wise's bona-fides? The character of Cutty on David Simon's HBO show "The Wire" was named for him. Cutty, played by Chad L. Coleman, was a cutthroat soldier in the city drug trade of near mythic standing, who turns his life around after being released from prison and opens a boxing gym to try and help young men resist the lure of the streets.

Cutty's real name on the show? Dennis Wise. Clearly, the real Dennis Wise knows whereof he speaks.

"Most of the stuff in the book is stuff I've seen, experiences," says Wise, 67, living today in Anne Arundel County after being released from prison in July 2017, following a state court ruling that juries may have been instructed unfairly in trials before 1980. Wise had been convicted in the 1979 shooting death of 38-year-old James Reid.

Wise admits aspects of the book, his third but the first since his release from prison, are "autobiographical," but stops short of labeling it any sort of memoir. That, he says, is still in the works, as is a documentary on his life he hopes to have ready later this year.

"The book is fiction," he says. But clearly inspired by reality. "It's pretty much the kind of life I've lived," he says. "People who have been [in prison], guys who have been here, either guards or inmates who have been there, will recognize the stories. So many things happened there for real, you don't have to make anything up."

As for parallels with the fictional Cutty? "The Last Stop," which was published in February, perhaps deepens the character's story, Wise says. After all, "The Wire" dealt largely with what happened to Cutty after he was released from prison. Wise's book talks about David West's experiences inside.

"It's something like 'The Wire,' but it's different," Wise says.

And if some people he knew on the inside read the book and feel a little uncomfortable, Wise insists he's not too worried about that.

"It might hurt some feelings, but you know, that's part of writing," Wise says. "As a writer, you can't be too concerned about people's feelings."

"The Last Stop" can be purchased online for $15 at dwisebooks.com.

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