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Last Word

Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale and Kenny Jackson tell their versions of Baltimore's street life in The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired

Kenny Jackson (left) and Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale.
Jeffrey Anderson (left) talks with (seated, from left) Kenny Jackson, Nathan Barksdale, and Bruce Brown at Cibo Bar and Grill.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 4/29/2009

Watch a clip from Legends of the UnWired

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While the first installment of Unwired features Bodie Barksdale, the force behind the "Baltimore Chronicles" part of the title is Kenny Jackson, an equally legendary figure with an outlaw past that he says he left behind many years ago. As executive producer/director, Jackson says he traveled extensively to develop the project, conducting interviews inside prisons with some of Baltimore's most notorious criminals. "I got integrity in certain groups," he says.

But whereas Barksdale's past is on display in Unwired, Jackson, a behind-the-scenes player whose life is not explored in the docudrama, is more circumspect. "I'm not looking to run from my past," he says, during a telephone interview in April. "But I'm not looking to dwell on it either."

Press materials for Unwired identify Jackson as "an entrepreneur, honors business graduate and community activist dedicated to helping ex-offenders." He holds a 2007 business degree from American InterContinental University in Atlanta. He is best known as the proprietor of the Eldorado Lounge in East Baltimore, a strip club, though he has owned sports stores, a restaurant, and "major real estate holdings," according to the press kit. In the 1990s, he received public service awards and was active in a political-action committee called A Piece of J.U.I.C.E., which advocated for voting rights for ex-offenders.

Born in 1957, Jackson came up in East Baltimore's Latrobe Homes. Like Barksdale, he found trouble early in life. In 1974, at the age of 16, he was acquitted of murder charges. He took an Alford plea in 1977 on manslaughter charges, meaning he maintained his innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence, and received a suspended sentence. By 1984, Jackson had faced dozens of criminal charges related to drugs and guns. "Tells you someone didn't like me," he says of his early charges. A federal gun charge landed him a two-year prison sentence in the mid-1980s.

Jackson also showed an early knack for business. By age 27, he owned a 24-hour mini-market on West Belvedere Avenue, a shoe store, a produce and carry-out stand at Lafayette Market, and ran his family's business, Kenneth A. Jackson Enterprises. He also owned rental properties in West Baltimore.

At the same time, court records, police affidavits, and Simon's reporting from the 1980s depict Jackson as a major player in the world of drug trafficking and money-laundering. Jackson declines to talk in detail about what he acknowledges is his "serious outlaw status in the past," however. And he takes exception to two depictions of him that he says are false.

One is the contention by police, contained in federal court records, that he headed a "ruthless" large-scale heroin distribution organization. The other is the contention in Simon's 1987 Baltimore Sun series--which is based on court records, law enforcement documents, and interviews with detectives--that Jackson was once a trusted lieutenant of Melvin Williams. "That's absolutely not true," Jackson says of the alleged Williams connection. "That story has been running since the 1980s and there's nothing to prove it. I had no dealings with [Williams]. We're from different sides of the city."

Jackson's scrapes with the law continued into the 1990s, when he was acquitted of murder charges in New York City in 1991. Federal tax-evasion charges against him were dismissed in 1994. If nothing else, Jackson has shown more often than not that police theories about him could not be proven. "Reputation and fact are two separate things," he says.

When pressed for an explanation of his stature in the criminal world that affords him such insight into the stories of Barksdale and others, Jackson waxes philosophical. "Bodie and I were from two separate sides of town, but the same type of place," he says. "You have a hunger to succeed and a hunger to grow. I made a lot of bad choices, but I made some good ones. And then one day I decided I wanted to live a different life. I've been fortunate to live two lives, really. Now I'm hoping to live a third, if this series takes off, which I hope it does."

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Tags: shadow economy, the wire

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