Welcome back, Jo! What kind of responses have you received since your last interview here and since the release of Debra R. Borys’s first Street Stories novel, Painted Black?
People I meet on the street now trust me and talk to me even more openly than they used to. They know that the stories I tell are an attempt to be a voice for them, not written for my own selfish reasons. They want to be heard so that something can be done to help them, and now they’re starting to believe I can help them with that.
The reviews for the book show that Deb is right on with the way she portrays these street kids. There is evidence her readers are starting to look at people on the streets with new eyes. Like one reviewer said, “Borys depicts the street life and struggles in an engaging, interesting way that draws you in and helps give a little perspective into the lives of the homeless. Maybe the next time you see someone huddled in a door frame or sleeping on a park bench, they won’t be quite so invisible.”
What kind of difference did telling Chris Young’s story in Painted Black make in his life? What is he doing these days?
Chris, aka CRY, is still doing art these days, though usually it’s on paper or canvas now instead of alley walls. He’s in Job Corps and has a promising future ahead of him. I’m hopeful that someday he may be able to reconnect with his family. This one girl I recently helped, Snow Ramirez, knows a lot about the importance of that.
Snow is the bi-polar young woman Borys writes about in her new novel, Bend Me, Shape Me, correct? She also has a brother who has some sort of developmental disorder. Do mental health issues make these kids more difficult to deal with?
Mental health issues are a huge problem on the streets. In my opinion, it’s an even more common denominator than addiction and alcoholism. Sometimes the reason people start drinking and doing drugs is because they are trying to cope with a mental illness. That doesn’t mean they deserve less respect or should be feared or shunned. I find the rule you should apply to everyone, homeless or not homeless, mentally healthy or no, is treat people with respect. Nine times out of ten they will do the same with you.
In Snow’s story, her disability became a road block to anyone believing her when she tried to tell us about the psychiatrist treating her brother Alley. Her history of histrionics and her manic way of responding to the stressors in her life made her very real fears sound like mad ravings. Once she felt heard and trusted, we were able to sort through the melodrama to get at the truth of what was really happening.
And was Mordechai Levinson really the ghoul she made him out to be?
Well, you’ll have to read Deb’s book to find out the answer to that. I can tell you that one of his patients, Snow’s friend and someone she stayed with in an abandoned brownstone on the Westside, slit his own throat in front of Snow. He was a patient of Levinson’s. That’s what set her off, that’s what convinced her the doctor was warping the brains of his homeless young patients who had no one to look out for them or speak up for them. She was desperate to make sure that didn’t happen to her baby brother, and I’m just thankful she trusted me enough to tell me the whole story so we could sort things out.
Snow Ramirez hasn’t trusted anyone in a very long time, not even herself. Memories of her childhood on Washington’s Yakama Reservation haunt her even on the streets of Chicago. When her squat mate Blitz slits his own throat in front of her, she knows it’s time to convince someone to trust her instincts. Blitz may have been diagnosed bi-polar, like Snow herself, but no way would he have offed himself like that if the shrink he’d been seeing hadn’t bent his mind completely out of shape.
Normally she wouldn’t care. Who wasn’t crazy in one way or another in this messed up world? After all, she’d gotten out from under the doctor’s thumb weeks ago and it was too late for Blitz now, wasn’t it? Snow’s little brother Alley, though, there might still be time to save him. If only she can get reporter Jo Sullivan to believe her story before Snow loses her own mind.
Debra R. Borys is the author of the STREET STORIES suspense novel series. A freelance writer and editor, she spent four years volunteering with Emmaus Ministries and the Night Ministry in Chicago, and eight years doing similar work at Teen Feed, New Horizons and Street Links in Seattle. The STREET STORIES series reflects the reality of throw away youth striving to survive. The first book in the series is Painted Black. Her publication credits include short fiction in Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Downstate Story and City Slab.
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