I Just Kept Walking is the true and harrowing story of a woman who has survived over 20 years of homelessness in the United States. Everything recounted in these pages is real, nothing has been invented or altered except where strictly necessary e.g. grammatical corrections or regularisation of sentence construction which would otherwise make it difficult for the reader to follow the train of thought. This is the tragic story of my own sister – educated and now in her 50s – who is still homeless, and whom I am desperately trying to persuade to come home. We lost touch many years ago due to family circumstances. Our parents are both dead, and transatlantic letters/faxes went missing due to her precarious and nomadic lifestyle. With no means of tracing her whereabouts, her siblings (myself included) concluded she must be dead. Then in 2013 I received an email forwarded from relatives who own a hotel in Wales where we used to take family holidays. Of necessity the homeless spend a great deal of their time in public libraries, and once my sister began to use the Internet she was able to track down my cousins, who then got in touch with me. The author “Cass Ryder” is thought to be a paranoid schizophrenic – though has never been officially diagnosed as such – and despite repeated offers from her family to pay for her airfare back to the UK, her conscience will not allow her to walk away from another homeless woman she met in a shelter (referred to throughout as “the Subject”).
The factual account of hardships faced – sleeping rough in the open, the cold and hunger, the loneliness and extreme isolation, not to mention the ever-present threat of assault – make for disturbing reading, with graphic accounts of street-level destitution and violence, frequent arrests, bodily hi-jackings, and invasive mind-control. The central proposition put forward is that the “Vulnerables” – who include the homeless, the mentally ill, prison inmates, and those with alternative lifestyles – are being used for experimentation purposes by privately funded agencies (an “etheric neighbourhood watchdog”) with feedback being consciously monitored for future control of the populace, and that these categories have been specifically targeted because they are not in a position to speak out about what is happening to them. Some of the wilder speculations concerning covert plans to economically demote over half of the current middle class to the sublevel of the homeless or impoverished categories (“New Project for the American Century”) will undoubtedly be dismissed as the delusions of a paranoid and sick mind. But others going through something similar will be inspired by the writer’s unique insights into the human condition, and may be able to identify with what she has termed the “invisible inquisition” operating through space and time.
The sentiments expressed by the narrator, and her musings on a miscellany of topics all come together in what is a heart wrenching – and occasionally unsettling – but compelling personal testament. Her lucid insights into her own mental state and that of others she has brushed up against in cold weather shelters or correctional facilities is explored through a blend of interior monologue and ongoing dialogue in the form of emails. The original material was sent in batches as scanned PDF documents over a period of 3 years, and at times it was like piecing together the constituent parts of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. Due to her fear that her communications are being intercepted by government agencies, she tends to write very fast without pausing for punctuation or natural sentence breaks. As self-appointed amanuensis I undertook the task of knocking into shape and bringing coherence and order to what would otherwise have been an amorphous and unstructured mass of writing. Although I have found it necessary to edit the original script, I soon came to the conclusion there was no point in correcting every single grammatical or spelling error or it just wouldn’t “ring true”. After all, someone living on the streets is hardly going to express themselves in the pristine language of an English professor. I have therefore retained many of the narrator’s idiosyncrasies of expression, inventive vocabulary and inevitable profanities: of course you’re going to be in a foul mood if you’re exhausted through lack of sleep, risking your life on a nightly basis, and suspicious that your head is being “messed with”.
Insofar as this is an authentic and refreshingly honest account of what it’s actually like to be a homeless female, it would defeat the point if the manuscript were “prettied up” too much. I think most readers would want the truth – however unpalatable – instead of some sanitised version. I have obviously had to protect the identities of persons referenced, as my sister’s dangerous lifestyle renders her vulnerable to attack. Although she is still clearly very disturbed and damaged by her experiences we continue to communicate via email. Even if I were not closely related to the writer, I would still be of the opinion that I Just Kept Walking is an important and groundbreaking work, which deserves to be read by the wider public. To my knowledge no person who has been living on the streets for this length of time has been articulate enough to write about the experience, and her journal stands as a testimony of one woman’s resilience and her survival tactics in the face of almost insuperable odds.
Postscript: This work was published at my own expense, having been shunned by mainstream publishers who did not deem the content to be of “sufficient interest” to the reading public. Please prove them wrong by recommending I Just Kept Walking to your friends and acquaintances. It is hoped that any sales revenue will enable the narrator to extricate herself from her nightmarish existence, and to get her life back on track.