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EACH ONE TEACH ONE by Ron Casanova


Up and Out of Poverty: Memoirs of a Street Activist

by Ron Casanova

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-880684-37-3
Publisher: Curbstone Press

A memoir recounting the struggles of a black Puerto Rican activist who helps others trapped, as he once was, in cycles of poverty, addiction, and homelessness. Casanova, vice president of the National Union of the Homeless and editor of the Union of the Homeless National News, shares two stories: his personal account of growing up in orphanages, on city streets, in detention centers and prisons; and the contemporary struggles of the homeless, especially on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. What emerges is a perturbing portrait of a callous, inefficient bureaucracy. The memoir's strength is its detailed indictment of various so-called ``helping'' institutions. Particularly disturbing is Casanova's depiction of Matteawan State Hospital, where he spent part of his adolescence, and where he witnessed mentally ill patients being routinely beaten, drugged, and placed in straitjackets by sadistic correction officers. Casanova was 16 when he saw officers ``take a patient, wrap towels around his neck . . . and drag him down the long ward until he was dead.'' He asserts that incompetent doctors were also responsible for many deaths, which were routinely dismissed as heart failures. Casanova's negative experiences taught him that ``all institutions tend to want you to remain dependent on them.'' He lashes out at the welfare system, aspects of Christianity and its various institutions, as well as left-liberal politicians. There is nothing one can depend on, Casanova concludes, other than oneself. Diagnosed as HIV-positive at age 51, Casanova sees his task—and that of all true activists and social workers—as not just feeding people, but providing them with the tools to feed themselves. Many institutions, and American society in general, are indicted in this angry memoir for failing to do that. Though the prose is often lackluster, this is a valuable firsthand account of a street survivor's harrowing experiences. (Author tour)