The Concrete Killing Fields

The Concrete Killing Fields coverThe Concrete Killing Fields
By Pat Morgan
Mile High Press
20 February 2014

The Concrete Killing Fields is a thick book, but it’s a fast read. It’s almost 400 pages, but because the chapters are so short, it feels like a quick read. (There are, however, almost 50 chapters, so your virtual milage may very.) Written in a conversational style, Pat Morgan draws the reader into the harsh world of mental illness and homelessness from the perspective of a person who’s had it rough (her father was shot and killed while she was still a teenager, for example) but who has never been homeless herself.

Intertwining her own story with that of the many homeless people (mostly men, but some women, too, she says) who crossed her path in her journey from volunteer at a church’s street ministry in Memphis, Tennessee… all the way to Washington, DC, where then-President Clinton appointed her to the US Interagency Council for the Homeless… to writing her story and providing strong inspiration for readers to get involved in eradicating homelessness in our own neighborhoods and cities.

Though Ms. Morgan makes it clear (at least clear to me) that she’s writing from her own point of view and has no qualms about pointing out her human weaknesses as she sees them, I’m concerned that she’s telling the stories of other people—using them as examples of mental illness in “the system” or warnings about alcoholism—without their permission. That’s not to say that she necessarily needs permission, I wager, because there are many nonfiction authors who never ask permission in writing about their subjects, especially if they write memoir. In this case, though, I hesitate to condone it because the homeless people about whom she writes are already slipping through the cracks in “the system” and this just seems like one more thing they didn’t get to choose for themselves. No doubt, Ms. Morgan is passionate and committed, but she is telling her story, not one of mental illness and homelessness per se.

I’ll be giving this book to my sister, who was involved in outreach to the homeless people in her area during college, in order to get the perspective of someone who’s actually worked with people on the street. This book is and easy read in terms of reading it (not as much in terms of subject matter), but it just strikes me that it’s another story about someone helping the homeless—speaking for them, instead of enabling them to speak for themselves. As an advocate for self determination and giving a platform to the underheard, I would prefer to read the latter.

DISCLAIMER: I received The Concrete Killing Fields free from JKS Communications for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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