Wisdom Under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row

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Rather than breaking readers’ hearts with the tragic and the terrible, Wisdom under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row is a book about overcoming adversity, finding hope, and welcoming peace. With keen insight and spiritual acumen, Swanson opens readers’ eyes to the disenfranchised grief that recovering alcoholics and addicts on the streets endure. Swanson makes clear that God imbues all of us with wisdom and insight on our long journey toward wholeness. Wisdom Under the Bridge convinces readers that the rich tapestry of humanity is comprised of everyone’s story, without exclusion.

–Sr. Helen Prejean, author Deadman Walking, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions

We may not expect to hear wise stories from those living under a bridge, but Swanson takes our hand ever so gently, sits us down, and deftly shares such stories with us in ways that entice us to listen. Without glorifying or judging the life of indigents who experience addiction or mental illness or otherwise damaged lives, she finds the stories of grace among them and lets us in on both the grittiness and the hope they contain. She helps us see the longings, the courage, and the grief in the hearts of those who beg on the street corner. She reminds us whom Jesus hung out with, and she makes us want to join him there. This is inviting writing that gives new eyes to the reader for seeing both inwardly and outwardly with more compassion and less arrogance.

--Pat Samples, author of Daily Comforts for Caregivers and The Secret Wisdom of a Woman's Body.

Wisdom Under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row is a powerful book. Beyond the stories, it is a reminder to those recovering from addiction as well as to those that seek to assist, the inherent losses and consequent grief that one has to encounter as one strives toward sobriety.
--Kenneth J. Doka, PhD,
Dr. Kenneth J. Doka is a Professor of Gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America. A prolific author, Dr. Doka’s books include Grieving beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Woman Mourn; Counseling Individuals with Life-Threatening Illness and others.

Wisdom Under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row, showcases
the bravery of souls striving to live normal lives despite battling mental illness,
and/or addictions daily. Like, NAMI's (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
In Our Own Voice Program, this book raises the self-esteem of its narrators by
recognizing the wisdom and worth revealed through sharing stories of
recovery. Wisdom Under the Bridge, showcases the soul-baring of the disenfranchised,
helping to correct the false images of mental illness, addiction, and homelessness
held by the general public.
---Judy Redler Winter, Educator, and, In Our Own Voice Coordinator
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - Clackamas County

Reading Wisdom Under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row was a spiritual experience reminding me of how extreme trauma and adversity can create huge openings into the Divine.
--John Callahan, nationally recognized cartoonist & author, Don’t Worry He Can’t Get Far on Foot. ([1951-2010)

Wisdom Under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row, is an interesting and challenging book. If you want to know what goes on in the heads and hearts of many of our homeless poor and those who live, work and minister among them, then this book is a good place to start.
--Gary Smith, S.J., author, Street Journal, Radical Compassion, They Come Back Singing

Wisdom Under the Bridge: the Prophets from Skid Row takes the reader on a journey of heartbreak and hope. In reading the life stories of the “prophets on the streets” the reader finds the wisdom gained through the grief of poverty and addiction and the realization that we are all a part of one another.
--- Jan Elfers, Director of Congregational Outreach and Peace Programs, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO)



Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row
Linda Ross Swanson
Softcover $18.95 (318pp)

Through moving first-person accounts, Wisdom Under the Bridge raises awareness about the experiences of those struggling with addiction, mental illness, and poverty, and encourages readers not to dismiss the speakers, but to view them as prophets who have valuable stories to pass on.

Swanson, who battles addiction herself, stresses the importance of sharing these traumatic experiences in order to heal from them. In Part I, she provides a compilation of revealing profiles of people in the Portland, Oregon, area who met through their recovery process. Each story is told in the person’s own words through a Wisdom Will, which is based on the Jewish tradition of writing an “ethical will.” By describing their life histories and personal beliefs, they hope future generations will learn from their past triumphs and trials.

The subjects discuss when their addictions began, when they decided to get help, and how they continue to focus on recovery. Their treatment is based on the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in their wills they attribute their success in recovery to a willingness to adopt religious or spiritual principles to guide them to make better choices. Swanson encourages readers to share their own stories with friends and family by creating their own Wisdom Will, and offers exercises to guide them through the process.

The many wills and letters in Wisdom Under the Bridge are written in simple sentences, often with a stream of consciousness structure that is similar to a diary format. This adds to the uniqueness of the book, as it presents many different voices, but it also offers a glimpse into the very personal, inner thoughts of people struggling with addiction and poverty.

While each story is presented individually, patterns emerge showing there are common events that led these people to engage in destructive behavior, including abusive childhoods often involving parents who were mentally ill or suffering from addiction or both; low self-esteem; and unresolved grief, which is a topic expanded on in Appendix I. Swanson's husband, who lost a four-year-old son and is a recovering alcoholic himself, discusses the challenges of becoming a self-aware person, which can no longer be avoided once sober.

In Part 2, Swanson offers profiles of the people running the recovery programs, also presented in their own words, including Fr. Ron Raab of the Downtown Chapel of St. Vincent De Paul and the director and cofounder of Sisters of the Road—both common meeting places of those profiled in the Wisdom Wills. These are the sites where they received treatment and assistance and formed relationships with each other and with the counselors who work with them, ultimately finding a supportive community, often for the first time in their lives.

While the stories of adversity are heartbreaking, they are also uplifting because the Wisdom Will writers are hopeful about their futures. Proud of all they have been able to endure and overcome, they are willing to share those stories to benefit others.
(January 2012) MARIA SIANO
James A. Cox., Editor-in-Chief
Wisdom Under the Bridge

The struggle to simply survive is a struggle most of us don't truly understand. "Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row," is a collection of stories from those faced with the rough journey of homelessness as Linda Ross Swanson walks readers into the sotries of those fighting to survive, and what can be learned from their stories, and what can be done to improve their plight. An enlightening read, "Wisdom Under the Bridge" is a strongly recommended pick for inspirational and social issues collections.
Claire J. Baker

Linda Ross Swanson, the author of Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row, believes that each person is a story waiting to be told. Her book of 300-plus pages tells the often rugged stories of stubborn survivors of heinous emotional and physical conditions and events, as found on skid row in Portland, Oregon.

This page-turner is challenging. Most of us don’t live in dire poverty and deprivation, nor do we suffer disregard, and even condemnation by our families and communities. The homeless or nearly un-homed suffer a marginal existence. But, as shown in this book, their lives are not totally without hope or resurrection of the spirit if they hang in.

About twelve prophets of skid row, Portland, were interviewed and proved brave enough to delve soul-deep to reveal their “living legacy.” It has taken about five years to gather and tweak these life stories into short vital chapters, one for each prophet. I re-learned that one can be saved by one’s guts, by the grace of God and pastoral helpers, by kindness, love, shelter in time of need and a good dinner — whatever it takes for a particular person and/or set of circumstances.

Linda Ross Swanson is a highly credentialed grief counselor and educator dedicated to social justice and resources for hope, and her book is a fine addition to literature on the disadvantaged.
By Carol Wells

Stories from the destitute
Author finds nobility in their struggles

What do the people who sleep in the doorways and parks, shelters and low-rent
apartments of Old Town/Chinatown, clinging to the district for its higher-than-average
number of social services, have to say? Wisdom Under The Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row, a book by Linda Ross Swanson, answers this question by presenting stories from the people in this group, and the people who serve them, in their own words.

Swanson is a private practice grief counselor. She is also an Associate Sister of the Holy
Names Sisters and her social justice oriented Roman Catholic worldview is evident in her book. Her place of worship is the Downtown Chapel (newly renamed St. Andre Bessette’s Catholic Church) on West Burnside and Sixth, where the congregation includes the people she writes about: those with mental or physical illnesses, those with addictions or those with a combination of the above, as well as benefactors, young families and others. She is a recovering alcoholic with 25 years of sobriety.

To people in recovery, stories are crucial. A person looking in on any 12-step meeting
or sitting around a coffee shop table with a group of people in recovery from addiction
or living with mental illnesses will hear stories of uncommon length and fluency.
That’s because these stories have been often told to those who respect the narrative and
who give the speaker his or her space. Telling the truth to oneself and others is the
cornerstone of recovery. It is this bottomline honesty, this looking the demons square
in the eye and living to tell about it, that makes people in recovery so extraordinary.
From this tradition comes the stories (Swanson calls them “Wisdom Wills,” or
legacies of accumulated lifetime knowledge) of Part I of the book, “Prophets of Old
Town/Skid Row,” like the one from Jill K.which begins, “As you all know, I’m a recovering
heroin addict.”

Jill K. speaks about the way addiction plays with the mind: “I actually thought it
was pretty cool living in [an] abandoned house with no more worries about paying
rent or utility bills.”

Her story is ruefully funny. During her wedding, she relates, “I was so drunk it was a
wonder I didn’t just roll down the aisle. Half of our gifts were drugs.”And then comes the transformation. She left her husband, explaining, “Thiswas the first of many miracles.”

We experience her journey from a woman who almost called Child Protective Services on herself (“I knew I wasn’t a good mother”) to one who says, “I want to
be remembered as someone who cared for others … and someone who gave back.”
The basic journey related in this story of addiction, degradation, despair, courage
and ultimately the miracle of continuing sobriety is true of each of the 12 narratives
in this section. Of course, each story is unique in the way all individuals are

Part II of the book is called “The Advocates and What the Prophets Taught
Them.” In addition to intimate glimpses of neighborhood figures, such as Father Raab
of the Downtown Chapel and Genny Nelson and Monica Beemer of Sisters of the
Road, this section serves as a fascinating history of the way institutions came into
being to address the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the 1970s. It
begins with Sister Kate St. Martin, a nurse credited with launching many of the city’s
current services for the homeless, the poor, the addicted and the mentally ill, who
worked at Blanchet House, DePaul Treatment Center and Hooper Detox.

Ms. Swanson presents these stories faithfully, allowing her contributors to
speak in their own voices. (Her own observations fill the spaces between the contributions.)
Her sources spoke into a recorder, and she transcribed their words. As a result,
they sometimes lack the cohesiveness and compactness that comes from work that
originates in writing.

Nonetheless, I think Ms. Swanson’s decision to present them as they are is a
good one. To “hear” voices such as these,directly, unmediated, in a book is a rare
circumstance. Readers who stick with it will get a true understanding of some of
the most inspirational people who live and work in this neighborhood, and the most
honest possible account of their lives.

What people are saying about the book:

FR. Ron Raab, St. Andre Bessette
Very Humbling, Honest:
By Jim S.
This book tells the lives and history of people from their own words. It is very insightful and shows how God can heal and work for everybody involved. Some of the Wisdom comes from community leaders and is very well thought out. When reading this book, try to take one chapter at a time and really hear what that person has suffered and overcome. Linda has put a lot of effort to make this a VERY REAL BOOK.

Compelling and Heartbreaking
By janlynne

Wisdom Under the Bridge The Prophets From Skid Row is a collection of stories both hopeful and heart breaking from those who have lived on the streets and faced tough life circumstances as they traversed though severe drug and alcohol addictions toward restored and impacting lives of sobriety in the community.Uplifting, impacting, inspirational and tragic are the stories and lessons that fill the pages of this book. Highly recommend."
Every person has a story of humanity and value.
Emily C
This review is from: Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row (Paperback)
Last summer I rode my bike to work, and almost every day I would pass at least one homeless person. I never said hello or made eye contact, like I would to other "regular" people on the trail.

After reading Wisdom Under the Bridge, I began wondering about each person's individual hopes, dreams and stories. Now when I see people who may or may not be homeless I try to acknowledge them as I would wish to be acknowledged, by smiling or saying hi.

This book helped me to realize the value of every person's life, journey and spirituality. I sent a copy to my Mom, and recommended it for her book club!
Wisdom Under the Bridge
Wisdom Under the Bridge is one of the most compelling books I have read. Thanks to Linda Ross Swanson for compiling these stories and sharing her own deep wisdom and compassion about a part of humanity which is too often over-looked and denied.
There's Wisdom in this book.
Jacqueline Babicky
This review is from: Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row (Paperback)
Linda has been on quite a life's journey that has culminated in the writing of this book. Reading the stories of the "skid road" and homeless she interviewed shows us that we are all struggling for success in life and sometimes success means getting clean and sober and getting off the streets. She has given a face to those we often pass by on the streets while hoping someone is doing something about them...so we can remain uninvolved. Linda has presented her interviewees in a way that we can all see something of ourselves in their struggles. Linda has such empathy and compassion that each and every person she asked to tell their story for her book agreed to talk with her. That alone is quite an accomplishment. I was reminded again of the connections we all hold to one another and that no matter what we look like on the surface, we all have wisdom we have earned the hard way over our life times to share with others. In this book Linda's interviewees get a chance to tell their stories. The stories make us think and make us cry and make us be grateful and make us more compassionate. This book is worth your time to read. Great for a book club.
Couldn't Put the Book Down.
Miss Leslie

Could not put this book down ... it is filled with so much insight into the lives of people I have walked by and looked through most of my own life...I will not be able to look at them the same ever again. My life experience has indeed exposed me to friends and dear family members with addictions however there was always a family "net" to catch and support them ... not one went to the depths these people have gone to and survived...their wisdom is heart breaking and amazing and hope filled...Linda's insight and compassion is combined with a level of true concern and follow through with her fellow man...inspirational!
Must-Read Survival Testimonies of the Disenfranchised.

If you always, or almost always, believed that the people that you see in your own "skid-row" part of town must be lazy, uneducated, unattached, disinterested in life and community, lacking in personality and conscience, then you need to read this book. This gives the "other side of the story" - the one that we're not usually privy to know. The author has interviewed and printed the stories or "Wisdom Wills" of several disenfranchised individuals who, for one reason or another, have "skidded" down to the bottom of the abyss and then through hard work, faith and perseverance have clawed back up to the top to become self-sufficient, proud and productive members of society. The author also expertly begins and ends each story with her own knowledge and insight on the subject matter, treating each individual with dignity and compassion. I loved this book, and the members of my book club agreed that it is an eye-opening must-read for those who desire to be informed.
Monica Beemer, Director, Sisters of the Road

Wisdom Under the Bridges opens the window to the kind of life most of us hope to never experience. Each story is unique, but there is a common thread of humanity that runs throughout. This book shows that amidst homelessness, addiction, mental illness and poverty, there can thrive strength, courage, friendship, wisdom, love and above all hope. Reading this book you will gain empathy, compassion and understanding of a population that we would rather not know exist and often shun, but that can also teach each of us to be a better person. Thank you Linda for giving voice to the voiceless.
Michele V.
Wisdom Under the Bridge kept my attention and heart from the moment I started reading. Too often one does not see the heart of these prophets who reside on the fringe of our lives. Not only is there heart, there is wisdom from which all of us can learn. Thank you, Linda, for all your dedication and love which has brought these stories to light.
Fay P.

Wisdom Under the Bridge The Prophets From Skid Row was for me, not just an interesting and thought provoking read but has become instrumental in adjusting my own personal life goals.

Having been in recovery for several years, I was drawn to the heart breaking yet hopeful recovery journeys of those who have lived on the streets and faced tough life circumstances. Though they traversed through severe drug and alcohol addictions their lives ultimately became meaningful and purpose driven, giving back to society out of a deep sense of gratitude.

It was upon reading Linda Ross Swanson's book that my passion for helping others find a sober life was re-ignited and I am now once again working toward that goal.

The stories that fill the pages of this book have tragic beginnings but transform into uplifting, impacting and inspirational lessons. Highly recommend.
Jan Brehm