Interview by Kevin E. Cleary
Teresa Clark is a local writer who recently published her first novel, “American Bushwhacker.” Part of the book was inspired by her experiences while homeless in the Cleveland area several years ago. She shared some of her experiences in a recent interview with The Homeless Grapevine.
The Homeless Grapevine: Could you please describe for our readers how you become homeless?
Clark: I was literally running for my life. In 1999, I was the victim of a brutal and vicious kidnapping. The man who kidnapped me was an employee of a (due to a contract I signed when I settled out of court, I cannot actually ‘name’ them) very large and powerful non-profit religious organization. I was actually taken to a building on the campus of this organization where I was raped and tortured for hours. Needless to say, I was not supposed to live, much less escape, but escape I did.
I slapped this organization with a substantial lawsuit and I went to the media. Well, that sure did piss ‘em off. They were not happy campers, and like I said before they were very powerful. Nobody believed me when I told them how the attorneys and ‘friends’ of this organization were terrorizing me, so I ran and decided to just try and disappear.
Grapevine: Were you able to keep in contact with your family throughout the ordeal?
Clark: I tried for a while but part of their attorneys’ tactics to stop the lawsuit was to completely destroy my credibility, and like I said before, they were very powerful. There was a young woman who lived by me and this religious organization, who, years ago, disappeared off the face of the earth. The last time she was seen she was talking to one of the young men who was employed by this organization, directly in front of the building where I was kidnapped. So this battle is far from over for me, because I know they did it. I would however, like to say to the law enforcement personnel and certain medical personnel (and you know who you are) who felt they needed to help this organization from mean little old me, I bet you guys feel like real morons now!
Grapevine: What was it like at the safe house where you stayed? Did you stay at any of the area’s homeless shelters throughout this time? If so, what was it like?
Clark: They were very judgmental and condescending. For a woman who was severely injured and just had her self-esteemed knocked out through her asshole, the ‘safe house,’ was an absolutely horrific experience. However, I did stay for a while at the Women’s Shelter over by E.22 and Payne, and I must say I met some real big hearts over there. Good compassionate people. As for the other street people staying there, some of it was heart-wrenching and some of it was free entertainment. But there were people out there lookin’ to put a hurtin’ on me so I had to keep moving.
Grapevine: At one point, you stayed in a tent city with homeless veterans. What was it like? How did you get taken under their wings?
Clark: Well one of the things I learned from the veterans of the streets is ‘crazy’ is good. It gets you more stuff and people leave you alone. I met a man named Dan while I was at the shelter on Payne. I think he was a Gulf War Vet. Well, they had a special place for Vets with Post Traumatic Stress and I am a Veteran. It was much better than the general population; we got more stuff. He asked me about the injuries to my arm and I guess I just got tired of carrying this secret around with me about who I was, and I broke down and told him everything.
It was Dan that took me to the hidden tent city by the lake. Most of the men and women down there were Vets. It was an elaborate setup, they used Army tents or any kind of waterproof canvas they could make into a tent. Representatives from the V.A. and Soldiers & Sailors supplied them with sleeping bags, blankets, flashlights, batteries, canned goods and stuff like that. They used the racks from old stoves to make the grills they used to cook on. They practiced recycling and were very organized. These were the people that taught me the ‘Crazy Game.’ I can’t talk about the ‘Crazy Game’ because that’s the basis for my next book. This was where I was living when I wrote the whole epilogue to “American Bushwhacker.”
Grapevine: How were you able to stay in contact with your attorney throughout the lawsuit? How long did the whole process take?
Clark: “I would go see my cousin Donna, who was my contact person. The woman is a saint. She would let me know when my attorney wanted to see me. I was kidnapped on April 11th, 1999 and settled out of court, I believe, on my 40th birthday 2001.”
Grapevine: What made you decide to write a novel? Did your experiences inform the novel or inspire any characters?
Clark: “Writers are just like gay people. We’re born this way and no matter how much you try to fight it, it’s a losin’ battle. Everything in ‘American Bushwhacker’ is inspired by my experiences as a homeless person. Even though ‘American Bushwhacker’ is deemed historical fiction, it really isn’t. My ancestors were actual Bushwhackers for the Confederacy, but living with and learning from the homeless veterans on the streets of Cleveland was like actually being with the original Bushwhackers. Being homeless could quite possibly be one of the best things that ever happened to me, as sad as that may sound.”
Grapevine: How long did it take you to write your novel? How long did it take you to find a publisher?
Clark: “The epilogue was the first part of the book I wrote and I wrote that in the year 2000. So, I’d give it 6 years. [Finding a publisher took about] one year and about 17 rejections.”
Grapevine: Ms. Clark, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 81 June-July 2007