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Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood by Sheryl Recinos is a deeply upsetting first-hand account of Recinos’ time homeless in Hollywood, CA and the events that led her there. Recinos’ straight-forward style of telling you her story with almost no hindsight clears the way for the reader to put themselves in her shoes. What could you have done differently? What outcomes would you been unable to change? When you read her story, you may end up asking yourself: Can you change the outcome for someone else?
I am so pleased that we found out about this book from one of our members’ personal connections with the author, Sheryl Recinos! By sharing her personal story on such an intimate level, she is making a brave move. I think she is writing her story to stand up for herself, for others in similar situations, and to bring light to how our social systems treat vulnerable people. In a country with limited resources, what can we change, what should we change, and what do we need to change? Is there room to treat people with more respect?
Recinos has been recognized with several awards for Hindsight, including Outstanding Non-fiction from the Ian Book of the Year Awards and the Bronze Medal from Readers’ Favorite 2019 International Book Awards in the nonfiction, #YA category.
All of the social structures that Recinos encountered left me with questions and the knowledge that something isn’t working. For instance:
- When Recinos is arrested in California at age 13, she doesn’t know what she has been charged with—the other inmates have to tell her.
- Recinos meets a teenager in Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall who said she raped her four-year-old brother. Separating her from her brother was a good priority, but she really needed counseling. Why had she done that? Would she do it again? Had she seen that done to someone else? Sitting in jail was not going to help her process whatever it was that led her to that act.
- When Recinos is placed in the mental health facility, she is told to take medication. She asks to know what the medication is before she will agree to take anything, and they refuse to tell her.
- When Recinos is incarcerated in North Carolina, she eventually tells the detention officer that she is being beaten regularly. The officer tells her to fight back—even though it means Recinos will have to stay in the facility longer if she is caught.
If you thought it was weird that Recinos was
It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.–Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), speech on criminal justice at Columbia University, April 29, 2015
Around the globe, governments respond to illegal activity and social unrest in many ways. Here in the United States, policymakers in the 1970s made the decision to start incarcerating Americans at globally unprecedented rates. The decades that followed have revealed that the growth in the U.S. prison population can be more closely attributed to ideological policy choices than actual crime rates. The record also shows that our country’s experiment with mass incarceation has not managed to significantly enhance public safety, but instead has consistently and disproportionately stunted the social and economic wellbeing of poor communities and communities of color for generations.– PrisonPolicy.org
Because of Recinos willingness to share, we all get to experience a first-person view of several of our country’s systems: the penal system, the baker act, homeless shelters, and teen shelters. It’s hard to imagine what the workers in these systems must experience, seeing people come through again and again, because the system perhaps didn’t help them the first time.
Earlier in the book,
While writing this post, I wanted to find out how homelessness was being addressed outside of America, and I came across this article: Finland recently reduced its homeless population by 40%. To address homelessness in their country, they’ve been providing housing to the people who needed it most. In addition to the human and economic goals of leading people back towards stability, the country will likely experience a financial return, as the result of this effort is expected to provide Finland with an 80% reduction in acute emergency hospital costs for the recently homeless population now that they have housing.
In all of the social systems we’ve discussed, what needs to change in order to allow the people working in these various systems to be trained in trauma-based care, to have access to their own mental health resources (their jobs aren’t easy), and to increase transparency of information?
During our discussion for this book, we all agreed we were happy that Recinos shared her story. We were also aware that she was a single voice. We really wanted to hear what other people around her had to say. Specifically regarding some of the events surrounding her family, we got a real sense that she was telling the truth—perhaps just not all of it. Also, I know I extrapolated that her goal in not including any hindsight or editorializing of her own behavior and actions was a purposeful move, one made to allow the reader to make their own decisions and judgments. However, it did make me a little frustrated that she didn’t state how she felt about some of her actions that were, in my mind, questionable. When she returns to the guy who held her at gunpoint, she doesn’t even guess at why she would place herself in that kind of danger. When she steals clothes for no given reason, she doesn’t say whether she felt bad or good or nothing at all, or how she feels about it now. These are things I wish I knew.
As a group, we were amazed at all that Recinos had overcome.
We’ll just have to wait for book 2!
Sheryl Recinos Gives a Voice to Vulnerable Communities
Recinos elevates the conversation on homelessness in America by making the issue deeply personal rather than off the highway behind a layer of dust and a cardboard sign. Her story brings to light the invisibility of homeless people, and their vulnerability to predators—particularly homeless youth.
She elevates the conversation on the rights of minors, their pathways and resources to escape abusive households, or to seek counseling for households in distress.
She elevates the conversation on mental health, our awareness or lack of awareness of the symptoms of different disorders and traumas, and benefit of having open conversations within the household and beyond. Without stating it outright, you could see how painful and harmful it was that none of the adults in Recinos’ life ever had an open, compassionate conversation with her about her mental well-being.
Recinos shares this in an interview for UCLA “Writing my memoir finally put the horrors of my childhood into words and ultimately allowed me to forgive myself for the choices I had to make as a homeless teen. Since releasing this book, I’ve sparked an important dialogue about invisible youth living on the streets.” She’s recently published a series of middle grade fiction called The Resilience Group with the goal of helping children and adolescents through adversity. What an amazing idea! I hope there are copies in every school, shelter, and foster home–if it helps even one young person find their voice it will be worth all of Recinos’ hard work.
Wine Selection & Tasting Notes
Fire Road Pinot Noir. This wine offers unexpected flavors and a gorgeous ruby red glow. The scent is potently smoky and earthy with red fruit underneath. Red plum, red apple, and mellow oak on the palate. Clean finish. No tannins. Light bodied. There is a bright note that could be apricot.
Hindsight Discussion Questions
- Why do you think Recinos titled the book “Hindsight” and then offered almost no reflection on her decisions and actions?
- Is Recinos’ story the first time you’ve heard a real first-hand account of homelessness?
- What surprised you the most about the struggles she encountered?
- Can you imagine yourself in some of the situations she was in? When you were a teenager, how would you have responded to some of the adversity Recinos faced?
- Do you think that Recinos had a target audience when she wrote this book?
- Is this book a good resource for teens who are currently homeless or who are struggling in a dysfunctional or abusive home?
- Is this book a good resource for people previously unaware of the struggles of being homeless, the circumstances that might drive a person to that life, the abundance of predators seeking out the disadvantaged, and the social services that are in place for people in positions of need?
- Is this book addressed to someone else in her life?
- Is this book introspective and meant to help the author learn something about herself? Or is this book more story-telling for others to learn from her?
- Michelle Obama’s mother actively advocated for her, and it made a difference. Sheri never did find an advocate, and it made a difference as well. Even when she made it to a shelter in Hollywood, she never found an advocate. Or perhaps she never accepted anyone into her life in that way. Do you think she would have accepted an advocate that wasn’t her mother or father? Or was she really looking for one of them to step up and no one else would do?
Now that I’m an adult, I realize that kids know at a very young age when they’re being devalued, when adults aren’t invested enough to help them learn. Their anger over it can manifest itself as unruliness. It’s hardly their fault. They aren’t “bad kids.” They’re just trying to survive bad circumstances.– Michelle Obama, Becoming
- Some of the decisions that Recinos’ father makes may have given her the feeling that she isn’t valued, including dropping her off at the mental care facility without having a conversation, and then once again not having a conversation about her mental health after picking her up; and an all-star moment when he tells her he doesn’t care if she’s there when he comes home. Is he overwhelmed with parenting duties having not been the primary parent for the other children before Recinos’ mother became unstable and moved away? Was he scared and hurt by her running away and trying to scare her straight? Is he doing his best with a challenging and troubled teen? Is he checked out from the parenting process and fully entered emotionally abusive territory?
- Do you think Recinos’ mental health was an issue during the years she described?
- Consider the risk-taking, impulsive behavior she exhibited, in spite of her internal narration speaking to a goal of stability. How much of her reckless behavior was due to a possibly undiagnosed (or diagnosed and untreated) mental health condition? Was she acting out to get attention from an adult that would finally see her in a way a parent would? Was she simply seeking stability and just slipping up along the way?
- Sheri, Emma, and Zony exhibited risk-taking behavior and substance abuse, which could be related to a variety of factors—but if they were due to a mental health condition or trauma-based response, how would they ever have received the help they needed? In this post, Recinos talks about how shelters have changed their policies for the better, focusing on trauma-based care, with an understanding that some of the young people that come into these shelters will be acting or re-acting based on trauma they may have experienced.
- How are the taboos around mental health issues contributing to homelessness in America?
- How would the homeless population be affected if free mental healthcare were available nationwide?
- My first reaction when reading Hindsight was to focus on the risk-taking behavior of the narrator. Why not take a look at the violent predatory behavior of the several rapists Recinos encounters? What was you reaction to Recinos’ endangerment throughout the book?
- How can we address this large complex issue of homelessness that has a variety of causes and a cascade of effects?