Out of the Forest by Gregory P. Smith

Gregory P. Smith was born into a life of violence. At home he was a witness to, and a victim of, his alcoholic father’s physical abuse, and his speed-addled mother’s vicious criticism. Before long, his dysfunctional parents send him to an orphanage where he becomes a victim of institutionalised violence, not only from his teachers, the Brothers and the Sisters, but also the other children. As a boy he reacts by running away, and committing petty crimes becomes a means to escape. His parents pull him out of school at the leaving age with a woefully inadequate education, and it’s not long before drugs, alcohol, violence, and incarceration lead Smith to homelessness.

It’s a bit of a surprise then that Smith has a PhD and teaches social sciences at university. It’s a long journey from rock bottom to university educator, and the ride is full of benders, farm jobs, bar fights, weed heists, exploding apartments, and narcotics addiction(s). The abuses Smith is both a victim and perpetrator of eventually lead to his almost complete break from society, where he finds solace living alone in the forest. But somewhere in the solitude he eventually finds his way back to society.

Smith writes in a no-punches-pulled, matter-of-fact style. This plot-driven book moves at a clip from one grizzly or deeply saddening story to the next. It’s not for the faint of heart; this is the story of a man who has completely and utterly ruined his life, indeed the whole thing feels like watching a train wreck. At its core, it’s an interesting insight into how intergenerational and institutionalised violence causes people to experience homelessness. But it’s also about how far off track someone can go and still come back to the world.

Michael McLoughlin works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.