A vivid and enlightening oral account of homelessness in the Las Vegas storm drains and the hard work of re-entering mainstream society.
Are you aware that hundreds of people live underground in the flood channels of Las Vegas? Few people were until Matthew O'Brien grabbed a flashlight, tape recorder, and expandable baton for protection and explored the storm-drain system in depth. This research resulted in his landmark book Beneath the Neon. Now the drains have been covered by CNN, Fox News, NPR, Dr. Phil, the New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and many other media outlets. They have even found their way on to popular TV shows, including CSI, Criminal Minds, and into mainstream movies.
But the fact that several of these drug- and gambling-addicted tunnel dwellers have clawed their way out of the drains and turned around their lives has received far less attention.
Dark Days, Bright Nights shares their harrowing stories and provides a unique perspective on one of America's most fascinating cities. It also paints a larger picture of homelessness and recovery in America. These stories are the happy (though not Hollywood) ending to the infamous tunnel tale.
The narrative is complemented by bios and stark, black-and-white images of the survivors, putting a scarred, knowing face to the unblinkingly honest accounts.
DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains
By Matthew O'Brien
A journalist and social worker shares stories of how a group of flood channel–dwelling homeless people found their way back to society.
In this oral-history follow-up to Beneath the Neon, O’Brien’s examination of homelessness in subterranean Las Vegas, he chronicles how one group of homeless people were able to leave tunnel life behind. The author structures each of the chapters around a specific question, to which he elicited responses from men and women who had survived everything from poverty to substance abuse during their time underground. His subjects ranged from teenagers to people in their 60s and came from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds. They included drug addicts, military veterans, and ex-cons, many of whom were survivors of dysfunctional or violent childhoods or some other traumatic or personally debilitating event. Two of the most intriguing figures O'Brien interviewed include Szmauz, a young musician froma loving family in the mountains of southern New Hampshire,and Ande,who has a doctorate in organizational behavior and human factors [and] lived in the drains for seven years, the last while battling breast cancer.O'Brien asked his interviewees questions that encouraged them to discuss such topics as their childhoods and adolescent and adult years; how they became homeless; and how they managed to navigate thedangerous curves…hairpin turns…roadblocks and detoursthat they faced on a daily basis. Without exception, each of the author’s interviewees have faced significant obstacles. Many, like Becky, Iron, and Manny, backslid into self-destructive behaviors (notes Iron,I do the least amount of wrong I can. That’s the simplest way to put it); one, Jazz, lost his beloved girlfriend to a tunnel flood. Against the odds, all found a way back to sobriety (or close to it) and a more secure life. Powerful and relentlessly honest, the interviews explode myths surrounding homelessness while promoting compassionate views of the growing number of homeless Americans. Compelling reading about what is a depressingly evergreen societal ill.
This is the story of lives gone wrong, of people who have fallen, who are flawed and trying. They are touching and human and alive on the page. This is the story of the other side of Vegas; it is the story of what happened to America.―Charles Bock, New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Children and Alice & Oliver
A profound, moving, and inspiring book about the world beneath Las Vegas and how human beings can survive and overcome the toughest challenges in life.―Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
With the heart of an artist and the ear of a journalist, Matthew O’Brien first shined a light on the homeless people who exist in the storm tunnels of Las Vegas. In Dark Days, Bright Nights, O’Brien brings their heart-wrenching stories to the surface and offers us an unforgettable portrait of a slice of humanity most would never encounter.―John L. Smith, author of The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal's Lifelong Fight for Social Justice
Using the unfiltered words of the homeless in Las Vegas, Matt O’Brien has compacted, in some two hundred-forty pages, volumes of truth, the kind that sociologists can’t possibly reveal in studies and statistics. I will never look at a homeless person again and see someone with a sign pandering for money. Instead, I will see a caring heart trapped inside a human who’s troubled life has been a struggle against the forces of the world and against him or herself, addiction being the greatest of those.―H. Lee Barnes, award-winning author of ten books, most recently Life Is a Country Western Song
Matthew O’Brien has expertly pieced together a compelling narrative that tells the tale of human life in the storm tunnels beneath the glitter of Las Vegas. From the dwellers’ early lives to adulthood, from why they went underground to how they survived or didn’t, these stories of celebration will tug at your heartstrings.―Cathy Scott, journalist and author of The Crime Books and The Killing of Tupac Shakur