The following is the prologue for a new edition of From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle, originally published in 2019 by Simon & Schuster. The new edition is exclusive to Indigo Books & Music. It is reprinted here with permission. From the Ashes was the bestselling Canadian-authored nonfiction book in Canada in 2020, selling more than 100,000 copies, according BookNet Canada.

What a time it has been since From the Ashes was released in August 2019. The reaction to my tiny life story has been more than I can bear sometimes.

Letters and emails in response to the book flood in daily. They come from people asking me about Indigenous homelessness, lawyers asking how to defend clients, judges giving it to the newly sentenced and other judges, people pleading for help for relatives caught in the throes of addiction, children wondering about lost and neglectful parents, parents searching for missing children, cops opening their hearts and asking me to come talk to their precinct, parents of ex-convicts telling me I did the right thing, newly emerged inmates asking me to help them with their own writing, doctors and nurses using the book as a teaching tool to build empathy in colleagues, people who’ve had life-altering medical experiences who’ve found hope in my words, Indigenous community members—grateful I wrote about a life they recognize in their reality and as we really are in modernity—passing the book on to family and friends and allies alike, immigrants who are similarly disconnected from their people and culture and who see their story in mine, teachers vowing to do better with traumatized students, students who have devoured it and shared it with their parents in hopes that they will finally be understood, frontline shelter workers who are thankful a story from a client-perspective is out there creating awareness.

The letters and emails also come from diplomats and academics from around the world sharing their tales of adversity and triumph with homelessness and addiction, and displacement and cultural estrangement, from citizens of other countries who see much overlap with the institutional arms of colonialism presented in my book—police, courts, medical, child welfare, the church—and who write about how my experience mirrors the lives of their loved ones and people they serve.

From responses like these, and many others (too many to capture here), I know that my story has resonated with a broad range of readers. It has created awareness around the issues of homelessness, substance abuse, colonialism, and dispossession. And it has built empathy and compassion.

No greater reward could be given to an author—that their work is read and loved and has made a difference.

When I first started working on From the Ashes, all I had was a bunch of my Alcoholics Anonymous steps I had compiled and other writings that I had put to paper in order to try to figure out what had happened in my young life, why I ended up on the streets with severe mental-health challenges, addictions, and a long criminal record, basically abandoned by the state.

Part of recovering from addiction focused on my fourth step, the amendment step. This step of AA clearly states that one must compile an extensive moral inventory of one’s past actions. The moral inventory is pivotal to long-term recovery because it provides understanding of illogical or hurtful addiction behavior. Understanding, in turn, helps addicts come to terms with their past, which allows for personal forgiveness, and sets the stage for amendment-making—and, finally, liberation from addiction. So, I began writing down all the horrible things that I’d done that I could remember, and all the things that people had done to me, in order to understand myself.

These fragments of memory were what I sent to Simon & Schuster in 2017 after they approached me and showed interest in publishing my story. I never expected anyone to read my collection of secrets, certainly not in the form of a book, or for anyone to connect with those secrets.

But I think therein lies the strength and relatability of my memoir: I penned my truths as an addict and someone who struggled with mental-health challenges. From my life as an adoptee and someone who knew little about their Métis-Cree background, the history and political inheritance that governed their family’s dynamics, and even less about themselves.

People respond to that, I now know—to the plain and direct language of personal story and experience, to the universalities of dreams, joy, pain, love, triumph, and heartache that we all carry. If this book were a Big Mac, these fragments of bald and unfancied truths would be its “secret” sauce. Everything about From the Ashes has been unexpected, to say the least, from its incredible success and that first surprising email from a big publisher—I emailed back, querying “Are you sure you have the right person?”—to the fact that when I started it, I possessed little in the way of formal training in writing, outside of academic writing.

Yet, in some ways, those handicaps made me a writer in the purest sense of the word, one who wrote because he had to. The stories in these pages sliced me up like a river of jack-knives as I revisited what had been, and still were, painful experiences, but at the same time a chorus of long-forgotten voices came back to me, coloring my spirit with such flaming beauty that I’d doesn’t feel as though I were waking up half-blind from a daydream. In short, I wrote because I loved it. I wrote for myself and my family.

I wrote because it was necessary. Looking back, when I try to articulate how writing From the Ashes made me feel, the words jumble all together at the front of my brain and then are covered in steaming hot chocolate syrup.

All this is to say is that the process, sharing so openly, was both pleasurable and painful—and wasn’t really for me. But since I told my story in all its ugliness and misfortune, people have witnessed what total displacement has done to Michif people like my family, and I soon discovered that others who’d suffered similarly under the yoke of trauma, addictions, hopelessness see my story as familiar. They see themselves in my words.

Writing from such an earnest place seems to have touched people, as those letters and emails I receive attest. The people who write them often tell me that my story has given them hope, and they feel they are not alone. Clearly, From the Ashes is being read by many who seem to have needed to hear the messages it carries, and they in turn are passing it along to others, increasing the circle; it’s created a fellowship beyond anything I thought possible.

I recently asked some of my aunties and my mom what the massive reaction to the book means to them. They said they didn’t know, but that they loved me, and the fact that I stood up and shared my story and that it resonates with the larger public is what making relations is all about.

Hopefully, the success of From the Ashes will give others the courage to share their own stories, so that I, too, can read and enjoy their work; so, I, too, can get to know them and in turn become a relative of theirs; so, I, too, can watch them heal and grow and spread their wings, and we can share the sky together.

Marcee, miigwetch, nia;wen, thank you for reading.

Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes and a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto.

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