Author lives with homeless and tells her tale

Books: 'Inside the Wall' a story of going from riches to rags

By: By April Ip

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 09:13 am

Megan Bishop chats candidly about her first book 'Inside the Wall' at the Tribal Connection Market Wednesday in Okotoks, where her book is being sold.
Megan Bishop chats candidly about her first book 'Inside the Wall' at the Tribal Connection Market Wednesday in Okotoks, where her book is being sold.
April Ip/OWW

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Imagine being married to a successful and rich oil executive while living in a penthouse with a degree in cellular microbial biology under your belt.

Sounds like an idealistic life to many, but for Megan Bishop it was hell on earth.

The former Okotokian's first book "Inside the Wall" captures 25 years of her life after she left her first husband and navigated the homelessness of Venice Beach, marrying a homeless Vietnam War veteran in the process.

Bishop's spiritual journey began in 1988 after the collapse of her first marriage and that of her own struggling career.

"I was questioning society, as everything that I had been told I needed to be happy was making me miserable," she said.

To escape her life in Alberta, Bishop left Calgary and traveled to California, where movies producers were interested in buying her screenplays.

However, Bishop was horrified by the way people treated one another there and how insidious the movie business was. In need of fresh perspective one afternoon, Bishop headed to the beach.

"I started going down to Venice Beach and buying homeless people coffees," she said.

She couldn't believe how many homeless people were being ignored and that nothing was being done to help them.

"I was very curious because nobody was even paying attention," she said.

Bishop decided to live with the homeless for one week to research and write an article about it.

She discovered there was a social structure on the beach where everyone from ex-cons to heroin addicts were living.

"A new person would just hang out on the beach before gravitating toward the group they feel most aligned with," she said. "Each group monitors you for 24 hours before they invite you to join them."

Shortly after her visit to Venice Beach she was invited to join a group of 10 people. The leader of the pack was a Vietnam War veteran named John.

"As soon as I met John I knew he was the type of person I was looking for," she said. "I knew that all hell was about to break loose too."

John had been homeless for two years prior to meeting Bishop and had become the leader of his homeless family.

Bishop explained John had been taking in damaged youth she said society had been cruel to – most of them were suicidal and one was even schizophrenic.

After the first week of living with them, Bishop had to make a choice and she said she was all in.

"You don't just start dating someone who's homeless," she said. "There are no dates, phone calls or getting to know each other the normal way."

Bishop and John left the group after her first week with them and both got jobs. The couple moved south to San Diego and they were married for three years before Bishop found out she was pregnant with her son.

Soon after her pregnancy, Bishop said John went crazy and tried to kill her and her one-year-old son with an axe.

"It also didn't help when he started self-medicating with crack," she said. "His behavior became erratic due to a brain tumor, but we didn't find out about it until much later."

From there, Bishop went into hiding with her son – staying at friends' houses, she said she trusted the universe to guide her down the right path.

After a while, she was hired on by a famous artist to write his memoirs. Her and her son lived with him for a time before moving onto an artist colony.

When her son turned seven, she decided it was time to bring him back to Canada where he could have a more structured and safe life.

Life in Calgary remained difficult as Bishop said her son was the victim of bullying during junior high school so she moved out to Okotoks to raise him.

When her son turned 19, he got on a plane and embarked on his own world journey – this was also when she got a call from one of her mentors in India.

"He had heard about how I had written about his teachings and wanted me to go over there to write for a magazine," she said. "They paid for me to travel there."

Bishop said when she was in India she realized everything that happened was planned.

Earlier on in the 1980s, she had written a screenplay about her encounter with the homeless, but nobody would touch the play at the time.

"I talked about how many Vietnam War veterans there were and the number of black men being experimented on who were marines," she said. "It was a touchy subject back in the 1980s."

Bishop has finally found stability in her life. She currently lives in Calgary and leads a free meditation class every Wednesday in Okotoks. She also continues writing and practicing yoga daily.

Her book is available at Tribal Connection Market in Okotoks and she is in talks about turning her story into a movie.


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