Orphan Survival Stories
IN THE ARENA
Peer pressure - I bet most people do not realize that peer pressure is a sport, more fun to orphanage caretakers than throwing Christians to the lions was to the Romans and it was all legal too. Well, sort of.
All that’s needed for an event like this is 20 or 30 little orphan children that society really does not care about. That way, there is nothing that ever comes back on the organizers. Then you need a really secluded spot, just like the one at the Children's Home Society in Jacksonville, an area that is completely fenced with six feet of wire and hidden by lots of thick bamboo and trees. That way, no one can see what is going on behind closed doors. Then the stage is set for some real blood-and-guts action.
For years, it was the policy of many of the house parents at the Children's Home Society to use the children against each another as a form of control and discipline. To escape this severe and cruel treatment is one of the many reasons why I kept running away from the orphanage. Almost every week, the children were marched into the center of a field located behind the boys' dormitory. We gathered in a large circle and were made to stand facing each another. Every one of us knew very well what was about to happen. We just did not know to whom it was going to happen.
Many of the smaller kids began crying their eyes out as soon as the circle began forming. Some children tried to make a break for it to escape and hide in the large bamboo clumps. However, they were always caught, slapped on the head a few times and dragged back to the circle. When all was quiet, the adults asked each child, if he was having any problems whatsoever with any of the other children. Most of the kids would not say anything. They just looked down at the ground and shook their heads back and forth as if saying "no."
If there appeared to be any type of dispute, those two children would be placed in the center of the circle and forced to fight each other with their fists, until blood was drawn - generally, lots of blood. Size or age made no difference whatsoever. The time or length of the beating did not matter. This weekly event was considered “a sport,” not child abuse. It was absolutely disgraceful. At times, it was horrifying. Sometimes the bigger boys would beat the smaller boys, until the younger ones were not even recognizable; that is how bloody it was most of the time.
These "games" always reminded me of the gladiators I saw on television. There was much sadness on the faces of the losers, yet there was pride on the faces of the victors. Screams of joy abounded, as the victors were bestowed with honors.
I will never forget the high-pitched screams of terror as the innocent little children, each begging for mercy and asking for God’s forgiveness, were beaten and kicked. The lucky ones, the ones who had not been picked were rejoicing, jumping around and shoving each other to the ground. Yet, there was fear on the faces of all, especially the eyes, still crazed with excitement.
It was a very terrible thing to watch, but what was even more horrible was to be there and actually feel it happening. We knew that we had to be strong or we were as good as dead. Most of the time, I just stood there being as quiet as possible. I always kept my mouth shut and said nothing at all. I mean nothing. I just watched the others' faces, especially the look in their eyes. I held my breath and waited to see if I was going to be one of the chosen ones. Sometimes, we were very lucky and the adults brought out boxing gloves. Using gloves meant that our faces would not show the length or brutality of the beating. I never liked the boxing gloves myself though, because when using them, we had to beat on each other that much longer to draw blood.
I remember one of the boys named Frankie Evers. I spoke with him on the telephone on March 6, 1999. He lives in Clarmont, Georgia. We were discussing the book that I am writing and certain incidents that happened while we were in the orphanage together. When I told him that I was writing about the “Arena” beatings, he totally went to pieces on me. Then I started bawling myself. There are tears in my eyes right now, as I think about what happened to Frankie the time he was beaten on the side of his head with a croquet mallet. His face and head were swollen like a beach ball; he had blood all over his face and the skin was torn away from his forehead.
His own brother, Wayne, was ordered to beat him like that. Frankie surely was one hell of a mess for a long time. The adults just laughed at us. They told us to quit acting as if we were little “pussies” and grow up. The smaller boys like Frankie, went through pure hell for years and years.
I was about 10 or 11 at that time. Fortunately, I was not picked very often to go into the Arena. When I was selected, most of the older boys stayed away from me. I had a reputation for being a very good kicker. If I kicked one of the others in the right place, he talked really squeaky for about a week. So many of the older boys tried to stay away from me as much as possible. They did not want to take a chance on being embarrassed in front of the other boys or the adults, so generally they left me alone. When picked to enter the arena, my opponent always stayed as far away from me as possible. He never attacked me head-on. Instead, he just kept slapping me in the face, until my nose got bloody.
In time, I learned a trick - my big secret. I could save a lot of beating time, if I just left my face open to the slaps. After 10 or 15 good hard pops to the side of the face, my nose would start to bleed. On the next slap, I would fall to the ground and roll into a tight ball and my opponent would jump on me. While he was on top of me doing whatever it is one does when one is on top, I would be smearing the blood from my nose all over my face and neck. When I finally unrolled from my tight ball, giving out a bloodcurdling scream, sucking large blood bubbles in and out of my nose, all anyone could see was this MONSTER from HELL and everything would become quiet for a few minutes.
Things really got quiet around there after that episode. However, the next week, the caretakers put me in my place; they put me in the arena almost every week for more than a month. The bigger boys beat me, until I could take no more and in the end, I thought about killing myself. I almost hated myself when the house parents finally turned me into what they called "a little chicken shit." I was someone who was laughed at by the girls almost every day. It was rather strange how everything changed and turned around in just a few weeks, considering I was a brave little boy.
Instead of committing suicide, I decided to run away and I continued to run away as many times as I could. I continued running away, until they finally sent me to reform school.
I can remember those days as if they were only yesterday, though it has been more than 45 years. I remember every sound and every facial expression; I still feel the horror that I saw and felt in myself and the other innocent little kids.