Orphan Survival Stories Index |
HOW TO BECOME A THIEF WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
"If you had just asked me for the food, I would have given it to you," said the man standing behind the grocery counter.
"You'll have to come downtown to the station house, if you wish to press charges," said the policeman.
"I'll be there in about an hour," he told the officer.
I stood watching as they placed the black man into the back seat of the police car. The grocery clerk picked up the two packs of meat and walked toward the back of the store. I just stood motionless, wondering if the package of cheese I just stole was going to fall from my shirt as I walked out of the store.
The grocer’s words: "if you had just asked me, I would have given it to you" kept going over and over in my mind. I stood there watching as the man placed the two packages back on the meat counter. Then I looked over at the doorway and wondered if I should make my get-a-way or ask the man for the package of cheese.
I really did not like to steal, but I was living on the streets and hungry. I was 10 or 11 years old and had tried to get several labor jobs, but no one would give me any work. The only money that we young boys could get was from those ‘queer’ men down at the regional park and I didn't like doing that kind of thing, unless I really had too.
I jumped as the man came up behind me.
"Can I help you, boy?" he asked.
"Uh... can I do some work for some cheese food?" I asked.
"If you don't have any money then get out of the store," he said.
"But I…" I started to say.
"No ‘buts’ about it. Just get out of the store," he ordered.
As I was about to take a step, the package of cheese fell from my shirt. I just stood there looking at his face.
"Don't you move," said the man as he reached over to picked up the phone.
"But I'm hungry, mister," I pleaded. "I really am."
"Then you should have asked someone, before you tried to steal something," he replied.
"What's the problem here?" said this large woman as she came walking down the store isle.
"Caught this boy stealing cheese," said the grocer.
"Why do you stealing food young man?" asked woman.
"My stomachs hungry. I was gonna ask for the food. I really I was. That's why I didn't leave and run." I replied.
"I would have given the boy the cheese, if he had asked me," said the man.
"You wouldn't give Jesus Christ a fish, if he walked in here with his 12 disciples," said the woman as she turned toward the man.
The man balled up his fist and shook it at her.
"What you staring at?" asked the man as he looked over at me.
"I ain't never heard no woman talk to a man like that before," I replied.
I just stood motionless. I knew I was as good as dead. I tried with all my might to move my legs, but I couldn't. All of a sudden, I started to cry. I knew very well that the old man could not catch me if I did decide to run, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not move a muscle.
"Forget about the police. Call his parents and then put the kid to work. Have him clean the glass doors until they get here," said the woman.
After hounding me for more than five minutes, the man finally realized I was not going to tell him who I was or where I lived. I cleaned the front door glass as he placed a call the police. When they arrived, I was placed in the back seat of the patrol car and taken down to the police station. For hours, I sat at the station house not saying a word. Finally, they reached the juvenile authorities and I was taken to juvenile hall. I remained in the juvenile hall for almost a week before they realized that I was a runaway from the Children's Home Society Orphanage.
Over the next two or three years, I continued to run away from the orphanage. During that time, I continued to steal food whenever I got hungry. Most of the boys who ran away with me would not steal food. They were afraid they would be caught and then taken to the juvenile hall or worse - returned to the orphanage. Most of them chose to make friends with the gay men down at the local park every night to get money for food.
I went to the park, with several other boys, only on one occasion. There was just something wrong with what they were doing - something that did not seem natural to me and something that made me feel strange inside, so I never went back after that first time.
As I look back on those days, I can see that sometimes children have to make choices in their lives. Sometimes those choices only allow them to pick the lesser of many evils. We boys tried for years to expose what was happening to us in that Jacksonville, Florida orphanage, but no one would listen.
My choices were to stay in the orphanage, and be beaten and molested until I was 18. I also chose to steal food to feed myself or to make myself available to the ‘queer’ men who visited the park each and every evening. I chose to do what I felt was the best thing for me, the thing that would cause the least amount of damage in the long run. I chose to do what I felt would allow me to not feel so guilty. My only choice was to become a thief.