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GOOD KID vs. BAD KID


When I look back on my younger days living in a Jacksonville, Florida orphanage, I can see where the problem(s) started.

I have always wondered if some kids are just destined to turn out to be ‘bad kids.’ Maybe being bad is just in their nature and that no matter how good they are treated or how much they have materially, they are going to still turn out to be bad.

I can remember 20 or 30 of us boys standing around waiting for our turn to use the one (1) roller skate. That was all we had to play with. Oh, there was a swing and a monkey bar, but after a year or two of just swinging, it tends to get a little boring so you just move on.

Constantly being in a state of boredom and as you grow, your mind starts to develop. Before you know it, you have invented the wheel. Or as in the case of we, 6 and 7-year-olds, it was the bow and arrow - a finally tuned piece of equipment made from the stalks of bamboo, which surrounded the orphanage. Let there be no doubt that these were very dangerous weapons. Not only were the bamboo arrows sharpened to a fine point, but they also had coca tops bent around the ends so they would sometimes stick in the large pine trees.

Of course, we were told what juvenile delinquents we were, and the bows and arrows were confiscated. Once again bored, we were back to the one roller skate. Within several days, we had invented the whip. Wow! What a popping sound could be made by attaching pieces of an old towel to a short piece of bamboo.

This time, the police were called and we were threatened with being sent away to the reform school, if such a thing were to ever happen again. That too was taken away and our little minds once again started over from scratch. Then came the building of underground fort(s) and climbing trees. This led to beatings and/or a day or two in the dark closet without food or water. That led to the stealing of bread crusts to feed whomever happened to be locked in the closet. One of the boys was actually taken away and sent to ‘the big prison,’ because he was caught climbing over the orphanage fence, so he could go and play baseball with the kids who lived in the outside world.

Next came climbing atop buildings with some of the boys actually jumping off the roofs. This led to Bill Stroud falling off one of the buildings and breaking his arm. I will never forget him being dragged by the police across the ground by his shirt collar, with his arm all twisted around behind his body.

Of course, every time we did one of the acts we were told what "low life bastards" we were. There was not a day that went by that one or all of us were not cursed at, hit or kicked. They made sure we knew that nobody wanted us and were just staying there until we could get old enough to be sent to reform school or a prison for kids.

No matter what we did, we were told it was wrong. If we used the swings, we were told that we were swinging too high or that we had been on the swing for too long a period. If we played cowboys and Indians, we were told that sticks could not be used as guns or rifles, because someone might get hurt. If we wrestled in the leaves, we were told we were making a mess and would receive a beating or worse. If we ate too fast, we were told to slow down. If we ate too slowly, we were told to speed up, so we could be excused.

The only praise I ever received in 10 years was the matron saying, "Boy! Can that little bastard ever clean a toilet!"

This type of treatment went on for more than 10 years. As the years passed, we boys now about 10 or 11 years of age, started to become interested in the girls, who lived across the road in another dormitory. We also began to smoke the dried up vines, which grew amongst the bamboo.

As we marched to and from the dining hall, we were not allowed to look at the girls, who were also marching in another line. Of course, we looked and were caught many times. Then we were labeled "perverts" and "sex crazed maniacs."

As the years continued, we ventured outside the orphanage at night. We stole food and clothes from the local stores. We often skipped school and ventured out into the real world. In time, we started smoking real cigarettes and stealing food to eat. Never once did any of us ever go to a prom, play sports at school or hold an instrument in our hands. We did nothing, except go to school, work and play with that one roller skate.

As the boys were caught, they were sent off to the reform schools, jails and prisons, one at a time, until there were none of us left. Many of the girls became prostitutes or alcoholics. Most after leaving the orphanage were never heard from again. Several even committed suicide.

Were we all just bad seeds? Was it something that only our parents knew about us, even at the age of 5? Was it the lack of material possessions that led us to explore life in the wrong direction? Was it being raised in a group setting? Is that what led us down the wrong path in life? Was the culprit never having felt the feeling of love, accomplishment or satisfaction?

All I know for sure is that any human being, especially a child, who is locked in a cage for the first 10 to 15 years of life and not allowed to expand his or her natural ability, is going to come out an emotionally sick puppy. Sooner or later, whatever positives the orphanage accomplished will be clouded by loneliness and it is going to unravel and something snap.

Three of us from "The Herd" died last year. I wonder if things had been different, if they would still be alive today. I sometimes wonder if one of us, under different conditions, might have become a judge, lawyer, senator or even better, the one to find the cure for cancer.


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