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THE TANK



"Strip 'em down and put them in the drunk tank," shouted the fat police sergeant sitting behind a desk.

All five of us kids were stripped down to our underwear and placed inside a tiled room. The room was bare of anything, except for a tiled bench seat, which ran completely around the room. The temperature was very cold; it must have been somewhere around 40 degrees.

Generally, when we boys ran away from the orphanage, we were taken to the juvenile hall located on Market Street. From what I could gather from the officer’s conversation, the juvenile hall was full. Therefore, we were taken to the Duval County jail, until other arrangements could be made.

We ranged in age from 9 to 10. We sat there with our hands folded between our legs trying to stay as warm as possible. No matter what position you found, you just could not get warm. Every half hour or so, the big steel door opened and another drunken adult was pushed inside. He would stagger around for several minutes mumbling to themselves, and then lie down on the floor and go to sleep. Occasionally, one of the men would awaken and start to throw up all over the floor. As the hours passed, the smell became more and more intolerable. It became so horrible that several of us started to get sick and throw up too. I constantly banged on the steel door asking the guards to move us to another cell that did not smell.

Finally, in order to keep warm, we huddled in a group with our backs to each other. Just as we were about to get some warmth, we heard the steel door unlock and swing open. Two jail guards came rushing in holding a large fire hose. They immediately began spraying everyone down with cold water. Everyone in the cell began to yell and scream at the top of his voice.

That had to be one of the worst nights of my life. I was 10 at that time. As I sat in the corner of the large cold cell shivering, I wondered how people could treat other human beings with such cruelty. I can remember being totally confused. Even at that young age, I could understand people being mean to one another, but only if they were being threatened. However, to make someone almost freeze to death and then laugh about it was very confusing to me.

Hour after hour, we sat there freezing in that jail cell. Several of the boys started to cry and said their ears hurt. I felt like crying myself, but by the age of 10, had already become very hard inside. There was no way I was going to let anyone see me cry and there was no way I was going to beg for mercy. Most of us had already been up for about 30 hours and just as I was about to fall asleep, the steel door opened once again. Standing in the doorway was a big man with his hands on his hips.

"What are these kids doing in here?" he questioned one of the guards standing behind him.

"Don't really know, sir. They were brought in on the last shift."

"Get these kids some damn blankets. They’re freezing to death!" said the large man.

"Yes, sir," said the guard as he turned and headed down the long hallway.

"You kids ate anything?" asked the man.

"Not since yesterday morning," said one of the boys.

"You boys get up and get out here in the hallway."

He pointed at us one at a time. One by one, we made our way to the door. As we exited, a wool blanket was wrapped around each of us. We sat in a line on the floor in the hallway and each of us was given a cup of hot cocoa and a meat sandwich. I watched and listened very closely as the large man talked on the telephone; he was trying to find a warm place for us.

Eventually, we were returned to the orphanage, but I never forgot that man's face. I remember how it made me feel deep inside for someone to care about us freezing to death, to care enough to give us blankets and food, because we were cold and hungry. It felt good to sit out in that warm hallway and drink cocoa. We sat there for hours and I was gulping up the attention shown to us by a man whose face had some compassion to it.

I will never forget the feeling of being hosed down as though I were an animal. I will never forget those grown up people standing around looking at us kids in a cage. All the while, they were laughing as though we were useless and unworthy of any compassion whatsoever.



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