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HOW TO BECOME A THIEF (WITHOUT REALLY TRYING)



"If you would have 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 that I had just stolen was going to fall from my shirt as I walked out of the store.

The grocer’s words: "If you would have just asked me, I would have given it to you," kept going over and over in my mind. I stood watching as the man placed the two packages back on the meat counter. I then looked over at the doorway and wondered if I should make my get-away 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 12 years old and had tried to get several labor jobs, but no one would give me any work. The only money 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," said the man.

"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 looking at his face.

"Don't move," said the man as he reached over to pick up the telephone.

“But I'm hungry, mister. 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 you stealing food young man?" the woman asked.

"My stomach’s hungry. I was gonna ask for the food. Really I was. That's why I didn't leave and run," I explained.

"I would have given the boy the cheese if he would have 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 that 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 stood cleaning the front door glass as he placed a call to the police. When they arrived, I was placed into the back seat of the patrol car and taken down to the station.

For hours, I sat at the stationhouse not saying a word. Finally, they reached the juvenile authorities and I was taken to Juvenile Hall. I remained there 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 other boys, who also ran away, would not steal food. They were too afraid to steal anything. They chose to visit the queers almost every night in the park down on Park Street to get money for food.

As I now 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 tried for years to tell and expose what was happening to us in that Jacksonville, Florida orphanage, but no one would listen. My choices were (1) To stay in the orphanage where I was beaten and molested until I turned 18. (2) To steal in order to feed myself. Or (3) To make myself available to the gay men who visited the park each and every evening to make money. I chose to do what I felt would cause the least amount of damage and pain. I chose to become a thief.



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