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DIFFERENT LIFESTYLES



It would be impossible to count the times that we boys had run away from the Children's Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida. Sometimes, it was just for fun. Other times, it was to find food or just to get away from being beaten.

Once again, we had come to one of our favorite hiding places. It was a city park located across the St. Johns River on Park Street near Five Points. It was late November and the evenings were quite chilly. The sun was starting to set behind the large oak trees that surrounded the park. We boys always stuck together because of the local gangs who frequented the park during the evening hours. Generally, the gangs would not bother us. They knew we were only 10 or 11 years old and we did not have any money or possessions.

As darkness fell, the gangs would walk the perimeter of the park waiting for the ‘queers’ to come out. There was not a night that one or two of these gay men were not severely beaten. It was very hard for us to understand. Why would they constantly come back to the park almost every evening, knowing what might happen to them?

Many times the police found them, some almost unconscious, and they were arrested and hauled off to jail. However, there were times when the men were beaten so badly that they could not get up off the ground. Many times, we hid in the bushes and watched as the police took out their leather slapjack. Then they removed the men’s shoes and beat the bottom of their feet, until they were bloody.

I will forever remember lying in the bushes, night after night, watching police officers beat on people as if they were animals. I remember well, the high-pitched screams as the men were beaten. I remember them begging and pleading for the police to stop. I still see a picture in my mind of a man's body as it twisted back and forth, like a snake trying to get away.

We later learned this was the cops’ way of making sure many of these men would not come back to the park for a week or two. It was also their way of exposing to the public that this individual was a ‘secret homosexual.’

I will never forget the laughing of the police officers, as they appeared to enjoy what they were doing. I remember feeling helpless and scared. I remember thinking that the world outside the orphanage was a terrible place to be. For as long as I live, I will remember there are human beings on this earth who will always use their power to hurt others.

There was one night when I was sure the police had almost killed one man. When they left, we came out from the bushes and tried to help him. He could not remember who he was or where he lived. His feet were so sore that he could not walk. I remember looking him up and down, and wondering why the police thought he was different from the rest of us.

When I talked to him, he appeared to be very kind, but he had a very soft, high-pitched voice. He seemed to be concerned why we were out at such a late and unsafe hour. We sat talking with him, until he got himself together. I never spoke to him the entire time. I just sat on the ground and watched as passing car lights hit his face. None of us were use to being around people who were kind.

As bad as these experiences were, they had a very positive effect on my life. Those terrible things caused me, for some reason, to always root for the underdog. They taught me not to be judgmental of others. I learned to treat others as they treat me. I learned that I may not agree with the way others think or how they believe, but I have the right to disagree with someone’s lifestyle. Even as a young confused little boy, I knew that it costs nothing to be kind and that it is wrong to hurt someone.

My friendship has always been available to anyone who wanted to be kind to me. All I ask in return for that friendship is that they treat me with respect and not hurt me.



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