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I'M COUNTING ON YOU



It would take me about 15 minutes to walk from the front office back to Roosevelt Cottage. It was time for me to go and I was in no hurry to leave. I was not sure exactly what it was I was feeling at the time. I only knew that I was not even sure if I wanted to leave the Florida School for Boys Reformatory.

Other than the Children's Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida, this was the only home I had known. All of my friends were here and I guess maybe even my heart was here. This is the place where everybody knew me as one of the fastest runners who ever came to the reform school. I was one of the best in football, capture the flag and swimming. I had never been known as something special before I came to this place. I was turning 13 in about a month. Being locked up is all I had ever known. Slowly, I walked along passing cottage after cottage - eight two-story, yellow brick buildings, which lined the main drag of the institution. I stopped, turned around and looked back toward the laundry where I had worked in the dry cleaning area.

Just two days earlier, I was a happy little 12-year-old without a care in the world. Now I was being released and I had no idea what would happen to me. I had always lived in the orphanage. Were they going to send me back there? Was that woman still there who made me do bad things to her?

As I entered the door of Cottage 12, I ran as fast as I could over to Mr. SeaLander's office and knocked on the door.

"Come in," he said.

I opened the door, walked in and stood waiting for him to look up at me.

"Can I stay here with you, Mr. SeaLander? Do I have to go back to the orphanage?" I asked.

"Roger, that's not up to me. That is all decided by the court, son," he said.

"Why are they making me go back? That Judge Gooding said that I could stay here until I was 21. That is what he said. I heard him," I told Mr. SeaLander as I started to cry.

"Come here and sit down," he said pointing to the chair next to his desk.

"Roger, you're a good boy. You are smart and you take orders very well. You followed the rules and now they feel you are ready to return to the outside world," he continued.

"But I don't got nowhere to go," I said.

He thumped his pencil on his desk.

"Look here at me," he said as he pushed my chin up with his fingers. "I am counting on you. Do you know what that means?"

"Yes sir, Mr. SeaLander. That I'll be a good boy and that I'll do what's right all the time?"

"That's right," he said with a big smile.

"But I won't have nobody to look out after me like you do, Mr. SeaLander. Please can't I stay here longer? Please?" I begged.

He just sat staring at me. I had never seen that kind of look on his face before.

"Didn't I win the football game for us, Mr. SeaLander? Didn't I capture the flag for our team? What we gonna do when I'm gone?" I asked.

Mr. SeaLander got up from his seat and walked into his bedroom. "You go outside and sit on the steps, until I call for you," he said.

I got up from my seat and walked outside by the monkey bars.

"I won't never get no more boiled peanuts and no more movie on Saturday night," I thought as I kicked the sand with my foot.

For about 30 minutes, I walked around waiting for Mr. SeaLander.

"Roger Dean," he called to me out the window.

"Yes sir, Mr. SeaLander," I said raising my arm into the air.

"I talked with Mr. Curry at the front office. He assures me that they have a place for you to go when you get back to Jacksonville."

Not another word was spoken. I could not sleep all night long for fear of what might happen to me in the future.

Early the next morning, I shook Mr. SeaLander's hand. It took everything I could not to cry. Two strange men placed me in a car and carried me back to the juvenile hall in Jacksonville, Florida. I refused to be returned to the orphanage. Less than three months later, I was returned to the Florida School for Boys in Marianna. I remember it as being one of the happiest days of my youth.



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