Orphan Survival Stories Index |
"Don't you know it is wrong to steal?" asked the woman.
"Yes ma'am," I answered.
"Then why do you steal, if you know it is wrong?"
I stood trying to find an answer that I knew would satisfy her.
"I steal, because that's the way it's done."
"What do you mean?" she questioned.
"If you need food and you do not got no job, then you just have to steal food," I explained.
"That's not true and you know it."
"But I don't know what you mean," I said.
"Don't you know that stealing is wrong?" she asked again.
"I know that it's wrong, but what else is there to do?"
"You really do not know, do you?" she responded.
I was 9 or 10 years old when that conversation occurred. Now that I am 57, I can look back and see exactly what it was that she was talking about. However, at the time, I was a very confused little boy.
When running away from the orphanage, we boys would not eat for a day or two at a time. As a last resort, we would walk into a store, and steal bread and meat for sandwiches. This went on for years. So long in fact, that it became commonplace for us to steal. Stealing became a necessity of life. Stealing was just as normal to us as was the sun coming up each morning.
The point here is that each one of us knew that stealing was wrong. There was no doubt about that.
"But what other way is there to have stuff like other kids have?" we asked ourselves.
For children not to steal, there must be a negative feeling associated with the act of stealing; some type of feeling that makes one feel guilty should they steal something that does not belong to them. We boys were running the streets as if we were a pack of wild, hungry dogs searching for prey. Stealing to us was nothing more than survival.
When caught, we were taken before the juvenile court. We knew that we had done something wrong. We also knew there was a price to be paid. Many times, we told Judge Gooding that we stole food, because we were going hungry. He called us liars.
He would roll his eyes into the back of his head and then lock us up in juvenile hall. However, after that was over, we were right back where we started in the first place, back to being hungry and mistreated. We were hungry, we were scared and we did not have the slightest idea where to turn, except to stealing. We knew that ‘stealing’ would feed us and that ‘stealing’ was our only option.
Not once did we ever feel guilty about what we were doing. That was the worse part of the entire mess. Many of the boys and girls continued to steal for years. All the while only knowing that it was ‘legally’ wrong, but no one ever seemed to feel guilty about it. Feeling ‘guilty’ never crossed our little minds, even for an instant.
Steal and get caught, steal and get caught, steal and get caught. It became a never-ending cycle.
Those were the terms of the act of stealing. There was never anyone to tell us there were other options open to us. In fact, there were no other options, other than going hungry.
Telling a child that stealing food is wrong when they are hungry has very little meaning. As a child, I sat on the beach many a night eating raw hamburger, which we had stolen from a grocery store. We boys all sat in a circle shivering from the cold and we had blood all over our faces from eating raw meat, as if we were wild animals.