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JUST WHEN I NEEDED YOU MOST



"But it's true. She makes me do it too," said another boy from our orphanage as he touched his breast area.

One of the boys from the home had told his Sunday school teacher that the head matron, Mrs. Winters, had been touching him in his ‘private place,’ that on numerous occasions, she had him place one of her breasts in his mouth.

"This is a very serious charge," said the teacher.

"It's been happening for a long, long time now," said the 7-year-old.

"Old Topper, the old policeman. He knows all about it," I said.

"Then why hasn't he done anything? she asked.

"He says we’re lucky to have a place to live and food to eat, and that we shouldn't say noth'n about it," I said.

The next thing we knew, we were in the preacher's office. One at a time, we boys told the preacher what was happening to us at the orphanage. As the conversation progressed, it was learned that the husband of one of the matrons was also fondling several of the smaller boys.

I was scared to death when we returned to the orphanage after church. For days, the boys who had talked with the preacher and Sunday school teacher did not even speak to one another. We stayed silent in hopes that the situation would just go away and that nothing would be said. Hours turned into days and days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months and months turned into years. As far as I know, nothing was ever said or done about the sexual abuse that was happening.

As the years passed, the sexual escapades spread throughout the orphanage. It even began to spread amongst the children themselves. There were many times when I walked into the bathroom and saw some of the larger boys molesting some the smaller children in the shower stalls. I would just use the bathroom and then walk away, as if nothing was happening. For too many of the boys, it became a joke and there were times it was even laughed about.

From the age of 7 to 14, I walked around in a state of semi-unconsciousness, almost like treading through darkness day after day and mile after mile. This was true of all the children. What was happening to many of the kids became ‘normal.’ It just became a common everyday occurrence.

The Duval County Juvenile Court was advised numerous times about what was happening at the home, as were law enforcement and the Methodist Church. But nothing was ever done. Even when I enlisted into the army, I told them about what was happening at the orphanage. All they did was place a note in my file saying I would involve myself in "sexual situations for food and/or money."

Over the years, the juvenile and criminal records piled up and became volumes, upon volumes of information against us. Much of what was contained in the files was nothing more than a pack of distorted lies to protect the orphanage itself. Anyone who took the time to read the files would have drawn the conclusion that we were nothing more than a pack of vicious dogs running wild on the streets. The files did not indicate that the reason we broke into a Mexican Restaurant on three different occasions was to feed ourselves, because we were going hungry.

Many of the boys and girls from the orphanage went out on the street. Many became alcoholics and some became drug users. Many of them went on to prison and several committed suicide. Most of the kids, I never saw again after I was sent off to the reform school at age 14.

In 1991, I managed to get together somewhat of a family reunion at the home of one of the boys, who was in the orphanage with us. It seemed so strange looking into their grown-up faces after all those years. Even then, no one said a word about being abused or molested. What I remember most about the kids was seeing their innocent little faces as they sat in the dining room eating their meals, year after year.

It's true that those of us who went on to prison certainly knew the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ The problem was that we did not care what the difference was. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ had very little meaning to us.

Most of the kids at the home were emotionally dead inside. Not only does a child have to know the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ but they also have to care about the difference. We kids just did as we pleased when it came to searching out food or a moment’s pleasure. Then we just suffered the consequences of our actions as it fell upon us.

Many of we kids did not care if we got into trouble. We always felt, every moment of the day, ‘lonely’ inside. The only thing that broke up that ungodly feeling of loneliness was the excitement of getting into trouble.

Why was it that I was the only one from the orphanage who was able to walk out of prison in 1969 and never get into trouble again? I really do not know the answer to that. Maybe I got tired of being locked up like an animal. Maybe I got tired of being sexually abused. Maybe I got tired of not being able to think for myself or have some control over my own life. I really do not know the answer.

The only thing I do know for sure is that the system failed us kids and it failed us badly. It failed us at a time when we needed it most.



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