Orphan Survival Stories Index |
"The record before me indicates that you are constantly getting into trouble. What seems to be the problem?" asked the judge.
"I don't know why I get into trouble all the time. I do not mean to do bad things. I really don't, sir."
It appears to me to be a matter of just doing what one is told. Now that doesn't seem very hard to do.
Once again, I was standing before Judge Marion Gooding of the Duval County Juvenile Court in Jacksonville, Florida. I had just turned 10 and for some reason, I was once again standing before a juvenile judge who knew me well.
"What is it that you feel when you get into trouble?" asked the judge.
"I don't know.
"It appears to me that you don't know anything. It's the same story each and every time you come before me," he said pointing his pencil at me.
I just stood biting my bottom lip. I did not have the slightest idea what to say to him.
"What is it you feel right now? he asked.
"I don't feel nothing.
"Nothing at all?
"No, sir," I responded shaking my head back and forth.
"Are you scared right now?" the judge enquired.
"I'm a little bit scared.
"Then you do feel something, right?"
"Yes sir. I guess.
"It says here that you are constantly climbing trees and that you are digging holes in the ground. Do you know that is very dangerous and somewhat destructive of property?"
"It don't hurt no trees to climb on them.
"And what about the holes you dig in the ground?" he questioned.
"We just build army forts and we cover them up with wood and dirt. Then we play army war."
"That is not really the question. The question here is why you cannot do what you are told?
I just stood with my head down. For the life of me, I could not understand why I was standing before Judge Gooding. This was my third or fourth time before the judge. Each time was because I had done something simple, like climbed the chain-link fence at the orphanage or refused to eat eggplant or slimy okra.
"What we have here, Your Honor is a criminal in the making. He is very destructive and very unruly. He just will not listen to direction," said Mrs. Winters, the head matron of the orphanage.
I looked up to see the judge staring directly at me. All he did the entire time she was speaking was sit constantly tapping his pencil on the top of his large desk.
"Has the boy ever been tested for mental retardation?" asked the judge.
No one answered. The courtroom fell silent for more than a minute, while the judge wrote something down on his pad. I had heard those words before and I knew what they meant. It meant that you were not right inside your head.
"I got to stop doing bad things or everyone's going to think that I got retardation inside my head," I thought.
"Let's put the boy upstairs for 10 days. I'll order some tests and I'll make a decision based on those results," ordered the judge.
Several minutes later, I was taken upstairs. Several men in black suits locked me in a wire cage. The next day, I was given several tests with many questions on them. They were very easy kinds of questions too. I did not have any problem answering all of them, because I lied on most of them. Four days later, I was back in court.
"Mrs. Winters, the tests that were given to Roger Dean Kiser do indicate that the boy has some severe emotional problems," said the judge.
"I think it goes much deeper than that, Your Honor!" said Mrs. Winters.
I stood wondering how they had reached such a conclusion. I knew, without a doubt, that I had answered all the questions correctly.
"Do you think that you can behave, if I send you back to the children's home?" the judge asked.
"But there's nothing to do, if we can't climb trees and build forts in the ground."
"What do you have for the children as far as recreation?" the judge asked Mrs. Winters.
"There is a swing set and we have a large library in the boys dormitory."
"We have one roller skate," I told the judge.
The judge placed his finger over his mouth as if to tell me to keep quiet.
"How do you feel now? What are your feelings?" he enquired as he placed his chin on both his hands.
"I still don't got no feelings no more," I said as I shook my head back and forth.
Over the next four years, I stood before the judge 20 or 30 more times. My crimes ranged from climbing in the orphanage trees, to stealing from a local Mexican Restaurant. Then I graduated onto smoking grape vines. By the time I was 14, I had a juvenile record that was six inches thick.
The final straw came when several of us appeared in court before Judge Gooding. This time, we were charged with killing animals. I knew it was hopeless, so I said not a word. Mrs. Winters stood before the court telling her lies. She told the court that I had taken all the fish out of the aquarium at school and flushed them down the toilet. She knew that one of the other boys had dumped ink into the aquarium and that I took the fish out of the ink-stained water so they would not die. She knew that I placed them in the toilet so they would not die from the ink. She flushed the fish down the toilet.
I stood watching her as she did it. As the goldfish washed around and around in the bowl, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "Now you are out of here for good, you little bastard!