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For three days and two nights, we boys hid ourselves beneath the Spring Park Elementary School. Months earlier, we found this small opening, which led beneath the large, red brick schoolhouse. It was decided that this was a safe place for we orphans to gather when we ran away from the orphanage.

There in the darkness, we made a makeshift home away from home for ourselves. It felt good to have a secret place of our own - a place where we could feel safe and protected from the beatings and abuse we constantly suffered at the hands of the matrons.

It had been decided on Wednesday night that the three of us would run away from the Children's Home Society Orphanage. There we sat, all alone in our homemade hut beneath the school. Our tan-colored spreads with dark brown stripes covered our little bodies to help keep us warm as the sun went down. For more than four days, the three of us had saved our bread crusts from the dining room so we would have food to eat. Now that meager supply was nearly exhausted. We knew, though no one said a word that our three-day reign of freedom was near its end, that within hours, we had to make a decision of sorts.

I, for one, was scared to death of Mother Winters, the head matron. Maybe I was even more than scared. I am not sure if there is a word that could describe the horror I felt when she came at me with that wild look in her eyes. All those wrinkles all squashed together on her forehead. That "I'm gonna beat you, until you’re dead" look in her eye. Eyes that never blinked or moved to the side. It was just a deadly stare that seemed to go right through whomever she was after at the time.

I just sat there as my 10-year-old mind ran around in a confusing, never-ending, circle. There had to be a way, some way, to find a solution to our predicament. Some way, other than just going back to the orphanage and facing another terrible beating with a stalk of green bamboo.

"I'm get'n hungry again," said Emmett.

"Just wait till dark, and we'll go out and find something good to eat," I said.

Emmett covered his head with the spread he took off his bed at the orphanage. I could hear him crying and silently mumbling to himself. He began to rock back and forth, and hum to himself, just as he had done for years, while sitting on the end of his bed.

When darkness fell and the traffic out on Spring Park Road seemed to settle down, the three of us headed out into the nighttime to scavenge something to eat. The garbage cans out behind the school cafeteria offered very little in the way of food. Nevertheless, we ate what we could find in the 20 or so garbage cans.

Next, we headed back toward the orphanage, which was right next door to the school. We circled the fenced compound and entered through the back gate near San Diego Road.

"Look what's over here," I told Emmett and Billy.

Crouching down in the shadows, they slowly came over to where I was kneeling. I pointed at a large pile of stalks on the ground. They could see that someone had delivered another large load of sugarcane to the orphanage. It had been dumped on the roadway near the back entrance of the kitchen. Immediately, we began to pile the sugarcane in our arms and off we headed back toward our hut underneath the school. Over the next few hours, we carried armload upon armload of sugarcane back to our secret hiding place.

After sufficient food had been stored in our hut, we settled in for the night. I took my spread, wrapped it around me and lied down in the warm sand. I tried to think about good things, but there was nothing good to think about. I lied there thinking about what was going to happen to us when we got caught. I closed my eyes and tried to wish myself back in my warm bed at the orphanage, hoping all along that I could somehow go back in time and undo the circumstance that I was now in. The tighter I closed my eyes, the more my legs began to shake. Soon my entire body was shaking as if I was having a seizure.

All of a sudden, a bright light shone through the opening leading to our hideout. Each of us just sat very still.

"Okay, you boys get yourselves out here. RIGHT NOW!" someone yelled.

One at a time, we climbed out of the small cement opening and just stood facing the two police officers, who were shining their flashlights on us. The three of us were loaded into the back seat of the police car and driven back to the orphanage. The head matron, Mother Winters, opened the door and pushed each of us into the hallway, all the while digging her fingernails into my neck as she pushed me along.

"Can you take these two boys back to the boys’ dormitory?" she asked the police officer as she pointed to Emmett and Billy.

One of them took Emmett and Billy by the arm and started walking toward the large, white, brick building where we lived.

The matron closed the door and very slowly, she turned toward me. Without saying a word, she raised her hand and began shaking her finger at me.

"Am I gonna get a beating?" I asked as I started to cry.

All at once, she walked toward me. I raised my hands to shield my face. Gently, she placed her hand on my shoulder and pushed me toward the doorway leading into her private quarters. My little heart was beating 90 miles per hour. No one (that I knew of) had ever been inside the bedroom of Mother Winters.

"Take off your shirt and lay down on the bed," she instructed.

Carefully, I unbuttoned my shirt and laid it across the wooden chair. Then I sat down on the edge of her bed. The next thing I knew, she had taken off her housecoat and let drop to the floor. Then she lied down on the bed beside me. She placed her arms around me, pulled me over and laid my head on her bare chest.

"Am I gonna get a beating?" I asked once again.

"Shhhhh," she said as she placed her hand over my mouth.

I just lied there too afraid to move, motionless and limp. Then she began to rub on my back. Slowly, she rubbed back and forth, all the while pulling my face tighter and tighter into her chest. Then she began to moan and groan, and breathe really hard.

"Are you okay, Mother Winters? Are you okay?" I asked.

She said not a word as her fingernails dug into the side of my cheek. She held my face against her bare breasts for about five minutes. There were times when I could hardly breathe. Then all at once, she released me.

"Get your shirt on and go out and sit on the breezeway porch," she said.

I dressed myself, walked out to the porch and sat down. I don't remember what time it was, but I sat on that porch all night long. I was there when the other children came to get breakfast at 7:30 the next morning.

After school, I told Emmett what happened with Mother Winters, but he did not believe me. All I knew was that I did not get a beating for running away.

Over the next four years, Mother Winters called me to her private room almost every time that I got into trouble. There were times when I refused to do as she requested. When I refused, she would call the police to take me to the juvenile shelter and be locked in a wire cage. No matter who I told, including the court, no one believed me. All that seemed to do was get me into more trouble and be labeled a liar.

Did what Mother Winters do to me cause any damage? I really do not know. It did not appear to affect my sex life. That aspect appears to have been rather normal, as far as I can tell. I do know that I cannot lay my head on a woman's bare chest or have her lay her head on mine, so I take for granted that the damage was minimal.

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