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FORMING THE CRIMINAL CHILD



I do not think I was ever what you would call a criminal. I do not know if convicted of a few felonies when one is young, classifies you as an honest-to-goodness-criminal. To me, a real criminal is someone who does not care how others may feel. Their main concern is what they want out of life.

I know that the Children's Home Society Orphanage always treated me like I was a criminal. Their written opinion(s) of me throughout the years, as well as their records about me, haunted me for most of my youth. When I became a teenager, the Duval County Juvenile Court in Jacksonville, Florida continued where the orphanage had left off. From there, the State of Florida took over and sent me to the Florida School for Boys at Marianna. By the time I was eighteen, I had a criminal record that was about eleven inches thick. The worse thing I ever did was break into the Patio Restaurant with six other orphans, and we ate as much food as we could stomach. We even cleaned up our mess and replaced the glass, which we had removed from the back window.

I guess taking a bicycle to ride from the girl's dormitory was a crime. A vicious crime that the Children’s Home Society Orphanage felt was in need of severe and brutal punishment. That crime, together with climbing trees, digging holes in the ground to build army forts, and a few little white lies, was enough for the orphanage to label me a "trouble maker" and a "worthless bastard."

In my case, there were adults at the orphanage who were impatient and constantly cursed me. This was simply because I could not make my bed tightly enough to satisfy them.

I cannot count the times I was beaten across the back and legs with a stalk of green bamboo, because I refused to drink my warm powered milk. I continued to refuse the milk, day after day, for almost a year. By then I had been labeled, "a defiant and mentally retarded child who could not, or would not follow direction." The orphanage records, passed down to the juvenile court system, only reflected that I was "a defiant child". The record never seemed to indicate why I was being defiant.

I remember well my first criminal act. Even though it was only a thought in my mind, it was the start of my criminal career. Many of the children who drank the warm powered milk actually threw up. When they did, they were made to eat their vomit. In my case, the vomit was raked into my cream of wheat and I was beaten until I ate every bite. Between each bite, I had to repeat the grace: "Father, we thank thee for this food, Amen."

I sat at my table station for almost thirteen hours one day. The entire time I was being cursed, slapped, drug off my chair to the floor and then kicked in the middle of my back.

"You will eat that damn cereal or I will kill you. YOU LITTLE BASTARD," screamed Mother Winters. All the while she dug her fingernails into my cheek.

"Are you gonna really kill me right now?" I questioned.

I curled up into a tight ball on the dining room floor and lay there with my little hands covering my face.

"You ain't worth killing," she said, as she turned and walked away.

Though I was only six-years-old, I remember going to bed that night trying to think of a way to make Mothers Winters die. I walked into the bathroom before going to bed and looked at myself in the mirror. In a matter of twelve hours, my once innocent looking face had changed. My eyes now held a deep, dark, hallow stare. The once smiling corners of my little mouth had lost all sense of direction. I was now on the road to becoming a very mean- spirited, defiant, and lonely little boy. As I stood there, I swore to myself that no one would ever make me eat vomit or feces again.

My life was never the same after that. Something changed in me and I became a completely different child. I became confused and afraid to feel anything. I no longer smiled or thought like a little boy. I no longer acted or played as a little boy.

I think there comes a time in a child's life when they begin to believe what adults say about them. Sometimes the only crime a child is guilty of, is just being a kid.

As I look back at my childhood, I wonder what I did that was so bad. Was it riding a bicycle without permission? Climbing a tree or digging a hole in the ground to build an army fort? Using the bathroom or getting a drink of water without receiving permission? Maybe it was getting "Fs" on my report card. That cost me two or three days in a dark closet without food or water. Even breaking into the Patio Restaurant was done because we were boys were hungry. The thought of "breaking and entering" would have never entered our heads, except we smelled that wonderful food as we walked past the restaurant late one Saturday night.

The truth of the matter is that many of the kids from the orphanage eventually made their way to prison. Those who did not go to prison lived a very lonely existence. Most traveled from relationship to relationship, wondering what is wrong with the rest of the world.

Why did this happen? Would this have happened to them if they’d had parents, and not been raised in an orphanage? By the time they left the orphanage, were they already doomed to a life of crime, sadness, and loneliness? When they left the orphanage, were they already subconsciously convinced they were worthless and useless to a world they knew very little about?

Is this story unimportant, and should the past be forgotten?

These stories should never be forgotten. If forgotten, these same types of things may be repeated in the future. However, what is most important is that the orphanage kids be allowed to tell their stories. It is through these stories that their families and friends will learn why they are almost incapable of giving, or receiving love.



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