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When I was six years old, my twin brother and I were separated from our parents due to them getting a divorce and my father turning us over to the welfare as I knew it, the state. My brother Billy went to a foster home, a real loving Mother figure with about 8 children in a huge house in the country. I went to a hospital to have a hernia operation on my scrotum. I was sent to a rest home for the elderly to heal, because they had no other place for me. That was an experience because I had never seen someone have a seizure before and lots of these guys were really bad. I learned to hold their heads for them to keep them safe and sometimes I would get hurt and bruised in the process. I was later sent to a Baptist Orphanage in Salem, Va. About 8 miles southwest of Roanoke, I forgot yo mention my older brother Carl was caught after running away and sent to Richmond reform school. I learned how to care for myself by sheer experience of continuously screwing up. I fought because I was a little guy and got to be a loner, but I was well respected by my peers, that when provoked I would strike back regardless what the staff did to me.
When I turned 7, I was sent to the print shop to work. We were required to go to school in town, about a mile down hill. After school we reported to our duties. I really liked the shop because it taught me reading, writing, art, and how to do a lot of printing work.
When I was 11, I wanted to transfer to the barn for work with the cattle. We were a self serving orphanage, although we got the name of a Baptist home later, we still provided milk, vegetables and many other items to the town folks of Salem. I got to go to a boy’s camp with about 6 or 7 dozen other kids who had parents and there were only about 10 of us from the home, some I didn't know. I had the greatest time of my life.
When I was 12, a couple of girls talked me into running away, right after school. I had earned $12.00 for entering my calf at the fair and that my friend was a lot of money!
We were caught in Roanoke trying to get aboard a freight train and brought back. I thought getting a whipping by the house Mother was bad but non I hit the jackpot. I didn't know the director of the home gave out punishment until he had my head between his knees and commence to whale me with a rubber hose. That was too much for me and I gave him a cow butt where he might still remember if not dead by now. Now I was in deep do, I was transferred to a foster home further south in the country called Glenver, Va. This home was really a prison. There was a boy 12 and another 17. I started smoking with the older boy; we lived in the basement that was only half finished, mostly rocks and partly concrete floor. The best part was the wood stove was down there, so we were warm in the winter. This man and woman had a 6 year old girl and they all stayed upstairs, we could come up for feeding times and use the outhouse about 200 yards or so from the house. Let me tell you there were wild animals around that area because we were on foot of Brushy Mountain, and bobcats were seen daily. I woke up to snakes looking at me from the rocks where they had crawled for warmth. The one thing that I am leading up to is the 17 yr old could smoke and I could not, and when I was caught I was handcuffed to the center support pole in the basement and feet tied to the base and whipped naked, by a hand carved razor strap, like the barbers use. These beatings would leave marks on me for months. This went on for several more beatings because I had found someone I was more scared of then the devil himself. But I am a hard headed fellow and I ran away and the other 12 yr old named Johnnie, left with me.
We went to the mountain where we had friends from school. When the parents of these kids saw me, they went to the sheriff and talked us into giving up. I later went court and had to strip in front of a lot of people, all of them acted like they had never seen such a thing. The family was not eligible to take kids after that. I learned that for the first time that I was just a commodity to the public 300 bucks a month. I was taken again by the state and they told me I was going to Richmond reform school. This lady took me by to see my Mother and while I went inside, I came back out to see my bag on the street and she was gone. I guess she even felt I had been thru enough.
The first part was condensed into about 6 years. My Mother and her 2 year old baby moved to Washington D.C. and she worked a while doing whatever she could. I tried to go to school and watch the baby after the babysitter left. My oldest brother had gotten out of the reform school years earlier, and joined the marines. He had gotten a B C D from Korea and later reinstated. I was still proud of him. He lived with his wife and son,(about the same age as my half sister) in the same house we were in. I was taught to be tough and first to strike if in distress. Break a nose or black an eye and usually the fight went out of them. My Mother met another man, a marine, and we moved to Lakeland, Fla. That lasted only several months. That was 1958. My Mother and sister went to Tampa where she had better promises of work. I went to the 7th grade at Washington Carver School on Columbus Dr. We lived on Palm Ave and several other addresses in as many months. I think I made 8th grade and it was then I dropped out. I will admit that I was no angel, and fought in street gangs.
I was awaken by the police one late evening and told I would have to come with them and bring my little sister. My Mother was locked up for drunk and disorder and would not be coming home for awhile. That was the last time I saw my sister for 2 years. The police told me that I had to go to a place called Lake Magdalene.
A place for really bad kids, they claimed that was the only place they could keep me. Well they took my shoes and locked me in a 5x6 ft cell and let me out during the day. I was made to wear a white shirt and blue jeans. I could not understand why I was locked up with these bad guys. It wasn't long before I became as bad as them. I learned quickly who the boss was and how to avoid him. I also figured how to get out and did so. Now I am a criminal and being hunted by the law. I stole several vehicles, but never left town and twice took the cars back to the same street I took them from. My last car taken was an unmarked police car and boy was I surprised how fast it would go. Well I was caught pretty quickly and put in maximum security. I went before Judge Mathews and he did not like me at all. I believe my Mother called him something bad, because he first was going to release me to her and changed his mind and sent me to Marianna.
Now this is where I become confused as to what I did and who was my cottage Father and what cottage I was in. I remember the print shop and the school. The beatings by Tidwell and Hatton, you could not forget that. I believe that Mr. Curry the psych. was the cause of me going down the first time. He asked me questions I could not believe and he claimed that I had threatened to kill him. Maybe I did. I was picked up by him and Hatton around 10 O'clock one night and two other boys, I cannot remember their names. We met Tidwell and that was when I first noticed the one arm. I was sure surprised at the strength he used to beat me. I lost count after30 or so. I was taken to the infirmary to get my nightgown out of my legs and buttocks. You know when the numbness sets in you can take more than you would expect. The worst part was the soaking and peeling it out of your skin. I swore that I would never come back down for any more ice cream.
I was wrong, about 3 months later I was accused of smoking, not caught but ratted on. After taking care of that kid, then I went back for more. This time I deserved it and got it but good. Again back to visit the infirmary. I learned to keep my mouth shut and eyes open after that. I made a few friends that I could trust and put all of my interest into the print shop. I wish I could remember the old man's name; he was really good to me because of all the experience I brought with me. I remember getting something like athlete’s foot but much worse because it caused sores the size of nickels around the ankles and calfs. We had to soak them in some purple solution and I stayed over a week it was so bad. I am sure if I kept dwelling on this I could remember more things that happened. I am glad I got religion, because praying to God was my only time of having peace. I am glad Sunday's came around. Thatr was the day I enjoyed the most, they didn't beat you on Sunday and sometimes you got to see real folks visiting other kids. I believed you could dress your best on those Sundays, the church was nice and the preacher sucked, he would say one thing and do other things, like cuss you out for watching him smoke.
I remember the mess hall; the one thing that sticks in my head is the huge jars of cane syrup, sitting on a shelf as you were in line to get fried eggs that were cooked 3 or 4 hours earlier. These jars had the largest rats I had ever seen. They were in several jars and I thought that they were just to see how many kids would puke. I did several times. I would not eat the pancakes, I was afraid they would make me put that syrup on them. I believe that my life there was always in constant danger, mainly because of the watch dogs (men) watching everything you did and listening to whatever they could hear. I've seen kids go down for saying shit or the hell with you. When I left, I was warned that what was said or happened there was not to be repeated or I would find myself right back there and I believed every word, so much so I was shocked to see the White House on the front page of the Jacksonville Times Union newspaper. Those beatings of the other kids and me just flooded back into my head. I had to go talk with my company commander that I was with in Vietnam. Now I know why I took all my aggression out on those people. I then went to my preacher and to God to confess my sins and ask forgiveness. I feel much better, I am not angry anymore, for I know in my heart that God will take care of me and will punish those who did acts of violence on his children....
Robert Skip St. Clair
P.S. I was given 9 months and served to the best of my recollection 14. When I got back to Tampa the same judge gave me three weeks to get i the service or go to Raiford. I was 16 and got in 3 months early after my Mother lied about my age.