I remember well the day that I decided to become a criminal. There was very little doubt in my mind that I knew the difference between â€˜right' and â€˜wrong.' Nevertheless, I was going to do whatever was necessary to fulfill my personal needs.
THE THIEF... We waited for hours until the woman came out of her small apartment and headed across the large grass circle in the middle of the road. Carefully, my friends and I circled around behind her apartment and tried the back door to see if it was open. Finding it locked, we took a rock from the flowerbed and broke out the window. Reaching inside, we unlocked the door and entered the house. Slowly, we made our way through the kitchen, all the while checking the rest of the residence for any other people. Finding none, we made our way back to the kitchen.
The four of us stood before a lock door, which we knew contained what we were looking for. We tried as best we could to undo the lock on the door, but no matter what we tried, it would not come open. We then decided to kick the door in. One at a time, we took turns kicking at the door. Several of our gang watched out the front window to see if the woman was returning. Finally, the hinges gave way and the door fell to the floor.
We stood before the large opening trying to decide who would be the first to enter. I pushed several of the guys out of the way and entered the small, dark room. I grabbed the bags as fast as I could, one after the other. I then passed them out to my waiting friends standing in the small hallway. When all was done, we wiped away our fingerprints and exited the house where we came in.
I believe that was the first time in my life that I actually stole anything. I remember feeling excited and somewhat scared. I do remember not feeling guilty about what we did.
THE CHEAT... After returning to our own home, we congratulated each other and split up our take. Each raisin, fig, peach and other dried fruits was carefully put into one of four piles. After all was divided, we began to eat until our hearts were content. Little did any of the others now that when dividing the loot, I was giving myself more than I was giving them.
When we did get caught, we were beaten with a bamboo stick until our backs bled. My right hand was placed into the crack of the door and it was slammed with full force, breaking my knuckle.
THE LIAR... That was the day I learned that no matter what you did wrong in this life you always kept your big mouth shut. You never tell the truth, no matter what.
It is strange to me now to look back and see what hunger will make 7 and 8 year old boys do. It was not that the caper was such a big deal in itself. It was a matter of not wanting to be hungry every day, especially when tons of food lay locked in the orphanage pantry.
Learning to steal became a way of life for many of us boys, especially after we ventured out into the real world. You can steal for so long that the act of stealing becomes like an ordinary every day act. The feeling of â€˜guilt' no longer attaches itself to the actual act of stealing. You can only be hungry, cold, sad and lonely for so long. Then human nature tells you that you have to survive at any cost. When one reaches that point in life, there is no difference between right and wrong.
It is then that the criminal justice system looks upon you and treats you, as if you were a criminal. The system even has it's own way of convincing you, even at that young age, that â€˜you' are truly bad little boys.
How is it possible for four boys, 7 and 8 years old, to automatically be criminal elements? Why was it that no one could see what was really happening in that Jacksonville, Florida orphanage? What was wrong with the criminal justice system at that time? Young boys constantly stealing nothing more than food should have been a red flag that something was very wrong.
Over the next five years, we boys made our way from the orphanage pantry to the Taco Hut and then on to Morrison's Cafeteria in the South Gate Plaza. Stealing food grew into stealing cigarettes and liquor.
Eddie and Emmett both died in prison last year. Bill was released from the Florida State Prison at Raiford several years ago. I have not heard from him since. I walked out of prison on February 6, 1969. I have never been in trouble again.
I have always wondered if we would have done those terrible things if we had not been hungry little boys.
True stories from The Life and Times of Roger Dean Kiser, author