Between the ages of six and fifteen, I had witnessed two murders, possibly three. I had seen at least ten dead bodies lying in the street, all while living on the streets, and running the back alleys of Jacksonville, Florida.
There is no way I could possibly count or remember all the muggings, rapes, and the numerous brutal beatings I witnessed as a young runaway. Homeless people themselves committed several of those murders. A few of them were beaten to death, because they had canned food that they did not want to share. Four were shot trying to steal food or clothing from local merchants. One man had his throat cut because he would not surrender his new shoes. One teenage girl was killed because she made a deal to trade sex for food, and then would not follow through with her part of the bargain. The two men raped her, and then strangled her to death with her own bra.
One young boy was so badly beaten that he had to be taken to the hospital and immediately rushed into surgery. The ten-year-old had been caught stealing beef jerky from a man’s shoulder pack. The hobo woke up, and almost beat the boy to death, ripping one of the young boy’s eyes out of its socket. I remember standing and watching the entire incident take place. After an ambulance removed the boy, I walked around listening to the adults talk about what had happened. There was not one individual who felt sorry for the boy. Everyone felt that he got exactly what he deserved. There were times that I stole food from various stores, in whatever part of town I happen to be hiding. However, after that night, I never stole anything from anyone living out on the streets.
I remember seeing my first dead body. I am not sure how long she had been lying behind those garbage cans, but the smell was horrible. I nearly threw up. She was blown up like a balloon, and her skin had turned completely blue. Her arm stretched outward and stiff, as if she was reaching for a candy bar or something right before she died. As they loaded her up, I stood there wondering what was missing from her, what would not allow her to move around anymore.
Living out on the streets is very cruel, and a very difficult way of life. The streets will rob you of your childhood even faster than strict parents. The only difference is, strict parents sometimes leave a child feeling hurt, lonely and unloved. On the streets, those types of feelings do not even exist. On the street, you just accept the fact that no one loves, cares or respects you. It is a jungle full of animals, and it is every man or woman for himself; that is understood, without question. The need for love slowly seems to blow away, one grain of sand at a time. Then one day, you wake up, and your need for love is gone completely.
Once kids have lived on the streets, they are never the same, should they ever return home. They pick up feelings of distrust, anger and self-preservation on the street, and that follows them forever. Should they reunite with their family and friends, they become distant, and no longer have a carefree spirit. A learned instinct to protect themselves will not allow their minds to make quick, innocent, childlike judgments, ever again. They will, for the remainder of their lives, sleep with one eye open.
I would suggest to anyone contemplating running away, that he think twice about such an unwise decision. The people you meet on the street may use and abuse you. However, it will be you and you alone, who will destroy your own self. Trying to shed or forget feelings learned out in the street is like trying to forget that two plus two equals four. Once learned, it remains with you forever.
By the age of four, Roger Dean Kiser had been abandoned, first by his parents and then his grandparents and placed in a Florida orphanage. Unable to adapt to the difficult, often cruel and abusive environment of the orphanage, and stigmatized by his repeated attempts to run away, he was transferred to a Florida reform school at age twelve. Roger's poignant recollections of his painful childhood experiences on the streets will take you into the heart of a child abandoned by his family and abused by the system responsible for his care.
Now an adult, Roger Dean Kiser writes about his childhood along with his current day tales. A real-life Tom Sawyer, Roger's stories find a common ground in each of us.
Roger's powerful stories have been published all around the world, including many stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Book series.
REVIEW BY: Jennifer Oliver