I remember a wonderful childhood during the nineteen-fifties and sixties. I remember vividly riding my “stick” for a horse and playing cowboys and Indians with others. We were armed to the teeth with our cap pistols and holsters, true American style! I always loved it when my cousins would visit from Alabama and we could play. It really was a glorified game of hide-n-seek, but then, you know.
We did not know what an air conditioner was back then as not too many of our neighbors had one, and many times I would crawl around under the house to play because it was so much cooler. Most of the houses surrounding ours were set up on concrete piers so the house would have adequate ventilation and it always seemed to have a nice breeze running under there. Most houses in the rural South in that era were like that, I believe. The spiders and bugs were just a natural inconvenience of living in the Deep South and I guess it helps to give the flavor of the events experienced. Of course, it would be no surprise to come face to face with a rattlesnake under there either but I never did.
Usually a block of wood was my car and my imagination was the fuel. It was all it took to bring it to fruition. I remember being very happy and contented in my own little world, even though I played by myself mostly. I did not seem to have a need for anyone else but there was never any question in my mind as to if I was loved or not by my family. Without the shadow of a doubt, I knew that many people loved me, and we kids loved each other dearly. But, as I realized my sibling’s presence, they just did not fit in with what I liked to do. I guess I sensed the differences in us such as sex and age but at any rate, I needed no one else in my estimation with me or for me to have fun.
Today I tell everyone that as the middle child in a family of eleven children, between two sisters no less, I was overlooked by mama and daddy because they were so busy minding the other kids, along with life’s turmoil. I just slid through the cracks without anyone noticing me or bothering me, and believe me, there were lots of cracks and many competitors for attention. However, while we were very poor, we never thought about it. All the kids in our neighborhood were the same socially and economically as were we, so we did not see ourselves as different from anybody else we knew, but we sensed their stereotype of us as different. In spite if that perspective by us, we felt very rich in spirit and family values, along with the love from everyone within our family. Actually, we kids had a lot going for us from within our family but we did not appreciate or understand it. You know that kids never think along those lines. However, I did have a few unfavorable incidents that happened to me that served to devastate my self esteem and affected me throughout the rest of my life. Of the actions taken against me I am going to explain to you now.
Conversely... when I began my life changing experience of withdrawal, fostering a demeaning outlook and low self-esteem within myself was when I was at Callaway Elementary School, in the second grade (about 1956; I was seven at the time). My parents set it up, for charged lunches on account. Unfortunately, they were unable to pay the bill, so in an effort to get everyone’s attention, to remind other parents, Principal Black took me by the ear and escorted me into the cafeteria, proceeding through the serving line. He instructed the staff to give me butter on white bread sandwich and a glass of water. Then, I was escorted, quite visibly amongst the teachers and others present, into the cafeteria proper where he had a table placed just for me. It was set immediately at the end of the serving line so that all the kids must parade past me, like an attraction or something. Principal Black angrily warned the others about “what happens to those who cannot pay their bill.” These were second graders to whom he was speaking! I was a second grader! I guess I should have gotten a job! I guess I was just an unthankful seven-year-old, no account, boy! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? This rotten dog person stole my identity!
Of course, singled out as I was, I felt not “as good” as the others. It was from these actions of verbal abuse and detest that I naturally became very ashamed. Many negative feelings flooded that little boy’s soul for the very first time in his life that day. I learned how injustice to the innocent felt and even now, as a senior aged man, I can still feel the impact of the rejection of me and within me began a long-lasting pain and anger. It was from this point that I viewed myself as less and I withdrew in my spirit to take a back seat to all others because I wasn’t acceptable now. This is the point when I secluded myself from others because of my embarrassment, and I didn’t want to play with anyone, including my brothers and sisters. Even though a self-defeatist, I tried to be positive with an adventurous eagerness about me. Though now thinking independently as a little boy, in my mind life was exciting and all things were still possible. And, while I didn’t understand why this had happened to me, or that this was only a beginning of abuse and ostracism, I moved forward at my own pace testing the waters as I went from one day to the next, event to event.
Recently I was watching Gunsmoke on TV in which Festus was assigned to take this child-like man to a mental asylum. The man kept pleading pitifully to Festus not to leave him there, and as you know, Festus just couldn’t do it. While sitting there a flood of memories and grief came in upon me once again as I recalled the rejection and abandonment of me to be locked up in jail first and then transported to Marianna, Florida to become incarcerated for more than a year in the abusive Florida School for Boys. I was almost fifteen at the time.
Suddenly I found myself re-experiencing and re-living the desperation of my heart of way back then, some forty years before. Every time this happens, and it happens frequently enough, I have to stuff my feelings way down deep inside me, of course, unsuccessfully, in order not to become completely overcome by it. When this happens I appear to others in my big tears and sobbing the same as if one were grieving over a dead person. For some ungodly reason I cannot get past it! It altered my life completely.
The State of Florida adopted a sociological position that “a truant child was being unsociable and predisposed to criminal behavior”. In 1962, I missed so much school again, always for the same reason; because I did not have proper clothes or shoes to wear. There was no provision for foster home care in the law at the time so therefore, school authorities took the position to reform me at the earliest possibility, before I became Machine Gun Kelly or somebody else notorious. Therefore, in 1962, they took me away from my mom and dad and completely alienated me from my brothers and sisters. I actually never lived at home again afterwards.
Mr. School Monitor (real names withheld) of the school authorities in Bay County talked my mama into assigning me to this place; this hell house where I stayed for more than year. I guess she thought it was some kind of summer camp or something. Mama was very naïve and easily intimidated and she really was not equipped to handle more stress in her life. I guess she found this to be a way to relieve some of it, and I know with surety that she thought she was doing what was best for me at the time but she had no idea about the mean reputation of the school or the brutal bastards that ran it.
As one would a criminal, I was picked up by “Deputy Dog”, a County Sheriff’s Deputy and placed in the cage of the back seat of his cruiser. We promptly proceeded downtown to the county jail. There was no talking about anything from him nor I. I still remember the feelings I had and my wonderment of what I was guilty of and why I was being taken away from my mother. I didn’t cry but I just sat there quietly, waiting to see what’s next. I have been exposed many times to a deputy arresting my dad but I had never been arrested. I was just a baby; I was obedient; I was not incorrigible; I had a very meek disposition; I would never steal and remain very hesitant about telling a lie. I loved GOD! What did I do? I wondered….
The jailer escorted me as he barked sharp orders to me of where to go and what to do. I quietly obeyed. Upon unlocking a couple of monstrous steel doors that left this fourteen year old child completely in fear and wonderment if I would ever get out again. We came to a small cell that he opened and commanded me to enter. Upon my stepping inside, he very promptly walked away without saying another word or demonstrating any empathy at all for me. I felt trapped like an animal and I know how this destroyed any self-confidence that was present within me! I believe I was in a shallow state of shock and disbelief.
The cell where I awaited transportation was about six by eight in size and had a sink, urinal that stunk and a small cot. After about three-hours they came to take me to my new home. I don’t even remember being able to say goodbye to my mother except maybe just in passing. Remaining all by myself in the cell, I really felt rejected by society now! I felt the old familiar depression of rejection and like a criminal must feel; for sure hating the people responsible for doing this to me. I never complained and took whatever was handed out. What else could I do?
I swallowed my feelings and fears right along with everything else that had happened to me in my life. In my mind was “What’s next?” Eventually (the same day), I went away to this “reform school” where I remained for fourteen months. I never knew my fifteenth and sixteenth birthday outside of this place, and I was living in great wonderment of why I deserved this.
Upon my arrival and evaluation I was placed in a Ninth-Grade High School Curriculum as I continued my basic education. This was about the only good thing I believe that came out of it. I had previously failed the seventh grade and this caught me back up to my appropriate class. This also illustrates very well that the teachers and the school system in Bay County was not concerned with aptitude, rather they took it upon themselves to restrain and withhold as a punishment for a child they did not particularly like. We Littlefield kids always felt singled out anyway because everyone treated us as if we had some responsibility for our father being a drunk. At least, this is the way I felt and believed. Yes, I learned early in my life that you can’t fight city hall!
Once here, I understood about what happens to kids going to the Whitehouse that I made up my mind that I was not going to this white house no matter what I must do! After awhile I became trusted and was allowed to be the bird dog for one of the supervisors there. We went quail hunting and I had to fetch them. On reflection of my life there, I do not remember feeling much emotion for anyone’s kindnesses because all I ever seem to get was criticism and scorn. I felt like a throw away and never realized if anyone had kind feelings for me. This has been an underlying doubt of mine nearly all my life and it has had its toll on my personality. It carried over into my young life and my marriage. My relationships suffered greatly.
All of these kids here were throwaway. Some were there for breaking and entering while they tried to steal, usually because they were not taught or they were desperate. Others were sent here like me for truancy from school. The state had no other place to put us but in my case, I do not believe they had a need to send me here in the first place. The talk was that some were there for trying to murder their parents but I think it was just so they could appear tough to the rest of us. Call it what you will, it was a kid’s prison, and we knew it. Most of us resented it and felt much cheated by society.
No! I was not taught by anyone how to hot-wire cars and commit other dastardly deeds. We were just lost kids who had been abandoned and wanted to go home. I remember so well when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. I was outside the industrial arts building waiting to get in when I heard about it. It made me feel so empty inside. I felt like I had lost someone very close to me and it made me very sad. Even to this day, I think about the cruelty of that occasion.
The only trouble I got into was when I allowed other kids beat me up. Sometimes the boys would sharpen plastic combs for fighting. There was the time too when I cut my fingertips off my right hand, on a table saw. I was supposed to be using a “wood pusher” to feed the material through that I was cutting. Instead, I used my hand and of course, not paying attention as I pushed the material, the saw blade caught my hand and trimmed my fingers for me. My hand was knocked backwards. It began bleeding like a stuck hog. Mister h my instructor came over bandaged me up and sent me to the hospital. Out of fear of punishment, I lied to him when he asked if I had been using a pusher. As I said, I was scared of the white house.
Once upon my coming down with the flu, I was sent to the medical facility there and spent a week. The boys admitted to the clinic were a mess. We were mostly unsupervised while there. One boy thought it was fun to light his farts, so he would stick lit matches to his butt for attention. Another boy took a twenty-penny nail and shoved it up his nose into his sinuses to show his machismo. Some of the kids would do absolutely anything for attention. Of course, we all had to show how tough we were to each other. It was a crazy year for me. I never thought of myself as tough though.
I kept my nose clean while there. I would not even fight for myself because as far as I was concerned they were not taking me to the white house. Just before getting out I let a boy punch me out and he bloodied my nose but I still did not give in. Nothing was stopping me from getting out! About a month later, he got out and I met him walking down the street on Harrison Avenue in Panama City. He approached me and called me a dirty name and he came at me as he did before. This time though I got him in the nose with a left jab. He was shocked! I said, “We’re not in FSB anymore.” From then on, he remained friendly every time I would see him. I was so proud of myself.
In order to come and get me so I could come home, mama called a taxicab and told the driver where she wanted to go and he took her. Marianna is about 56 miles from pc. After I waited most of the day wondering if someone was coming to get me, mama showed up and checked me out to return home in the same cab. I did not realize the effort and intestinal fortitude it took for her to come to me.
Once we arrived almost home, within a couple of miles, she frankly informed the cabbie that she could not pay him. She did not have any money. After a short stop by his office, the cabbie took us on home with nothing said about it again. I gained great respect for her love for me that day. She had done a very brazen thing, and may have even been put into jail, if they had pressed charges. I felt ashamed and badly for the cabbie and I am very grateful, there are forgiving people such as him. Many people empathized with mama and extended themselves as they could. Of course, times were hard for everybody in this area. I checked-in at Rutherford High School when I arrived home to Bay County. However, I became frustrated the very first day and did not return for a second. I guess I had enough of the regimented school atmosphere and needed recuperation to adjust to my newfound freedom.
Defined as an anxiety disorder precipitated by a traumatic event or events and characterized by symptoms of re-experiencing the trauma, avoidance, numbing, and hyper-arousal is how a psychological bulletin, published by the American psychological association defined post traumatic stress disorder. Before posttraumatic stress disorder, it was known as shell shock, delayed stress, anxiety disorder, and several other names.
Otherwise, To Whom Can I Speak Today?
Poem of Depression: this is how I felt upon my release:
To whom can I speak today? … Seems all those I love have gone away,… brothers too many times prove to be false, … and I have no one I can call my friend today! And so I ask, To whom can I speak today? When kindness is seen as weakness and gentleness is rare to find, --- the violent ones have come down to the earth with hate and harmfulness on their minds. To whom can I speak today? My troubles are so heavy-laden and my grief won’t go away. … there is no one intimate that I call my friend, so, it is on no one I can depend. To whom can I speak today? As wrong roams everywhere I go, … won’t quit, … won’t go away, so it is to myself I say, … death is in my sight today, as when I am gone and want to go home, for many years in captivity I would stay.
This is what can happen to a child released into the world without hope or proper direction, the way the State of Florida did to me when I was released: Poem of a child: The Joys Of Sixteen
I WENT OUT AND GOT A JOB AS A HELPER ON A FISHING BOAT THAT BROKE DOWN AND REMAINED LOST AT SEA FOR 8 DAYS.
In my youth’s Time in the spring, T’was my life’s lot, yes, my dream, to search within the earth a spot that which I would love a lot. So empty in its loneliness an ocean wild, with black waves abounding, and the towering clouds as if by trees surrounded. But when the night had thrown its pall, yes, the dark fade upon us all, the wind would howl as pass me it did, as if in a melodious stillness hid; my infant spirit did awake to the terror that was so great. Yet somehow, the terror was not of fright--- but of some tremulous delight, all my feelings undefined, springing from my youthful mind. Death was in those poison d waves and in the Gulf a fitting grave to him whom thence could solace bring to his dark imagining? Who at sixteen years in his wildness thought could make an Eden of those darksome waves.
The Florida School for Boys left an indelible mark on my self worth and personality.