This is the end - the final part of our tale. Thanks for riding sidecar as I relive my youth gone awry. If you’re just getting here, I hate to tell you this, but you’ve jumped too far ahead. This is PART 4 of a multi-part series. Start at the beginning.
For PART 1, click HERE.
For PART 2, click HERE.
For PART 3, click HERE.
[NOTE: If you’re part of my family, turn back now. Don’t read this, you fool. I love you. We’re good. I just needed to get this story out to work out some things for me. Don’t make it weird. Go watch dumb videos on YouTube. Remember the Star Wars Kid? Go watch him. Actually, don’t. That video really screwed up his childhood. Watch cats or something. If you stay here and read this, that’s fine, but we’re not talking about it. Cool? Cool.]
Alright, folks. Let’s finish this joyride. Leave your seat belts off. Let’s live dangerously. I last left you in 1991. It was November 1st. Mariah Carey’s Emotions was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. My mother, sister, the twins, and I were packed into a taxi cab headed towards uncertainty. The people at McDonald’s had no idea Mom wouldn’t be coming in for her afternoon shift. Unlike the McRib, she would NOT be back!
There have been a lot of surreal moments in my life, but none like this one. We drove off in silence, our heads full of questions that only time had the answer to. Our destination was a battered-women’s shelter in Norman, Oklahoma. The building itself was inconspicuous - just a big house in an average neighborhood. A lot of women in these places have dangerous men looking for them, so they don’t advertise their location.
The house was two-stories with a lot of rooms, most of them occupied by ladies who looked down at the ground a lot. We went to a makeshift office on the first floor and checked-in. The energy of broken people filled the space. A volunteer led us to our room. All of this existed in a surreal fog. Each of the women in the shelter were given a chore assignment - cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. My mother got kitchen duty.
We didn’t bring many clothing options with us, so they took us to the garage and sifted through donations. I was given a pair of acid washed jeans, a stained jacket, and a Miami Hurricanes t-shirt. I found the shirt somewhat fitting. My father hated the University of Miami. Then, the lady who gave us the clothes handed me a flannel button-down. I made a face that expressed the opposite of enthusiasm for the garment and, in an effort to make me feel better, she stated “I can never resist a man in a flannel shirt.” I wish she didn’t say that. I got a instant erection. From flaccid to flagpole in a nanosecond. She didn’t mean to have that affect, and I didn’t mean to have that reaction, but that’s what happened. Puberty had arrived and there was nothing I could do about it. A mustache recently started growing on my face, and it brought with it a brigade of unwanted boners that could pop up without warning and would stay as long as they damn-well pleased. In the coming months, I would regularly be seen holding a pillow or a backpack in front of my crotch. She pretended not to notice as I sidestepped my tented, acid-washed jeans out of the garage.
I don’t know what your typical case is at a battered-women’s shelter, but I got the feeling ours was not. We stayed there for two weeks, and my mother seemed to be spending a lot of time in that office on the first floor. I imagine she was being forced to re-live her story over and over to a network of people who helped women get away from predators. Things had to be serious for them to be willing to transport five people across state lines and set them up with food and shelter. While my mother was occupied with that and her kitchen duties, I was bored out of my mind. I watched the twins and played with my sister, but there wasn’t much for us to do. My other brother, Jamal, is the only sibling who didn’t make the trip with us. He was staying with his father, Suleiman. My former stepfather was the only one outside of our band of travelers who knew the plan before we split Despite everything he did to me, and the fact that they were divorced, the guy was still loyal to my mom. Throughout the entire ordeal, he took care of my brother and kept his mouth shut.
Our bedroom had a radio, and I spent most of my time daydreaming while listening to The Katt 100.5 - “Oklahoma City’s choice for Rock N’ Roll.” Occasionally, I would venture down to the common room and watch television. I wasn't allowed to change the channel or choose what we watched, which was mostly soap operas and game shows. Sometimes, I would just sit alone with my guitar, Victoria, clumsily moving my fingers across her strings, wishing I could make her talk. If there was ever a perfect time to play the blues, this was it. “I got the . . . custody-battle, runaway, kidnapped in the middle of puberty, never had a positive male role model, at least I’m not racist because I’ve learned that you can be a piece of shit no matter what the color of your skin is . . . blues!”
Our stay in Norman only last a week before plans were shored up to send us to another shelter in Albuquerque. This one was bigger, and had more resources. Unfortunately, they were full. While we were waiting on a spot to open up, we were sent to a small town in New Mexico that’s fun to say - Alamogordo. I think it means “Fat Alamo” in Spanish. To get us to our destination, we would ride the public toilet of modern transportation, known as The Greyhound bus.
No one who has their life together rides a Greyhound. No one who has the credit to rent a car or the funds to take a plane takes the Greyhound “just for fun.” It’s the last resort for people who have all-but-ruined their lives to take them from one problem to the next. Drug addicts, mental patients, criminals, abandoned veterans, and mothers running away with their kids - these are the standard clientele - peppered occasionally with a regular dude who’s just down on his luck. Pride, self-awareness, common decency - these are all things that Greyhound passengers have lost long ago. As for the employees, they seem to be trained not to give a fuck. Their customers can’t just go somewhere else if they’re not satisfied. Greyhound is all they’ve got. You don’t have to treat them nice, because there is nowhere else for them to take their poverty-stricken business.
It was on that night that we joined the ranks of the Greyhound passenger. The bus station was filled with a smorgasbord of humanity. There was no way to tell who was homeless and who wasn’t, but this was before the era of Bluetooth, so I know for sure the guy eating a Snickers wrapper in the corner was talking to himself. The floors were disgusting. A thin layer of dirt had been turned into mud where an employee lazily ran a wet mop over it. I got a close-up of that floor when I ventured into the restroom. It was the first time I ever encountered a pay toilet. It cost 10 cents to get into a stall. Ten cents doesn’t seem like much, but we were at the point where splurging on a can of soda could send us into financial ruin. Paying to piss was out of the question. I tried not to inhale as I lay down on the floor and slithered beneath the stall door. I really had to go, so I didn’t think much of it. The second-guessing didn’t happen until I was finished and had to crawl back out in reverse, my lips coming centimeters from the base of the toilet. As I stood up, the door to the stall next to me opened and I realized I probably could have just opened the door to exit. It most-likely only locked from the outside.
After a bus ride that felt eternal, we made it to Alamogordo. The batteries on my Walkman died halfway through the trip, and the soundtrack to the last leg of our journey was the intermittent snoring and sleep-yelling of a woman who smelled like a combination of Icy Hot and human feces. Before we left, my mother told me that she was going to let me pick out our new last name. After careful consideration, I had decided that our last name would be Williams, for several reasons. It was a common name that would make it easier for us to blend in. No one would question it or be surprised if we weren’t related to another Williams they knew. The main reason I chose it was that it fit into the full name that I wanted to change my moniker to: Rock Ace Williams. This was before Dwayne Johnson’s Rock character was famous. I chose Rock after Rocky Balboa, the main character in my favorite movie franchise. I decided on Ace for my middle name after Ace Frehley, of course. Williams was just the final piece of the puzzle. I thought it would be epic for my initials to be R.A.W. This idea was quickly be vetoed by my mother, but she did agree that from now on, we would be known as the Williams family.
We were met at the bus station by a sweet, middle-aged woman who ran the shelter we would be staying at. We piled into her mid-sized sedan and she drove us to a 3-bedroom house. It was smaller than Norman’s place, but nicer. It was occupied by two other women. One of them also had a couple of children including a son my age. I didn’t like him. He seemed whiny. What did he have to complain about? Compared to the bathroom I just crawled on the floor of, this place was Shangri-La. They even had cable! I watched DIAL-MTV every afternoon. Metallica’s black album came out that year, and I was most excited to watch the video for Unforgiven. Smells Like Teen Spirit had also taken the nation by storm. It seemed like the music industry had teamed-up to create an epic soundtrack to my life.
In addition to the residents, the shelter hosted weekly group counseling sessions. They would have a potluck dinner and area women who had dealt with abuse would come over. Children were welcome, and the group members would rotate duties watching the kids play in the backyard during the session. They only had one of these meetings during our brief stay, and it was on that night that I almost ruined everything. Between the hormonal flux of puberty’s onset and the emotional toll of recent events, I was a landmine.
It could have happened at any time. I was going to explode, regardless of whether or not I was provoked. It just so happened to be the whiny kid that set me off. He didn’t even do anything. Not really. I think he said my mom was silly. And the thing is, my mom IS silly. She’s a goofball. That’s not even an insult. He said, “your mom’s silly, ” and I snapped. I became a volcano overflowing with hate and was no longer in control of anything. The world went black. Fist connected with bone. My arms became hammers pummeling again and again. And it felt good. I hate that it felt good, but if I’m being honest it did. A beast came out of me, and the only time it was satiated was in those brief moments where my bawled up hands made contact with human flesh. I had become what I hated. In that moment I was the devil on the wall. I don’t know how long it lasted. It could’ve been seconds. Could’ve been minutes. Hours. The cloud lifted as I was pulled off of the whiny kid. Fear in his eyes. I don’t know the details of why his family was in this shelter, but it was probably to get away from people like me. I was the bad guy, and I hated myself for it.
Well, crap. This incident kind-of killed the therapy session that was happening inside. The ladies gathered their children and made their exits, having taken a step backwards in their recovery, thanks to yours truly. Once they had cleared out, the shelter supervisor and whiny-kid’s mom had a meeting with my mother. It wasn’t good. I was sent to our room while they talked it, trying to decide whether or not we would be asked to leave. At one point, they said that my mother could stay with my sister and the twins, but I would have to go. My mom wasn’t having it. It was all of us or none of us, and she had raised me not to start a fight. She taught me never to throw a first punch. That was always the rule - any time I was bullied in school, I wasn’t allowed to start a fight, but if another kid threw the first punch, I could strike back.
There was a knock on the bedroom door. I jumped up and sat on the bed, so that it wouldn’t be obvious I was listening. “Yes?”
“Come on out. We want to talk to you,” my mother said. I headed to the living room. They asked me to tell them what happened. I knew if I told them the truth, we were out of there. They couldn’t let us stay. Who’s to say it wouldn’t happen again? I couldn’t let that happen. I did what I had to do. I lied. I said he called my mom a bitch. I said I told him not to say that and he hit me. What I did was just fighting back. The whiny kid wasn’t even out there to defend himself. He was too shaken up to be questioned. They said we could stay, but I had to apologize and nothing like this could ever happen again.
As I recall this, I’m not ashamed of the lies. I told those to keep my family there - to keep us safe. I am, however, ashamed of the monster I became in that moment. If there weren’t people to pull me off of him, I don’t know what would have happened. I do think that the incident sped-up our admission to Albuquerque. I have a feeling the shelter director called them and said “You’ve gotta take these people. I can’t handle them.” A couple days later we were informed that a spot had opened up, and we said goodbye to Alamogordo.
I can’t remember if we took another bus, or if someone drove us the 3 ½ hours to Albuquerque, but we got there, and it was an entirely different world. The shelters we had been to before were just houses. This place was a friggin’ compound. It had a dining facility, an office building, another building for social gatherings and meetings, and a series of tiny apartments, accompanied by a playground and a basketball court. It would have been perfect, if it weren’t for the fact that it was filled with people.
I’ve never been good around strangers. I don’t really know how to make small talk and I always feel like I’m going to be judged and then rejected if I make an effort. My gut instinct is usually to avoid trying at all, so that no one has a chance to berate me. This gesture, born of vulnerability, tends to come off as me being an asshole who thinks I’m better than others.
It didn’t help that puberty was starting to make me look like a man. I had grown as tall as I was ever going to get, and at 5’9”, was the same height as a lot of adults. My mustache starter-kit was getting thicker. Up close, I was definitely a kid. But, if you had poor vision or looked at me from a distance, I could easily be mistaken for a full-grown adult male. That, understandably, set off a lot of triggers for the abused women living at the compound. Couple that with the fact that I had a quiet, brooding demeanor, and it should come as no surprise that some of the residents said I made them nervous.
They made me nervous, too, but for a different reason. The changes my body was going through were magnified by being surrounded almost entirely by women. It was Accidental-Boner City, and I had just been elected mayor. Here’s the thing about male adolescence, if you’ve never been through it - erections are a mystery when you first start to get them. There’s no deciding to have one - they just show up. You can be riding your bike and hit a bump or your crotch can brush against a handrail as you’re going up a set of stairs. Sometimes you can be perfectly still with nothing coming in contact with that part of your body. Next thing you know, you are staying in for the night because you can’t risk going out in public. No reason. No rhyme. Boners happen. Sometimes, if you focus on something non-sexy, they’ll go away. But, the thing about that happy hard-on showing up is that it whispers sexy thoughts into your head, and if you listen to them, you’re just feeding it. My sexy thoughts in those days weren’t really sex, so much as just images of women. Like, if I saw a picture of the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, thinking about that could fuel a boner. Here, I had more than images. I had real women. Laughing. Smiling. Sometimes making eye contact. These were women who had been abused by men, some of them victims of sexual assault. The last thing they needed to see was my swollen protuberance. I mean, most women don't want to see a random pre-teen hard-on, but especially these women. And I was determined not to traumatize them any further. It is for those two reasons - my fear of social rejection, and my fear of being discovered with a raging one-eye - that I stayed in our tiny apartment (which was really just the size of a hotel room) for the first few weeks of our stay.
Around Thanksgiving, I finally came out of my shell and started to be social. Before that, I only came out of our room for meals. It helped that there were a couple of kids around my age. Unlike the whiny kid in Alamogordo, I liked them. There was a kid named Austin, and it turned out he and I liked the same kind of music. His mother was cool, too. She looked and sounded like a swollen Janis Joplin. There was also girl named Victoria. She was everything I dreamed of. Huge, high bangs that must’ve taken an entire can of Aqua Net to hold in place, and unlike most beautiful girls I had encountered, wasn’t too good to talk to me. I would later find out that her mother was a prostitute who would sometimes have Victoria work with her when a special request was made. She was maybe 13 years-old, tops.
Anyhow, I liked those two, and it was the beginning of me being more comfortable talking to people around the shelter. One night, I even went to the group meeting building and watched some movies they had rented. Most of the young kids had to leave, but I was allowed to stay, and watched a double-feature of Silence of the Lambs and Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer while seated on a couch between a rape victim and a lady whose husband beat her. It was the most fun I’d had in months. How weird is that?
Christmas was rolling around, and my mother was worried that she wouldn’t have anything to give us. The shelter, however, was on all of the lists of places that donated gifts to the needy. We went to a Toys for Tots event, which was awkward. I was no tot, but thought maybe I would get something cool if I went. The rule was that you had to sit on Santa’s lap to get your present. So, me and my mustache got up and went through the motions. I opened up my gift and it was a big, red, bouncy-ball - the kind that’s used for playing kickball. It ended up keeping me occupied for hours, because it bounced well enough for me to take it to the basketball court.
The big gifts came on Christmas day. Donors were assigned a family to shop for, and everyone at the shelter actually received some pretty-good stuff. I got some clothes that weren’t too terrible. I don’t remember much about the other presents, but I recall being happy. The only specific gift that I remember was a $50 gift certificate to Mervyn’s Department Store. I didn’t care to shop at Mervyn’s, but in those days before computerized gift-cards, whatever part of a gift certificate you didn’t spend, you got back in cash. I bought a $3 pair of novelty holiday socks and got about $47 back. I immediately took it to Camelot Music and spent it on cassette tapes, including Guns N’ Roses Choose Your Illusion, parts 1 and 2. It was a Christmas miracle!
Two days after Christmas, I turned twelve years-old at this compound for abused women. The only thing I wanted for Christmas was batteries for my Walkman and some new music. I received Metallica’s black album and a 12-pack of AAs. I was grateful.
I began to warm-up to the cast of characters at the shelter, and they started seeing me as a fun kid, instead of an angry, brooding presence. We became sort-of a short-term, dysfunctional family. I remember Rosa, a middle-aged woman who used to joke about being so lonely she was going to take a banana back to her room. There was also Reuben, the only adult male at the shelter. He was an elderly, blind man whose wife used to hit him with a cane. I assume t they figured his age and disability made him a non-threat. I also had my first encounter with a transgender person - a bold, brassy lady named Tracey who could no longer afford her hormones and was boasting a healthy amount of facial stubble. My favorite part about Tracey was that she laughed louder than anyone at my jokes. She did hit on my mother pretty blatantly, which made me uncomfortable, mostly because she used the phrase, “Come on baby, just slip me a little tongue.” Nobody wants to hear anyone say that to their mother.
I passed a lot of the time at the shelter by locking myself in the bathroom with a notebook. I would sit there and write lyrics to songs. In my mind, Tad and I would somehow both learn to play instruments and separately write songs until we were 18. Then, I would go back and find him, and we would put the band together, combining the work we had done and becoming legends in the process. Sure, it was a delusion, but I needed the escape. From reading lyrics in liner notes, I taught myself the “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus” structure of songwriting. I couldn’t sing or play anything, but I could write.
Over the next few months, it consumed me. I wouldn’t show the lyrics to my mother, and she never pressed the issue. I wrote over 200 songs, and my imagination transported me to a world where our band was selling out arenas. I would have fantasy interviews, where I talked about our inspiration for concept albums, times that we almost broke up, and wild parties that got us banned from hotels. In those moments, I was far away from this battered women’s shelter. I didn’t have to fear the police finding us. I didn’t have to fear someone hurting my mother. I was a rich rockstar, and I made sure mom was taken care of. She didn’t need some other asshole around. I had it covered.
I wish I still had the notebooks. I imagine a psychologist would have a field day with what I had written. Some of them were dark - lyrics about blood sacrifices, others wildly graphic, with sexual innuendoes - not that I actuallyunderstood anything I was writing. It was a kid’s imitation of what an adult might say . The only lyrics I can still remember are part of the chorus to a song called Deadly Friend. I have forgotten most of it, but the fragment I recall goes:
You were a deadly friend.
Never did love me.
Just wanted my money.
I used to love you.
Somewhere, in my rock and roll fantasies, I envisioned becoming friends with a girl who ultimately seduced me and earned my affections only to betray me and steal my sweet, sweet, rockstar cash. The title of the song was based on a West Craven film of the same name. The movie and the song were about vastly different things, though. In the film, a teenager revives his comatose girlfriend by installing a robotic chip in her brain, and she ends up going on a murderous rampage. I should’ve written a song about that.
Sometime, right after the new year, my hormonal shifts started giving me mood swings. Testosterone was showing up in excess, causing me to act out. I hadn’t been to school in months and was basically just hanging around every day, trying to find something to peak my interest. I was stir crazy and angry. My mother and I started to get into loud shouting matches. I would yell at her for nothing at all. She would ask me to fold a load of laundry, and I would scream that I was doing something and that she should get off my back. She was frightened that something similar to the incident in Alamogordo would happen. I think she was also worried that I might be getting into drugs. One day she confronted me because she overheard me talking to Austin, telling him that I liked to smoke weed. The truth was, I had never even seen marijuana. But, he said he liked it and I didn’t want to seem like an inexperienced nerd, so I said I like to get stoned every now and then. She took these concerns to the office and, together they made plans to scare me straight.
A couple days later, we got into another shouting match. These incidents were loud enough that anyone near our room could hear us. Something had to be done. I was out of control. My sister tried to calm me down. She got between my mom and me. I pushed her, and she flew into the wall. I did not mean to push her that hard, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I realized I had gone too far. It was too late, though. Someone had notified the office that we were fighting again, and they called the police. By the time the authorities arrived, I had calmed down and thought the incident was a thing of the past. They came into our room and told me to put on some shoes. I was under arrest.
I couldn’t believe it. I told them the argument was over. I apologized. It didn’t matter. They were taking me to the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center. I was handcuffed, tightly. The steel dug into my wrists as they put me into the backseat of their vehicle. I stared out the window at my mother as we drove away, scared and confused.
I had no idea she had planned for this to happen. If I did, I don’t know if I could have handled the betrayal. She was a criminal herself, and I was her partner in this runaway plot. I could have turned the tables on her and let them know we were on the run, but the thought never crossed my mind. I was too busy feeling terrified. I remembered the time that Tad and I had been caught shoplifting. The police officer told me that if I went to juvie I would be beaten and possibly raped. Well, that’s where I was heading now.
I received the full criminal treatment. First, I was fingerprinted. Then, I got the delightful experience of a full strip-search, complete with me having to bend over and spread the ole’ butt cheeks to prove I didn’t smuggle anything in. I was 12. What was I going to smuggle? A G.I. Joe? I was issued their standard inmate uniform - blue sweatpants and a blue t-shirt with a pair of socks and a used tightey whitey underwear. Then, I was escorted to my new home - Cell Block D.
Cell Block D was horrible. It was filled with violent offenders that looked like men in their 30s. Some of them, I would later find out, had been tried as adults and when they turned 18 would be transferred to a maximum security adult penitentiary. I, on the other hand, was there for yelling at my mom. (The police didn’t even know about me pushing my sister into the wall. They were called when the shelter office heard us screaming.) I had never been more frightened in my life.
Shortly after my arrival, we were taken to the detention center’s equivalent of a prison yard. Instead of being located outside, it was an indoor gymnasium with a basketball court and a universal weightlifting machine. The only rule in the gym was you couldn’t just stand around idle - you had to be doing something. Some inmates played basketball. Some simply jogged around the gym. The rest lifted weights. I didn’t know what to do. I just knew I didn’t want to piss anyone off. Trying to hide the fact that I was shaking with nervousness, I walked over to the weights. There was a leg press that no one was using, so I sat down there. I pulled the pin, so that there was no weight on it. I just wanted to look like I was doing something so I didn’t get into trouble. I slowly did rep after weightless rep, staring straight ahead, trying not to cry. It wasn’t long until I found myself surrounded by a group of inmates.
“Hey, man,” one of them said. “What’s your name?”
“Jamie,” I said, praying that would be the end of it.
“What did you do?” another said.
“Yeah, mane - what are you in here for, esé?” another asked.
“Yelling at my mom,” I said, honestly. That was a mistake. They swarmed me, like sharks with blood in the water.
“Fuck you, you piece of shit. I’ve never even met my mother.”
“You need to learn some respect, esé.”
I didn’t look at them. I just stared straight ahead, hoping my nightmare would end.
“Why you looking at that wall? That’s my wall, motherfucker,” an inmate shouted at me. I shifted my gaze to the wall on my left. Turned out that wall belonged to someone else, as did the wall on the right, along with the floor and ceiling. My eyes began to water up and, having nowhere to look, I closed them. As my eyelids came down, they forced a single tear down my cheek.
One of them got closer and whispered in my ear, “You like dick, esé?”
I shook my head, “no.”
“Well, you’re gonna find out tonight.” And then they left, leaving me to ponder the dick that was coming my way. This was a whole different type of Boner City, and I most certainly was not the mayor.
After our time in the gym was over, we were taken to the chow hall. I sat in silence, having most of my dinner picked over by the guys sitting near me. Then, it was bath time. Showers weren’t optional, and we were sent in four at a time. Since my eyes were closed before, I had no idea who the guy was that promised me some dick. I assumed it could be any of the three gentlemen I was sent to wash up with. There was Barney, a mean, Aryan-nation-looking guy who had a shaved head and a penis the size of a ball peen hammer. Then, there was an angry black guy named Terrence who was just as tall with a member comparable to Barney’s. There was also a latino inmate whose name I forgot. He wore a smirk and, while not packing their impressive 5th appendage, wasn’t doing too shabby. If nothing else, we had a diverse cast.
The way the facilities were set-up, there was a shower in each of the 4 corners of the room. I went in, turned on the water, and quickly lathered-up facing the wall, like any non-creep does when they're showering with nude strangers. Everyone else faced away from the wall, towards my trembling, virgin posterior.
There’s an episode of Seinfeld that talks about the issue of shrinkage, wherein spending time in a swimming pool will cause a man’s genitalia to shrink due to the cold water and chlorine. Well, I gotta tell ya, the fear of prison-rape will do a similar thing. I wrote earlier of my problems with constant, uncontrollable erections while I was at the shelter. This was not a problem in juvie. I didn’t get a single boner my entire time there. As a matter of fact, I was so sexually repelled that my penis shrunk to the size of an outie bellybutton. It was like it was trying to hide inside of me. That evening in the shower, I washed myself faster than I ever had in my entire life. We're talking a 5-second scrub down. I rinsed off, and as I turned around, the latino inmate took one look at my shriveled phallus, and said, “look at that tiny white dick.” Barney and Terrence erupted with laughter, their own majestic dongs swinging in the wind. I swiftly exited the shower before the discussion could continue. My rosebud remaining intact.
I was given a private cell that night, and thanked my lucky stars and vowed never to yell at my mother again. I couldn’t sleep. I just laid on my thin bunk, thinking about how life had landed me there.
The next morning, I actually ate all my breakfast. I figured, if I was going to get some dick, it wasn’t going to be on an empty stomach. After our meal, I was summoned to visitation. My mother had come to see me. It was just like the movies, me sitting on one side of a glass pane, talking on a phone to my mother on the other side. She had a smug look on her face that says, “have you learned your lesson?” She asked how I was doing. I looked her in the eye and said, “Mom, they’re going to rape me.” Her smirk disappeared instantly. This was not the “scared straight” plan she had been promised.
She was silent, pondering this new information. Finally, she said, “No. They won’t. I’ll tell them not to.” Great idea, mom. If only rape victims everywhere had thought to have their mom ask their assailant not to do it.
It was then that I knew she had planned this. Otherwise, why would she think she had any authority over what they did? It became clear that she and the shelter had talked about it beforehand. They knew the local police regularly brought kids in for a few days to scare them away from a life of crime. They booked kids on a Saturday. That meant they had to stay there for the weekend, because the judge wouldn’t be back until Monday. That was the excuse given to me when I told my mother she had to get me out of there before my rectum became a timeshare. She told me I had to hang on until Monday.
Maybe she did say something, because the rest of my stay there wasn’t so bad. After lunch, I was sitting silently in the common area, staring at the television, when an inmate who looked like a teenage Charles Manson sat down next to me. He asked what kind of music I liked. I said I liked metal. I mentioned Slayer. He asked if I liked Nirvana. I said I loved Nirvana. “Hey Barney,” he said to the guy with the ball peen hammer for a dick, “this kid likes Nirvana.”
“No shit,” Barney said, “maybe he’s all right.” I had also gotten into some rap lately, and mentioned I liked Public Enemy and Geto Boys. Suddenly, I went from being someone they wanted to destroy to a cool kid that was into the same music. Barney gave me a cool handshake that I didn't quite follow-along with, and nobody gave me shit for the rest of the day.
That evening, our cell block was given a reward for good behavior. “No rapes this week - you guys get a treat.” The treat was a pizza and movie night. The mother of one of the inmates bought Little Caesar’s (I didn't say it was good pizza), and we watched Steven Seagal in Out For Justice. Everything comes with a lesson, though. After the film, they passed out a sheet of paper to everyone and told us to write about “what justice means to you.” Emboldened by my new status as a cool kid, I wrote, “To me, justice means you don’t get raped for yelling at your mom.”
The next day, I went in front of a judge. Clearly, this wasn’t official. I wasn’t given probation or any sort of a sentence. I got a stern talking to, and he said he never wanted to see me again, and I was released. The plan worked, too. I was a good boy, now. Our screaming matches were a thing of the past. I had zero desire to return to the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center.
Early in 1992, we moved out of the shelter, and into an apartment complex in a bad neighborhood. These apartments were designed to be a halfway-house to help women transition from the shelter into the real-world. I recognized some of our neighbors from the compound. My mother didn’t have to pay rent. Instead, she did odd jobs around the apartment complex in exchange for our apartment. She made additional cash by doing laundry for people and other odd jobs. We didn’t have much, but we were surviving.
We had a place to stay, and some minor funds, but it wasn’t enough to eat. My mother had no choice, and had to apply for food stamps. She had to use her real identity, and that was one of the things that would come back to haunt her. In the meantime, we were issued a LINK card and had food on the table.
At this point, I had been out of school for months, and that could not continue. People were starting to notice that I was home on weekdays. It was difficult to enroll me without paperwork. To put me in the 6th grade, they had to be able to access my records from prior schools. This would prove to be our undoing, as she had to register me under my real name. So long, Jamie Williams. Welcome back, Jamie Campbell.
I hated everything about Van Buren Middle School. I hated the food. I hated the kids. I hated Island of the Blue Dolphins - the book we were reading in English. My social awkwardness came across as me seeming like I was too good for everyone. Kids wanted to fight me instantly. I didn't take the bait, though. I wasn't going back to juvie. It wasn’t long until I was finding ways to stay out of school, pretending to be sick regularly. Sympathetic to my difficulties adjusting, she let me stay home quite a bit.
I made friends at the apartment complex. My closest buddies were named Albert and Abram. Albert was a year younger than me, Abram a year older. All of our parents had lived in the shelter at some point, and we started to hang out a lot. One night, when we were at Albert’s place, we started to talk about music. I told them I liked to write songs. I grabbed a piece of notebook paper and wrote out a couple verses and a chorus based on an idea Albert suggested. This was years before I would do improv, but I was basically improvising a song right there. I don’t remember anything that I wrote, but both Albert and Abram were impressed. “You came up with that just now?” Albert asked.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling a swell of pride. It was the first time I had received a compliment for any type of creative output.
“That’s really good,” Abram told me. Without a word, I left Albert’s apartment and ran across the hall and up the stairs to my apartment. I went to my bedroom, grabbed one of my notebooks and flew back down to Albert’s to show them some other songs I had written.
“We should start a band,” Albert suggested.
“Yeah, we should,” Abram agreed. Once again, none of us owned or knew how to play an instrument. But, it didn’t matter. A dream was revived.
“I know what we should be called,” I shouted, “Rampage!”
Far from juvie, with puberty in full-effect, my boners returned to full-strength. It was in our new apartment that I learned how to give myself “relief.” I didn’t know anything about masturbating, and although I laughed when people made fun of others for “jacking off,” I didn’t really know what they meant. It happened by accident. I was in the bathroom one day for a routine bowel movement. There was a copy of Ladies Home Journal on the counter, next to the sink. It wasn’t my preferred reading material, but beggars can’t be choosers. I remember reading an article on gardening. There wasn’t even a picture, but I started to imagine a woman. . .out there in a garden . . . digging. Suddenly, an unwanted erection poked it’s way into my belly. These were the days before smart-phones, and there wasn’t much to do with your hands in the bathroom, so I just started slapping my erection around to pass the time, much in the way a kid might play drums on their knees.
Then, as I was slapping and rubbing, I felt a sensation that was way better than the one you get from biting into a York Peppermint Patty. I liked it. A lot. I rubbed a little more. The next thing you know, I’m playing with my body like a washboard player in a jug-band. It was sort of like a prototype of a Bop It - twist it, pull it, flick it - you get the idea. Suddenly, my body had a minor convulsion, followed by a terrible mess.
What the hell had just happened?! That was amazing! I cleaned up the mess. I didn’t know what I had just done, but I intended to do it again. Holy cow, could I have been doing this the whole time, for free? Suddenly, I was in total-body exploration-mode. They say if you want to get good at something, you have to practice. By the time I was done, I could have played Carnegie Hall. I was taking 5 showers a day. My mother thought I had suddenly started to care about hygiene. If she only knew - I was doing the opposite of hygiene.
Then, one day, she walked in on me. I hurried to the bathroom in a rush to release my demon-seed, and in my haste forgot to lock the door. A new episode of Ladies Home Journal had just come in, and I perused it to get started. The article I read this time was about stain removal, which is ironic. As I was in the fervent midst of what musicians refer to as a “solo,” the door swung open and my mother entered the bathroom. Thinking fast, I swung my body around 45 degrees so I was sitting on the toilet sideways, my back facing the door, blocking my rock-hard erection. It was standing up tall, too, like it was being called out to receive an award (“And the award for best supporting penis goes to….” “Oh, my goodness! This is so sudden. I’d like to thank The Academy, the people at Jergen’s, and I wouldn’t be here today, if it weren’t for the fine publishers of Ladies Home Journal.”). My mother couldn’t see my erection, but I WAS sitting sideways on the toilet. She had some questions. “Jamie,” she asked, “why are you sitting like that?”
I thought fast. I can’t believe this worked, but I angstily leaned my head over my shoulders and exclaimed, “God, mom, the toilet seat is so small. It’s more comfortable this way. This is how I shit, now.” She closed the door and left. I have no idea if she knew what I was doing. We never discussed it, thank God.
The neighborhood we lived in was rough. There were gangs all over. It was reminiscent of my days in Oklahoma City. There was a horse racing track around the corner from our apartment, and sometimes Albert, Abram, and I would go there just to walk around during the races. One time, we saw a guy get beat up in a remote corner of the track for what I assume was a gambling debt.
On the weekends, about a block away from our home, a flea market popped up. If you’ve never been poor, you may not fully understand the majesty of the flea market. Booths are set-up, with independent vendors selling just about anything you can imagine. Bootleg t-shirts of your favorite bands, cheap (probably stolen) bottles of cologne, knock-off bags, stereo systems, televisions, baseball cards, and more. It’s like a rideless carnival for low-income shoppers. I had earned some spending cash from my mom in exchange for doing some housework, and I used it to buy a combination knife/brass knuckles. Why this vendor would sell this to a child is beyond me, but he did. I didn’t purchase them with violent intent. Brass knuckles just looked cool to me. I didn’t even want the knife, but for some reason the combo was cheaper than just the brass knuckles by themselves. I didn’t even carry the weapon with me. I kept it in my bedoom.
Something I wanted, more than anything, was to pierce my ear. I bought a dangling cross made of skulls in the hopes of wearing it in my left lobe. My mother made a deal with me that if I started going to school regularly and behaving, that she would pierce it for me. After I went to school every day for two weeks straight, she took a sewing needle sanitized in boiling water, and stabbed through my skin. Beforehand, she stuck a slice of a potato behind my ear so the needle didn’t poke through to my neck. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt cooler than when I walked into school with that cross of skulls dangling from my ear.
Things were starting to feel normal. School was getting easier. I was becoming more comfortable with myself, and started making new friends. Jamal was still staying with his father, but my mom was making plans for him to return to us soon, making our family whole. Mandy seemed to be doing well, and we were getting along. The twins were still babies, and I took pride in taking care of them. It felt like we were out of the woods. Our new life was starting to take shape. And then it, almost as fast as it began, it was over.
Sometime in early-March of 1992, I played sick again and my mother let me stay home from school. My sister went to class, so it was just me, my mom, and the twins in the apartment. I was in my room when I heard an assertive knock at the door. It opened, and I heard people ask my mother’s name in a very authoritative tone. It was done. We had been found, and our adventure had come to an end.
I walked out into the living-room to find my mother in handcuffs. It was the last image I would have of her for four years. She didn't resist. She didn't beg. She merely shouted, "I love you," as they took her away.
The rest was a whirlwind. Myself and the twins were taken to an office run by the local Department of Human Services. Soon, we were joined by my sister, who they had taken from school. Mandy and I were sent to West Palm Beach to live with my father and Susan. My mother was extradited to face kidnapping charges. We had been tracked down by a private investigator who my father had hired. They wouldn't have have found us if my mother hadn't registered us for school and applied for food stamps.
My bag was searched going through the x-ray machine at the aiport. I was detained briefly when they discovered my knife/brass knuckles combo. These were the days before 9/11, so the delay was minimal. I was free to go, but the weapon was confiscated.
My mother didn’t serve jail time. My dad and Susan decided not to press charges. He had won. There was no need to drag his kids through more. From what I now know, Charles showed up briefly and tried to reconcile with my mother. When she denied him, he left. Since then his sons have never seen their biological father.
My mother returned Pryor, Oklahoma - the same small town where she met my father in high school, where her parents still lived. Jamal returned to live with her and the twins. We would talk occasionally on the phone, but I was always paranoid that my father or Susan was listening on the other end. She would send a package of gifts for my sister and I for Christmas and our birthdays. It would be years until we would see each other again.
When I was 16 years-old, I went to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents on my father’s side. During that trip, I saw my mother and brothers for the first time in over four years. She wasn’t allowed to see us alone, and we spent a couple hours together in the presence of an attorney. I visited again, the summer before my senior year of high school. This time, I was allowed to stay overnight. In March of 1999, when I was 19 years old, I moved back to Oklahoma and lived with my mother for the first time since that fateful day seven years prior. My uncle Mark still lived in town, and we even started a band - a real band that sometimes even performed live. To this day, despite Facebook and google searches, I have never been able to reconnect with Tad.
I guess that’s it. Thanks for reading. This has been more therapeutic than I ever imagined it would be when I sat down to write out all of the details. I did not expect that it would resonate so strongly. Thank you for all of the messages and the comments. If you enjoyed the story, and think that people can benefit from hearing it, feel free to share it, starting with PART 1.
If you want to hear what happened next, let me know. I really enjoyed connecting with people, and there’s a lot more to my story. I think I might continue where I left off, if people are interested.
Oh, and in case you’re curious - the first thing that happened when I ended up back in Florida - Susan took me to get another perm.
This is PART 4, the final installment of a multi-part story.
For PART 1, click HERE.
For PART 2, click HERE.
For PART 3, click HERE.