Ben C.

Ben C.
Dallas,Texas Straight
Summer 1989 to Summer 1990

 

The air was moist from the morning dew.  “Mommy!  There’s a homeless man up there.”

I opened my eyes to old blue paint curling away from the sheet metal on the ceiling of my battleship.  I was in the wing; like the wings in the battleships of The Empire Strikes Back, men could be stationed at the tips.  I travailed a long metal ladder to get into my space; I thought it would be perfect to lie down in for the evening.  You see, my battleship was in Long Branch Park in Killeen, TX.  The air was moist from the morning dew.  “Mommy! There’s a homeless man up there.” 

For many years, I was a troubled child.  It seemed, somewhere between 5 and 10 I went off the reservation.  I just couldn’t seem to grasp the idea that life had rules.  My parents had my sister and I in a parochial school from a young age and kept us heavily sheltered from the “secular world”.  Somewhere around 11 or 12, I started to get unruly.  I hated the school and all the Jesus stuff and the seclusion from the most innocuous things; like, only Christian music, never anything on the radio.  Finally, at 14, my parents gave in and put me into public school.  And, where I thought this was something grand, it became quickly clear that I was not socially prepared.  As my parents and a handful of therapists tried to figure out what to do with me, my life began to slowly disintegrate.  Finally, after much hullabaloo, on my 16th birthday, under the rouse of going to Six Flags for some fun in the sun, I was admitted to Straight, Inc. in Dallas, TX.  It was the summer of ’89… 

Life as a phaser started quickly for me.  I had no social compass; I had never made friends well.  So, it didn’t take long for me to conform to the brain washing being taught.  Even in that environment, I wanted to please because I wanted to be liked.  But, much like the other stories I’ve read here, there was something inescapable for me: you can’t do it every day.  You simply can’t.  Every day, you do a tiny little thing wrong in your head and then you justify it.  And, then you justify the justification and the ball of snow starts rolling.  Somewhere along the way, I really don’t remember how or when, I know it was a good few months after I’d been there, I decided to cop out.  I had made it to 3rd phase and was going to school each day.  Planning needed to be done. 

Our phaser home was a condo and it was called the EAGLE home.  EAGLE was an acronym; I don’t remember what it stood for.  But, what we did, was rotate the host family once a week.  This way, my parents would get to see me at least once a week; as our home was 3 and a half hours away in Killeen, TX.  The other 3 weeks in the month had a rotation between host families.  

The plan was simple in nature.  Run away from school.  Get into the phaser home.  Pack a bag.  Get to downtown Dallas.  Call a friend.  Get home. 

We had these alarms on the windows that you could hold in your hand they were so small.  Since I knew I’d be going into the home after everyone had left for the day, when no one was looking, I opened the latch to the window.  Off we go to school.  When I left school, I decided to run.  My fear, was that the school would realize I was gone, notify Straight and I’d be caught at the host home.  I ran and ran and ran.  Finally, I made it to the phaser home.  I knew the alarm would go off.  The plan was to open the window, rip the alarm off and break it on the ground.  Damned if I didn’t open that window, rip the alarm and start smashing it in the ground with my feet, did that thing keep going off the entire time of my escape.  I ended up throwing it behind the condos somewhere. 

So, there I am in the host home, frantically packing up this enormous red duffle bag, with the alarm going off somewhere behind the home.  You wouldn’t believe the size of this duffle bag.  I packed everything I owned; to include a pillow and a blanket.  As all of you know, what I owned was colored t-shirts and generic blue jeans.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I headed out the window and started making my way to downtown Dallas.  I’m pretty sure I caught a bus with my lunch money.  I made contact with a childhood friend of mine, David G.  He Western Union’ed me the $25 I needed to catch a Greyhound home to Killeen.  

As I waited in downtown Dallas, I had my walkman with me.  I remember ‘Black Velvet’ came on, the one hit wonder of Alannah Myles.  I walked around Dallas like a hobo.  There I was, unkempt and carrying a duffle bag.  I was homeless.  To this day, when that song comes on it stops me in my tracks and I remember downtown Dallas and that huge building lined with those green strips that lit it up.  Most of the time was spent at the Greyhound station.  I even spoke to a couple of homeless people.  But, the two things I remember vividly as the night went on was ‘Black Velvet’ and that damn building with the green lighted strips.  Today, when the Rangers or the Cowboys play a night game, inevitably, a shot of downtown will come on the screen and I remember this night as clearly and vividly as if it happened yesterday. 

I made it to Killeen sometime in the night and holed up at my buddies house, Singh.  The next morning, Singh told me I couldn’t stay.  He was of age and this was illegal for him.  So, I meandered around Killeen for the day, made a few phone calls, hung out with David and Singh, but eventually, night came and I was without a place to sleep.  I found my battleship.  I remember walking along the side of a brick apartment building adjacent to the park and close to my ship in the middle of the night listening to my walkman.  Phil Collins came on, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord…”  Yes, the same one that Mike Tyson sings in The Hangover.  I punched the side of that brick wall while listening to this song.  I was so incredibly unhappy.  My life, my childhood, had been a waste.  It was stolen.  It was taken from me.  It happened long before Straight, but it climaxed there.  I was alone.  I cried. 

The air was moist from the morning dew.  “Mommy!  There’s a homeless man up there.” said the boy.  I looked up at the peeling paint, peered out the side and saw the young boy and his mother briskly walking away from my battleship.  I made my way down the ladder and set off.  I was to call Straight and tell them to come pick me up.  

I was at the 7-11 across the street from my battleship.  The same 7-11 I had wondered into previously during the night and stole a pack of cigarettes.  I remember when I went outside, an off duty cop came over to me and started talking.  I didn’t know he was a cop, but I was sure I was busted for stealing the smokes.  He asked me how long it had been since I ran away.  I don’t remember much else about our conversation, but I remember he was very kind.  He didn’t bust me for the cigarettes.  And, he gave me a few quarters to call Straight in the morning, if I wanted to.

When I called Straight, I told them who I was and that I’d run away.  I don’t recall the nature of the conversation, but they said they’d be there and sure enough, 4 hours later, there that person was .  The same person that sent me through a wall together with him one time.  The same person that took me down one time and when I came to, he was on top of me and I was spitting thousands of pieces of my own hair out.  A lot of hair.  Turns out, while he was taking me down, he ripped a lock of my hair out.  The same person who took me down one time and while literally lying on top of me, landed a couple body blows on my torso.  The same person that was accused of helping a female phaser escape and then raping her.  And, the same person that was a witness in the murder trial of fellow Straight member,  for murdering another Straight member.  Anyway, he picked me up and we “rocked out” to some 80’s heavy metal on the way back in his pickup truck.  

Life back at Straight was no different than before.  The first day back they berated me, yelled at me, blah, blah, blah, but they couldn’t touch me.  I remember I would just sit there and look at them when they were yelling at me.  There was a peace in knowing they were the slaves and I was the master.  They thought it the other way.  But, I had found my resolve.  Me, the lonely kid that couldn’t make friends and turned to drugs had found myself.  Just like years before when I finally started rebelling against the retarded life my parents had created for me with Jesus and church and lies, I had found the truth first again.  I was not conforming.  I was not giving in.  I was right.  It faded…

I stayed for 344 days in Straight total.  I copped out one more time.  A little less dramatic.  I had received a job, so I took off on payday.  Much easier to get by with a little cash.  Unfortunately, my parents had called all my friends after my first cop out and warned them all.  A friend turned me in when I called him.  Set a trap for me.  I stayed for a few more months at Straight.  I was despondent.  The Texas Alcohol and Drug Commission had stopped all the physical abuse that was happening.  They couldn’t put their hands on you unless you did something violent or tried to escape.  So, I sat.  All day long, I sat.   I knew I had 1 year left in Straight till I was 18 and I had resigned that was exactly what I was going to do.  I didn’t participate in the misbehaving orgies anymore.  I didn’t speak out.  I just sat.  

My parents arrived on that 344th day, took me out for a steak dinner, and took me to Houston for a 3 month stay at a halfway house.  I met up with a fellow misbehaver from Straight there.  Can’t remember the name of the place.  But, it was 2 residential houses that were across the street from each other.  Much like Straight, the rooms were a couple of bunk beds.  Although, the indoctrination wasn’t quite the same.  I went home after a couple months and proceeded to try and piece my life together.  I left home probably 6 months later, still 17, and started my life.  

It was 23 years ago next month that my parents came to their senses.  24 years ago on July 5th marks my entry into the program, it was my 16th birthday; I’ll be 40 this next time that July comes around.  A lot of time has passed.  Dreams have been found and lost; mistakes, triumph, sorrow, joy; life has been sweet and bitter; like everyone, I suppose.  But, through it all, I’ll never forget that little boy saying, “Mommy! There’s a homeless man up there.”  The air was moist from the morning dew…

Hey, guys. I received an email from an old Straight friend. He was the one I mentioned in my story about going to a halfway house for a few months after Straight. He wrote me and reminded me it was called the Bridge House. Interesting stuff.

So, it got me to thinking about when I first moved to Florida.

The teenager I helped escape from Straight.

I first moved to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area in Florida in 1991 when I was 18 with my mom and dad. This was a couple of years after Straight. I got hooked up with a non-profit group that was funded by former Straight members and some of their parents. There was this guy who ran it from an office he had in downtown Tampa. Can’t remember his name or the name of the group, but one of the things he did was organize pickets against Straight. So, I end up going to one of these “events” one day with a few people, maybe 10 or so. We’re picketing in front of the fence that runs along big Gandy Blvd. On the other side of the fence is Straight. And, BAM!!!! Wouldn’t you know it, a brazen, group cop out was under way. Maybe 4 or 5 kids, maybe more, come running out with kids and staff members following.

So, I run to my car, which is parked down where the fence runs out and there’s this young girl, probably 14 or 15 and she’s near me and I tell her to get in. I take off. I called my mother. I took her back to my mothers and she cleaned up and took a shower and my mom gave her some make-up and maybe some clothes. We called her parents and told them what we had come to know about Straight and her mother agreed to meet us at McDonald’s. From the best I can remember, the mother had said that she wasn’t going to take her back to Straight. That was the last I heard of her.

And, so, I was wondering if you could post my story on your site, as a special section of sorts, and see if we can’t find this girl or any of the kids who made a break for it that day. There stories would be great because it was brazen and it was a group thing. And, I’d love to know what happened to the girl I helped escape from Straight Inc.