My life seemed like something right out of a horror flick — and my mother — well, she could have won an Oscar for her role as the sick, evil, twisted alcoholic mother who hated her son so much that she would beat him for any reason — or for simply no reason at all.
But this isn’t a movie; it’s the horrible story of my life! And all the beatings and terrible things I’m about to describe to you are painfully real. In fact I still carry around many of the physical and emotional scars as reminders of what parental abuse can do.
Thinking back, I can’t ever recall a time when I wasn’t healing from some sort of welts or bruises somewhere on my body from one of her many beatings. And on some days she would beat me two or three times over the smallest of things, using anything she could get her hands on — a belt, a switch, a table leg, an extension cord and sometimes even her fist.
And to make matters worse, she made sure to hit me in my face every time she beat me. Sometimes she would pin me down with the weight of her body, leaving nothing but my face exposed, and she would beat me across my face till I started bleeding or until I was knocked out cold. And whenever I would bleed — which happened quite often — she would make me clean up all the blood. And if I missed a spot, which was easy to do because most of the time I was still bleeding while I was trying to clean up the blood that had already fallen — so I was bound to miss a spot — and when that happened she would use that as a reason to beat me some more!
In fact, I had so many welts and bruises across my face and body that they resembled the stripes on a zebra, which was why the kids in my neighborhood started calling me “Zebra Boy!” And when I showed up to class with fresh bruises and welts on my face and arms, which was just about every day, the teacher would just laugh and ask sarcastically, “What did you do this time, Zeb?” (Zeb was short for Zebra.) In a tone that left no doubt that she agreed with what my mother was doing to me — and of course — the kids in class would always laugh and tease me right along with my teacher.
This was part of my everyday reality and as a result there was always this feeling of shame that seemed to follow me around like some dark cloud that just wouldn’t go away. And just when I thought things could get no worse, I was on my way home from school one day and this girl decided she wanted to beat me up. I was just a small frail asthmatic kid and she was at least twice my size with muscles everywhere, so naturally she beat the heck out of me with ease.
And as soon as my mother found out I had got beaten up by a girl she got so mad that she beat me with a table leg till I was unconscious and when I woke up I was tied to the fence in our front yard dressed in my sister’s clothes. I must have been knocked out for quite a while because even my hair was fixed up like a girl. And she left me there for six hours for everyone in my neighborhood to see — and see me they did. The word had spread really fast and pretty soon everyone in my neighborhood had come to see me and all I could do was cry, as people stood around laughing and making fun of me, even those I considered my friends.
Something inside me seemed to die that day! My childhood was over and my life would never be the same — and there was no way I was going to show my face at that school ever again! I would never be able to live down the humiliation I suffered that day. It wasn’t bad enough that I was getting beat up and chased home every day simply because I looked different than the rest of the kids in my neighborhood and I was also getting my lunch money taken every morning on my way to school — I went two years without eating lunch or even seeing the inside of the school cafeteria for that matter — and now on top of all of that I had to deal with the humiliation of being dressed up like a girl and tied to the fence in our front yard!
I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t put up with being humiliated any longer so I stopped going to school. I left the house each morning as if I was headed to school but I never set foot on that schoolyard ever again!
I was only eight years old at the time and didn’t think my life could get any worse but once again I was wrong because shortly after my ninth birthday my mother brought home a new boyfriend. She always seemed to have a new boyfriend. None of them seemed to last longer than a few month so I never bothered to remember most of their names. Come to think of it, most of them never bothered to remember my name either, so it was nothing new when she brought home her latest boyfriend.
She called me in her room and told me that this was her new boyfriend and that I better do whatever he tells me to do or she would beat the skin off of me. Then she told me to go to my room and don’t come out ’till she told me to and that was that. Then about three weeks later I was in my room laying on my bed drawing in my book when her boyfriend comes into my room and asked what I was doing. I said nothing, just drawing, and then he sat on the bed next to me acting like he was really interested in what I was doing and the next thing I know he grabs me around my neck and starts choking me.
I tried to fight back, screaming as loud as I could, but he had me pinned down with the weight of his body so I couldn’t move and we were the only ones home at the time so no one could hear my screams. Then he reaches down and starts trying to pull down my pants as I screamed, begging him to stop. I tried to fight him off me but then he hits me in the head with his fist so hard that I almost blacked out. Then he tells me that if I made another sound he would kill me. He’s still choking me with one arm as he’s trying to yank down my pants with his other hand. I tried to scream again but he then chokes me so hard that I passed out. When I woke up my pants were down around my ankles and there was blood everywhere and he was standing over me with the most disgusting look on his face that I have ever seen and will never ever forget!
Then he said that if I told anyone about this he would beat me to death and of course I believed him. I was so scared of him and what he might do to me that I didn’t say anything to anyone. This happened a few more times. Each time I fought him with everything that my frail little 9-year-old body had but it was never enough, he was just too big and strong. Then something happened that I thought would finally end this nightmare. One day in the middle of him trying to molest me my mother walked in and caught him in the act — thank God!
I thought, she finally caught him! I just knew she would save me from her sick boyfriend but like all the other times I was wrong once again! She just stood in the doorway and said absolutely nothing! And as soon as he realized that she wasn’t going to say or do anything he went right back to molesting me as she just stood there and watched!
I screamed for her to help me! Please help me, mama! Please make him stop! But instead of stopping him she just stood in the doorway looking until she finally said, “That’s what happens to bad kids!” And then she did the worse thing any mother could do to her child: She turned and walked out the room as he continued to molest me!
I couldn’t believe she would let him do this to me! I knew she hated me but she’s still my mother — she’s still supposed to protect me. How could she let this happen to me — what did I do to deserve this — I didn’t ask to be brought into this world —why does she hate me so much!
And all I could do was close my eyes and ask God to please take me away from this living hell! But of course God didn’t hear my prayer — He never does. I guess my mother was right. She always told me that God doesn’t listen to kids like me. And so the abuse and molestation continued until finally they broke up and he moved out!
That was by far one of the happiest days of my life. I would finally be safe. I would no longer have to jump and hide under my bed every time I heard footsteps coming down the hallway; the nightmare was over. But that happiness would be short-lived because a few nights after they broke up my mother came into my room and sat on my bed. She was reeking of alcohol and I was so scared I was shaking. I thought she was going to beat me because her boyfriend had left her. I had been preparing myself for that possibility.
So when she came in my room I just knew this was it, here comes another one of her horrible beatings. But instead of hitting me she started telling me that it was my fault that he left her. And since I think I’m a man now then I’m going to have to start acting like a man and doing what a man does. And then before I knew what was happening she reaches her hand under my covers and touches me in a way that no mother should ever touch her child! I screamed and almost jumped through the roof!
As I tried to move her hand away, she slapped me so hard across my face that she knocked one of my teeth out of my mouth, then she tells me that if I moved one more time she would knock the rest of my teeth out and tie me to the fence again and leave me there for good!
And then she reaches for me again. This time I didn’t move a muscle. Instead I just closed my eyes real tight and cried as I quietly died inside. …
Jesse Jackson, 51, is currently in the San Francisco County Jail for a probation violation. He has spent the better part of the last 35 years in and out of the criminal justice system.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.