Their beds looked the same. The state of North Carolina provided the sheets and the pillows. There was nothing personal that gave these resting places a hint of the different paths that had brought these boys to the Juvenile Evaluation Center in Swannanoa. Only a nightstand separated the twin beds. But although Eddie was eleven and Steve was thirteen there was much more than two years between them.
Eddie had recently been orphaned, not by the death of his parents but by the death of their marriage. Neither his Mom nor his Dad was willing to be encumbered by a child as they attempted to start life over. So, Eddie was deposited in a new town with a grandmother who made no secret of the fact that “he’s not mine and I don’t really want him.”
It’s always difficult to start school in a new place. And making friends is even harder after the school year has started. But Eddie’s grandmother took him into town and registered him as a new student. The first day at his new school, several bigger boys beat him up and threatened him. The physical hurts couldn’t compare with the pain he felt inside. Rejection, fear, anger and confusion ruled his thoughts. Eddie made a simple decision: no matter what, he would not return to school. Rather than tell his grandmother he simply took his books the next morning and headed out the door. But instead of going to school, Eddie spent the day sitting in a field. At the end of the day, he returned to his grandmother’s home and she was unaware that he had failed to go into town.
After several days, the truant officer came to the farm and spoke with Eddie’s grandmother. She was angry to learn that he had not been going to school and complained, “He’s not my kid. I don’t want him. Why don’t you take him?”
The truant officer reported the case and within weeks, Eddie was incarcerated at the Juvenile Evaluation Center. For failing to go to school, he was kept inside a fence under tragic and degrading conditions.
In the bed next to Eddie’s was thirteen-year-old Steve. Red hair and freckles called attention to this sad-faced, quiet child. Steve had been separated from his parents shortly after birth and had no conscious memory of them. Growing up in a series of about twenty foster homes, he had bonded with only one person – an illiterate woman in the eastern part of the state who had no husband but kept children in her home. Whenever he was assigned to a new foster family, Steve would run away and return to the only person he had dared to love.
Because she could not read Steve read her mail to her, in