“Okay, you can go outside for a little while,” relented my exasperated mother, “but do not go beyond the fence.”
I was only ten, and my brother Jerry was seven. We had begged and whined for hours to go outside on another beautiful, Florida summer day, but Momma was always so cautious, especially since Jerry had been diagnosed with epilepsy.
Finally, she lifted the just-out-of-reach hook on the screen door and my brother and I burst happily out on the front porch.
Life was so simple then. There were hundreds of potential adventures to be had within our five-acre fenced-in perimeter – the difficulty was deciding which one to embark on first!
We could chase old George, the family Great Dane, who would gallop just fast enough in front of us that we couldn’t catch him until he got tired. Then, he’d stop suddenly so that Jerry and I would trip and
fall. The giant dog would hold us down gently with his paws on our chests. Once he was rested, he’d let us up and the game would start all over again.
Sometimes, we’d race our wagon-cycles (a combination bike in front/wagon in the back) up and down our driveway, parking every so often in the cool shade of the carport to figure out which pretend fire or rescue mission we would rush to next.
My brother and I would snack on the fresh oranges, or grapefruit, which grew nearly year-round on the fruit tree in our yard. We chased down dragon flies, caught black racers back-handed and kicked over huge red ant hills without ever getting bitten, stung, or peed on. We were so brave. After all, it was our fenced-in domain, and it was our duty to protect it from all invaders.
Often, we climbed the giant Ficus tree, the centerpiece of the front lawn, until the day Jerry had a seizure and fell twenty-five feet to the ground, bouncing off of every branch on the way down, which probably saved his life. Amazingly, when he regained consciousness, it was determined that he didn’t even break any bones.
Momma forbade us from that day forward to ever climb that tree again. So we would climb the sixty-foot tall Pine trees that lined the back fence instead!
Sometimes, we’d go all the way to the top of those high Pines and just sway back and forth in the wind for hours. We pretended to be Indian scouts watching out for the cavalry (Momma). All still behind
the fence, which surrounded our property.
I recall the days when I’d convince Jerry to ‘confiscate’ a couple of whole potatoes, some tin foil, and matches out of the kitchen. We’d go out to the pines, collect some wood and leaves, start a fire, then wrap the potatoes up in the foil and cook them in the embers.
In my life, I have eaten in some of the finest restaurants in this country and to this very day I cannot recollect a potato that tasted any better.
My brother and I rode broom-stick ponies, swam Olympic races in our wading pool, sky-dived from our swing set and played a million games of every kind of ball. We were cops, we were robbers, we were doctors, firemen, cowboys, and Indians. Anything was possible within the confines of our fenced in yard.
All too soon, Jerry and I grew up. After Momma died, my now ‘adult’ brain-damaged brother was moved from mental health group home to another, to another, until they ran out of group homes to move him to. He failed to get along with others in each new residence, creating such disturbances until his case manager finally recommended that Jerry be permanently confined to a strictly supervised mental hospital. Straight jackets and psychotropic drugs create their own kind of fences.
As for me, my own thinking errors have landed me in a southern prison surrounded by electric chain-linked fences, crowned with glistening razor wire.
My worried mother’s plea stimulated a vast imagination. At any given moment, I can read a book and be surfing in Hawaii or climbing the Rocky Mountains. I have traveled throughout our galaxy by turning on the Discovery Channel. I can pick up my guitar and sing the songs that take me back to Woodstock or I can quietly close my eyes and be in the presence of the Lord.
I have to thank you Momma. You’d be surprised at just how much freedom I can experience. Even when I cannot go beyond the fence.
Since 1996, The Beat Within's mission is to provide incarcerated youth with consistent opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences in a safe space that encourages literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community. Outside of the juvenile justice system, The Beat Within partners with community organizations and individuals to bring resources to youth (between the ages of 11 -17) both inside and outside of detention. We are committed to being an effective bridge between youth who are locked up and the community that aims to support their progress towards a healthy, non-violent, and productive life. The following pieces come from our weekly workshops which were recently held in one the 18 juvenile detention facilities – from Hawaii to San Francisco to Washington DC – we venture into each week. From the writings we produce the national publication, The Beat Within. For more information please visit us at www.thebeatwithin.org.