One summer our mother became even more withdrawn, she passed the days in quite sadness. Finally one day she just snapped out of it and came back from her self- imposed world of isolation. Turns out she was making an important decision. Packing the four of us kids up she left our father and we returned to Texas. We went back to the Tonk Valley and the farm where she grew up.
In Texas away from our father everything changed. My brothers and I watched as our mother blossomed and for the first time in our young lives we saw her come to life. She seemed relieved to be in the protective arms of family and in the safety of that dirt farm she was once was so anxious to leave. She had a care-free air about her. She woke up and greeted everyday with a renewed interest in living. Fixing her hair with more style and putting on lipstick, she looked more like a twenty-nine year old woman should look.
Carried across the prairie on a gentle, late afternoon breeze our mother’s laughter could be heard as she ran through the yard to Poppy’s old car, hopped upon the fender and smiled for the camera. This must have been the real her, how she was before she met our father. We had never seen our mother like that…and we never would again.
With strong persuasion, pressure and guilt trips our father convinced her to return to California. Fortified with promises of changed behavior she was excited to resume life with the “new Park Long”. He was going to be different now. We were just kids and we didn’t buy it for a minute. We hated the thought of being with him again, we were scared to death of our father and he knew it, that’s how he liked it. Fear and dread hung over us as we waited for the “old Park Long” to reappear.
The “old Park Long” came back with a vengeance he had all new gear in his game bag. He raised the bar on the level of how mean and nasty he could be. Gary, Daniel, David and I, each in a different way increasingly showed signs of what life with him was doing to us. Our mother disappointed and tired of the battle checked out and emotionally shut-down. The joy of that Texas summer and the woman we briefly glimpsed became a far-away, distant memory.
Why our mother took us back to spend more time in hell with a brutal man I’ll never know. Sometimes I wonder if she had plans to attempt another escape that didn’t happen because she became so sick, I’ll never know that either. Five years after the trip that almost saved us she was dead at the age of thirty-six and we were left to go it alone.
Time and time again we hear of a child being sexually molested by a neighbor or the leader of an organization and, in this era of fatherless homes, the mother’s boyfriend! Be careful who you allow your children to spend time with sometimes it’s someone close to home. Sometimes it’s someone you would never suspect.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to the rise and fall of muffled laughter. Lying there, I listened to the familiar Saturday sounds of a chair, as the four legs were drug across the linoleum floor, someone making their way back up to the kitchen table, regaining their position in the game, popping open a fresh can of beer. I heard the consistent rhythm of a lighter opening then snapping shut as a new cigarette was lit, forming more clouds of smoke, filling the air, drifting into the room where I slept. I was half in and half out of sleep, roused every now and then by the deck of cards as they were shuffled. When the party ended I fell into a deep sleep.
Later, the silence was broken and I was awakened again by the creak of the bedroom door slowly being pushed open. In my groggy, sleepy state I saw a shadowy figure of a man appear in the door way. It wasn’t my father; the silhouette of the person was much taller. There was not enough moonlight to see any more than that. Who was it and what did they want? I felt the bed move as someone pulled back the blanket and crawled in with me. Lying on my side facing away from the mysterious intruder, I pretended to be asleep. I was confused and scared.
Suddenly, someone’s hand crept around my waist, and slowly made its way up my shirt my heart pounded, my body was rigid. I thought if I kept perfectly still, it would soon stop. The hand glided down my stomach past my navel to the top of my underpants. I still pretended to be asleep, my mind was racing presenting me with different options of escape, but in my eleven-year-old mind none seemed practical. The hand began to gently pull me over onto my back. I recognized the smell of hot, putrid alcohol breath tinged with cigarette smoke getting closer, and closer to my face. I still pretended to be asleep. The night was warm and humid and the feel of his sweaty, clammy skin sickened me. Then all of a sudden it all stopped! I kept very still for fear movement would cause whoever was doing this, to resume the disgusting thing he did to me. The person rolled away and with it went the hand. It seemed like forever, but after awhile I heard a deep, smelly exhale and the welcome sound of snoring.
Hours went by, it was the longest night. Finally, as the morning light came into the room I carefully, quietly slid from under the blanket and inched my way from the bed. The door was open just enough for me to slip through sideways, if I made myself as skinny as I could. If the door moved, it may creak and wake the stranger. As I left the room, I looked back at the face barely visible in the morning light. It was my mother’s older brother, and up until then my favorite “Uncle Paul”.
To determine if a child is being sexually molested know the signs visit: www.community.nsw.gov.nu
The tour was almost over when I asked to see a cell. The juvenile officer assigned to show our group around the detention facility informed me they don’t call them cells but, yes, she would show us where the kids go for the night. We entered a large room that had several locked rooms within and one common bathroom with nothing more than a toilet and a sink. She unlocked the door to one of the rooms, pushed it open and I not only stepped into the approximately 5 x 8 foot cold, windowless cement room, I also stepped into the past.
The room was vacant but, lying on the thin mattress that sat on top of a flimsy metal frame I reflected back and saw the image of the disappointed fifteen-year-old girl that I once was. My crime that led me to be put under lock and key was the same as the (eighty), twelve to eighteen year-olds housed in this juvenile detention center, I screamed out for help! The way I went about it was different but I was looking for the same result these kids were when they cried out by committing acts that said: “Look at me! I am a child with a mother and father who criminally went AWOL on their job as parents and I’m the one locked up!”
I’d reached the point where I could no longer take the unrelenting abuse and neglect Gary, Daniel, David and I suffered at the hand of our parents. In the middle of the night, I walked to a phone booth in a shopping center parking lot, called the police and reported our mother and father. Officer Delgado picked me up with the promise he would take me somewhere safe then go rescue my brothers. Accused of being a runaway, the charges I leveled at my parents were not believed and I was locked up in a room, in a facility almost identical to the one I was now touring. The officer didn’t take me for help I was in “Juvey” in Santa Ana, California.
At an average cost of $80,000 per year to lock up a child the U.S. spends more than 5 billion annually on youth detention. In a recent report “No Place for Kids” the Annie E. Casey Foundation presents much evidence that “incarcerating” kids doesn’t work: Youth prisons do not reduce future offending. Source; Childmind.org
My stint in lock up was brief but, my brothers Daniel and David spent most of their childhood in state correctional facilities. Their adult lives were lived in a way that proved the above statement is true.
Jessica is 18 years old she drinks alcohol smokes pot and sleeps with any guy who says he loves her. Justin is 24 he looks like your average all-American young man but, looks are deceiving, he ‘s already spent 4 years in prison for actions brought on by his hair-trigger temper. Shauna is 25 she gave birth to her first child at 14 years old she has 4 children by three different men. What do all these young people have in common? All grew up in a home where the father was absent. In the time I spent with them, all told me either they never knew their father or; “He met someone, moved away and has a new family”.
From Death row some haunting words on the subject written by my brother David Martin Long, just weeks before his 1999 execution.
“The breakdown of the American family is expanding resulting in a general trend toward a more radical form of youth rebellion. The exposure to America’s under belly culture of death glorified in many forms via entertainment kids have learned it’s okay to kill to solve problems. The “buffer zones” once available to the psyche and spirit of America’s youth have been eliminated. Not just the practice of parents creating a solid family structure but driving God out of the schools as well. I just got a new neighbor on my cell block. He’s from San Antonio and just turned 18. He can’t buy beer, he can’t buy cigarettes, but he can and will be executed.” Americas shocking statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice:
60% of kids in America live in fatherless homes contributing to homelessness among children, up 33% in 3 years.
The U.S. has more locked up youth than any other country.
The U.S. opens the equivalent of 3 or more new 500 bed prisons per week.
The timing was perfect! Precisely, when he needed it the most my brother Gary was led to God’s Divine appointment. Growing up in a childhood of severe physical abuse and emotional neglect it was all Gary, Daniel, David and I could do to make it from one day to the next. But, amid the chaos and turmoil of living under the rule of our sadistic father, there were moments that were truly miraculous.
Every three months we moved, usually under the cover night, always ahead of the sheriff and his warrant. One spring we landed in Santa Ana Heights, California, we moved into a house right next to the Upper Bay Baptist Church. My brothers and I started going to every service and event just to escape and have somewhere safe to go.
One Wednesday night, the church invited a special guest speaker. Ten-year-old Gary, who had become very timid and introverted, sat on the edge of his seat listening, fascinated by every word the man spoke.
Last week Gary told me the speech he heard as a boy had enormous impact giving him hope and, contributed to shaping his future. Gary said; “I figured if that man could make it through all he endured, I could make it through a few more years in the hellish childhood I was living.”
God’s impeccable timing! The speaker was Louis Zamperini, Olympian, war hero, and a great American! He passed away last week at 97 years of age. God rest his beautiful soul.
Louis Zamperini never knew he kept a Divine appointment that night specifically with Gary Long. He didn’t know his words encouraged a little boy and provided strength to persevere. That’s the point we never know how our kind words and good deeds, which may seem insignificant at the time, could take hold and change the life of another.
“We are saved to serve, blessed to be a blessing.” Pastor Rick Warren
Growing up in Orange County, California that’s the way people in the neighborhood referred to us, “Those kids down the street”. Gary, Daniel, David and I were the kids no one wanted their kids to play with. We were dirty, wore the same ill fitting clothes everyday and roamed the street until all hours of the night, with no parental supervision. We looked like trouble to everyone, everyone except Louise Hagan. The day we met Louise Hagan, her husband Carl and their six children was nothing short of Devine intervention.
During the years my brothers and I existed in a secret world of child abuse and neglect, the Hagan family had no idea they were the only light in our darkness. In one of his final letters from death row, my brother David said it best when he wrote of the Hagan family and what they meant to us;
“Your home was a refuge during the times of my childhood. Your love and easy going characters were, with no exaggeration, a comfort and a blessing. Your home provided sanity and enduring patience for all of us kids. Daniel and Lynda came to the prison to visit and we all agreed that our lives would have been a darker place without the Hagan’s.
You fed us when we were hungry and never said, “that’s too much”. I learned more about respect and honor from Mr. Hagan than any other man. He demanded a civility from us that caused me to realize my potential to be civil. Mrs. Hagan opened her arms and heart to us in a manner I hesitate not to call saintly. Her joyful expression and day to day air of motherhood provided me with the only sense of stability I’d learned. The Hagan kids without a doubt were our brothers and sisters. They reflected the unselfish, giving spirit of their mom and dad.
Even now as I lay in this 5×9 cell for 13 years God grants me wonderful journeys back to a place of magic, comfort and joyful adventure with a ragtag group of kids.”
Although they were criticized and shunned by some in the neighborhood for their association and compassion toward us, the Hagan family never wavered from their Christian values. In the Holy Bible, James chapter 2 instructs us to; Treat the poor in vile clothing with the same respect given to the rich man with the gold ring, wearing goodly clothing. We were never made to feel different by the Hagan family.
Remember, those kids down the street, may be living a hell known to no one. There are many kids who have been removed from their hell and are in need of a foster family.
I was asked to speak to a group of teenage boys locked up in a correctional institution. As they filed into the auditorium, it was obvious the crowd of fifty or so was going to be tough! They came in with their best bad guy look on, conveying their disinterest in me. I could tell they were thinking; oh, there she is another do-gooder here to make herself feel good by trying to save us, at least we get out of our cottage for the evening.
After they took their seats I looked down on a sea of blank faces that seem to say; go ahead lady, take your best shot! The boys were quite and attentive, they had no choice guards were posted at both doors. I have to admit I was uneasy and tense by the way they controlled the atmosphere with their intimidating, defiant stars.
I opened by saying, “my name is Lynda Long you and I are not so different, we have much in common, does anyone know what it is?” One boy in the front row who had been sizing me up from the start said; “You’ve been where we are.” I said “that’s right.”
With his statement everything changed. They collectively let their guard down and visibly assumed a more reverent, open posture that invited me to speak to them.
At the end of my talk, I asked if anyone had a question…they all did. We spent another hour talking, most of the questions and comments centered on the same theme, they wondered how to dig out and overcome.
I told them I was fifteen-years-old, the same age as most of them when I decided, NO MORE! My childhood was stolen from me but no one would ever have the power to ruin the rest of my life!
When I was finished, I stepped down from the platform to gather up my things when one boy approached me and shook my hand, it was the one who was brave enough to open the door for me to tell my story. One by one they formed a line, some simply said thank you but, to my surprise some hugged me and I could feel their arms soak up my hug like water on a wilted plant. It was all I could do not to cry. I was thinking these are God’s most precious gift to a mother and a father. Some were celebrated on the day they were born and some were not but, somewhere along the way all were let down. Now they were hurt, broken, disappointed boys in a battle to believe they were worth something in someone’s eyes and loveable by someone. I knew their battle would be hard and some would l lose the fight.
Afterward, I ask the Chaplain how many of these boys were growing up in a fatherless home he answered, 60%. And, only 10 to 15% come from homes where both biological parents are present.
Believe it or not, kids don’t want much, only a home with a loving, caring mother and father…a family. Because of the breakdown of the American family, the United States has more of its youth locked up than any other country in the world!
Thriving? Time will tell
Chances are you never heard the name Landon Payne and, you never will. The five-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy was beaten to death by his mother and stepfather but not before he was brutally tortured. His older siblings testified in court that Landon was sometimes made to stand for hours in a corner on his tiptoes with thumb tacks under his heels. To hide the bruises on Landon’s body, the brothers and sisters were forced to participate in a sick ritual of covering his body with makeup. The news article ended with the report that since the trial, where the parents were found guilty and sent to prison, the siblings, currently in foster care, are doing well and thriving.
Reading Landon’s story, I was taken back to my childhood and like it was yesterday, I again heard the door slam sounding the arrival of our father home from a night of drinking. Its late-it’s dark. We’re in bed and I whisper for Daniel to come to my bed, get under the covers down by my feet and don’t move or breathe. Just the sight of Daniel sent our father into a rage and he would beat him for absolutely no reason other than sport. Sometimes if he came home early and we were all still up, I’d frantically grab Daniel and run with him as fast as I could to find a safe hiding place. Usually it was the closet where I’d empty the laundry out of a box, put Daniel inside then cover him up with dirty clothes. Sometimes our father found him, sometimes he didn’t. When he did, my other two brothers and I could only watch and cry.
All four of us suffered at the violent, abusive hand of our father, but for some reason Daniel was singled out to suffer the most. Again, echoing from the past, I heard my little brother’s screams for mercy, pleading through a river of tears for our father to stop his assault. Gary, David and I would join in with Daniel crying, begging and pleading. When that didn’t work we’d try to bargain with our father; “…please Dad, we’ll be good, we promise, we’ll never be bad again. We’re sorry, Dad!! Leave him alone, stop!!” Our father never stopped, he sadistically loved an audience. When it was over, a curled up little bundle of bruises lay crying until he fell asleep, we weren’t allowed to comfort him.
I saw Daniel for the last time when he came to see me in Denver three years ago, he had something to tell me, he said he was dying and wanted to say good bye. I didn’t recognize my brother’s face the years of wandering the streets, in a state of drunkenness to numb the emotional pain of being a hated child had taken its toll. He was crying as I watched him board a bus headed for California to say his goodbyes to Gary. Refusing help from either of us, seven months later, he was found dead in a dark and lonely room in Mexicali, Mexico.
The death certificate listed acute respiratory failure, and acute pulmonary edema as the cause of death. But Daniel also had a heart problem, not in the medical sense, the kind that could be treated with medicine or surgery. There was no fix for the condition of his heart, Daniel literally died of a heart broken by the fact his parents did not love him.
Even though Gary and I clawed our way out and survived to create the life we dreamed of as kids, we are still haunted by the unbearable pain of watching Daniel endure daily beatings and various methods of torture, and it will never leave us. Our youngest brother David, so psychologically destroyed witnessing and also on the receiving end of our father’s 24/7 violent, brutal wrath, turned to a life of crime, spent thirteen years on death row in Huntsville, Texas, and was executed. Thriving? I pray the surviving children will, but I can say without a doubt, only time will tell. Learn to recognize the signs of child abuse get involved and call the proper authorities!