Poverty is the worst form of violence. Mahatma Gandhi
On the night the cops came, the flame from the oven gave the room a wonderful yellow and blue glow and eventually we tired and lay quietly and watched its reflection on the faded cold yellow walls. We thought we would sleep well that night because we had not seen any cockroaches around the house. Most of the time they were everywhere, in our clothes and our beds and in the food cabinets, and one of us would have to stay awake and brush them off the bed so the others could sleep without having the bastards crawling all over us.
Bridget had placed our wet shoes and socks on the open oven door. Seeing them, I studied the bottoms of my feet through the flickering light. They were wrinkled from snow that had flooded through the worn soles of my mismatched boots. Although my feet were cold, they burned.
One by one, we faded off into a deep sleep, our small bodies exhausted from a day of trudging through the deep snow that covered the winding sidewalks of Waterbury, all of which seemed to be uphill. We were awakened abruptly by a pounding noise against the door and the muffled, deep voices of men in a hurry. We pushed more closely together on the mattress.
“If it’s the Kings,” Paulie said, referring to the Puerto Rican gang that roamed the neighborhood at will, “they got knives.”
The Latin Kings were a teenage Puerto Rican gang that hung out on the streets, drank rum and Coke, and wore black leather jackets and blue jeans. They were tough, very tough. Cop cars avoided driving past the street corners where the Kings gathered. They took what they wanted from stores and stripped down random cars for parts. They were the real neighborhood law.
The Kings ruled over the South End and mostly fought the black gangs from the North End and sometimes the Italians from the Town Plot neighborhood. Their fights, “rumbles” they were called, took place in empty parking lots. Twenty-five to thirty gang members on each side charged into each other with knives, tire irons and chains. Their rumbles lasted no more than five minutes, maybe ten, and then they broke off, carrying their wounded with them if they could. Sometimes, if the wounds were bad enough, the gangs left them behind for the cops to bring to the hospital.
They mostly left us alone, but Bridget was approaching her teen years, and she was already tall for her age and attractive and some of the Kings had taken to following her home and groping her.
But this night, the bright beam from a cop’s long silver flashlight filled the room. That it was the cops instead of the Kings made no difference to us. They were both trouble.
A cop with a round red face appeared at the window, his mouth open, his eyes squinting across the room. Our eyes locked. He turned from the window and yelled, “Yeah, they’re in there,” and then turning back to us he looked at me and tapped on the glass.
“Sweetheart, open the door, like a good kid,” he shouted through a frozen smile through the frozen glass. We stared at him. We weren’t about to open that door to him or anyone else.
“It’s okay,” he assured us. “We’re not gonna hurt you, so open the door.”
“No!” Denny shouted.
“Little boy,” the cop said politely in a way that seemed strangely menacing, “please open the door,” and a cloud of cold breath floated from his mouth.
“Your mother,” was Denny’s answer, his answer to many things in those days.
The cop turned away from the window, wiped his running nose, and shouted, “Okay, kick it in.”
“Hide under the bed!” Bridget yelled, and following her command we grabbed Maura and scurried into the living room where it was dark, and slid under the bed with its worn box spring, no mattress.
“Push up against the wall,” Paulie shouted. “They can’t reach us there.” And we did, covering Maura with our skinny frames.
In our part of town, and among people like ourselves, the policeman was not our friend. The policeman was to be feared. Policemen locked up our parents and our neighbors. We saw them beat up men who were too drunk to stand. They poked people with their nightsticks, “paddy clubs” we called them, and drove past us and screamed at us to “get out of the street” and threatened us with putting their foot up our asses, and they would, too. We feared the cops for good reason. And now they were banging down our front door.
I had a cold, or what I thought was a cold. I kept losing my balance and falling down, and couldn’t move very quickly because of that, but figuring on an all-night siege, I slid out from under the bed and ran back to the kitchen just as the cops broke the door off its frame with a loud, violent crack. They rushed in as I opened the warm refrigerator door and found the rolls of olive loaf that I had taken from the Salvation Army Christmas dinner earlier in the day. That’s why the cops were there. Not for the olive loaf, but because somebody at the Salvation Army told them about us.
In 1962, six year old John Tuohy, his two brothers and two sisters entered Connecticut’s foster care system and were promptly split apart. Over the next ten years, John would live in more than ten foster homes, group homes and state schools, from his native Waterbury to Ansonia, New Haven, West Haven, Deep River and Hartford. In the end, a decade later, the state returned him to the same home and the same parents they had taken him from. As tragic as is funny compelling story will make you cry and laugh as you journey with this child to overcome the obstacles of the foster care system and find his dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washington DC. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University. He is the author of numerous non-fiction on the history of organized crime including the ground break biography of bootlegger Roger Tuohy "When Capone's Mob Murdered Touhy" and "Guns and Glamour: A History of Organized Crime in Chicago."
His non-fiction crime short stories have appeared in The New Criminologist, American Mafia and other publications. John won the City of Chicago's Celtic Playfest for his work The Hannigan's of Beverly, and his short story fiction work, Karma Finds Franny Glass, appeared in AdmitTwo Magazine in October of 2008.
His play, Cyberdate.Com, was chosen for a public performance at the Actors Chapel in Manhattan in February of 2007 as part of the groups Reading Series for New York project. In June of 2008, the play won the Virginia Theater of The First Amendment Award for best new play.