By Jerry D. Haight
It was a cold dreary fall evening. I was thirteen year old lying on the ground with a stunned look on my face which was already turning red from the force of the bully’s blows. Only moments ago I was walking home passing along the fence of the Junior High School’s playground. The bully walked briskly behind me catching up to me. Upon hearing my name, I turned just in time to glance at the flying fist of the bully.
The beginning of terror occurred on the second day of school. It started in the home room of the seventh grade class. As thirty or forty students milled around waiting for the bell. Dick Schlund, Narcisco Davalos and Ray Bryson made their way toward the door of the class room. Jack Oliver had just arrived. From behind the door, Dick appeared, caught Jack by surprise and with a hammer blow to the face and a staggering blow to the rib cage, Jack began to fall. Before he hit the floor, Narcisco’s fist dealt a blow to the other side of Jack’s face and just as Jack hit the ground, Ray’s foot connected with Jack’s mid section. The three picked Jack up from the floor, pushed him to the back of the room and into a desk just as the teacher appeared in the room. The class sat down in stunned silence and class began.
About three days later, Jay Higgins entered the metal shop. Narcisco met him at the door with a smiling face and said “hi”. His greeting caught Jay off guard and his face jerked upward and back as Narciso administered an upper cut to Jay’s chin. Dick caught Jay before he collapsed, held him up and Ray administered a blow to Jay’s solar plexus. As before, the three pushed Jay to the back of the room and into a chair just as the shop teacher entered the room. Again, the class sat down in stunned silence and the class began.
Discussing the events with Mom and Dad led to the conclusion that what happened was none of my business and I shouldn’t get involved. They further told me not to get into any fights. My brother told me that his nemesis of five years ago was Terry Schlund, Dick’s brother. When I asked him what finally happened, he just laughed and told me to listen to my Mom and Dad.
A few days later, at recess, I had my meeting with the gang. I was egged on to fight but refused; called a coward and beat up rather severely. That evening after school I met the three in an alley on my way home. Again, egged on to fight and again refused and again beaten. That evening, my black and blue face showed up at supper. Mom reprimanded me for fighting and told of consequences should I come home bruised again. My protests were ignored and Dad told me “you can always avoid a fight and if you can’t, you shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Mr. Sorenson, my home room teacher and I had a conference after school. My main tactic was to allow enough time for the three to figure I went home another way and I hoped they would do likewise. I told Mr. Sorenson about being harassed and beaten. He said that unless he saw it, he couldn’t do anything about it. I could not believe that the teacher could be so blind.
Jack Oliver enrolled into a karate class to learn self defense. Of course, by the time he was skillful enough at karate, he had been beaten more than half a dozen times.
Alan Jones and his parents complained to the principal but Alan was accused of starting the fights and with the testimony of each of the gang, Alan was suspended. Bill Johnson, Claude and the Bolsinger twins all had similar encounters with the gang.
As for me, four weeks were spent taking different routes home, going many blocks out of my way, riding my bike and taking a long bus ride to avoid the gang. I was successful about half of the time. Upon encountering the gang, I would go into a protective mode as much as possible, but never able to fend off the most punishing blows, those to my self esteem. At home, fighting was always my fault; school was a place of ambivalence. Twice, the gang demanded my lunch, saying they would not beat me up. Both times they did anyway. One night after school, while riding my bike home, one of the gang tossed a pole into my front spokes. The resulting damage to my tire sent me sprawling onto the sidewalk. When I woke up, my knees hurt, my hands were embedded with debris and my elbows shredded along with my jeans and shirt. But the good thing was I was alone.
After delivering a volley of blows, the bully got tired of his sport and left. As I lay on the ground by the playground, nose bleeding, head pounding, terrorized and miserable, I realized that I could no longer endure the status quo. Attempts at befriending the gang only made me feel hypocritical. Negotiating with them failed. Tattling on them would only make it worse, but I didn’t know if I had the courage to implement what I planned.
The next day, second period, I had an English class with Dick Schlund. I got there first. Without warning, I attacked. I stopped after the third punch and can still remember the look of shock and fear on Dick’s face. I don’t think he had ever experienced some of his own medicine. I left the English class early for the study hall where I had a similar encounter with Ray Bryson. After study hall, I went to the metal shop to meet with Narcisco Davelos. I walked toward Narcisco with my fists clenched and ready to do battle. But when I was within five feet of him, I saw the face of a coward. His face was ashen as I approached and he cowered under my gaze. His voice trembled as he begged me not to hit him. I demanded in as stern a voice as I could muster that he never laid a hand on any of us again. He promised.
Later, I happened to be in a stall in the boy’s room. I heard Narcisco suggest they meet with me after school. Dick, the apparent leader said “naw, he is too much trouble”. I could not believe Narcisco, the one who promised never to lay a hand on any of us again, now was trying to instigate my demise.
That day, Jay, Bill Johnson and I made a pact that we would walk home together and engage the gang if necessary. The gang was with us for about three or four more weeks, never attacking us again and then they were gone. I think they were transferred to another school.
This early experience taught me a little about evil in the world. Whether called a gang, Kaiser, Fuhrer, dictator or terrorist. They are purveyors of fear. The experience also laid a foundation for me about necessary ingredients for successful negotiation. First is mutual expectations that an agreement is possible and a good faith commitment toward its outcome. Second is similarity in values and ethics that binds the parties to the outcome and third, that the negotiation are not simply a guise of deceit. The absence of these basic ingredients made negotiation with the gang impossible. The presence of these basic ingredients allowed for our safety.