Finding hope in the darkest places

A guest post with my beloved — Jimmie Bennett

I remember the blood on the guard’s hands as they dragged me off to a small cell and locked me up for 26 days.

It had been my fifth fight and the third time being locked up in solitary confinement at the county jail. This time — it was the late, cold prison food that had set me off.  I’d gone over to the inmate who had ripped off some pot from me and I’d started pounding on him. 

The cell they took me to had just enough space for two beds and a toilet in between, and I sat there like a wild beast locked away from the rest of humanity. 

No one cared that I was awaiting a court trial facing charges that added up to 350 years in prison. My Dad and other family were on the other side of the country and even if they knew they’d probably think I was getting what I deserved. 

I was 23 years old, but the anger, rage and hatred boiling inside me was nothing new. I grew up in a home where fighting was the norm. Once my stepmom got so angry at my older brother at the dinner table that she stabbed him with a fork that stuck to his chest. My father was a Vietnam War vet and he’d rage and go ballistic over trivial things. I remember being taken to the emergency room because my hands were so swollen after a beaten I’d received. I was told to say that I’d fallen. 

I have no memories of my real Mom. My relatives told me that when I was three, my brother, sister and I were taken away from her and two years later she took her own life by overdosing on pills. After her death, my father remarried and took us three children and moved from California to Idaho, where we settled on a small farm.

Set on fire

One day after school when I was about 12 years old, my brother and I were warming our hands over a can of burning gasoline. And being the type to speak what goes through my mind, I said,

“If I kicked that on you, it’d kill ya.”

“Like this?” he replied. And he kicked the can of burning gasoline on me. The flames hit me and the gasoline soaked my clothes and I was on fire! 

That day was one of the most painful days of my life. Over the years I’ve had to work through the pain of not only what happened to me physically but also emotionally. That incident had nearly killed me!

I’d watched TV commercials about dropping and rolling to put fire out and I did just that. I saw the nearby creek that ran through our 80-acre farm and I scrambled towards it and jumped into the ice-cold water.

When I came out, nearly all my clothing was burned off of me. My socks were melted to my legs and dead skin was hanging off my body. My legs and stomach were swollen huge.

My stepmom came home about 20 minutes later and drove me to the hospital.  From there they took me by helicopter to the Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.

I spent the next four months there having about 20 plus operations. The doctors literally skinned me alive to remove the dead skin. They told me that my heart stopped several times and that the doctors contemplated amputating my legs! The doctors also said I’d never have any children.

Seventy percent of my body was burned to the third degree. One of the main problems with treating burn victims is to keep the infection from growing on the burnt areas.  Since I had so much of my skin burned, my body had a lot to fight against. 

Life as a scarred freak

The first day out of the hospital my stepmom drove me to the baseball field to show off my scars to my friends. The year before I had been the pitcher and had helped our small town team win against bigger towns. This was the one place where I felt accepted, where I was good at something, and now my stepmom wanted to show my scars to everyone. 

I begged her not to, “Please Mom, no.” But she pulled my shirt up and exposed my hideous scars. I hated her for it. I was so ashamed of how I looked and I became the laughing stock of all the kids. 

The fire left ugly scars from my chest down to my feet. I was so ashamed and paralyzed by fear that I couldn’t speak at times. I found it hard to concentrate, and I failed miserably at school. I was kicked out by the end of my 8th grade year.

Shortly after I came home from the hospital, my parents divorced. I remember standing in the middle of the living room being asked to decide who I would live with. On the one side was my dad and brother and on the other my step-mom and three sisters. I couldn’t decide. I went back and forth between them crying, “Please don’t do this to me.”

It seemed to be all my fault and I was crushed. To this day I don’t remember who exactly I chose. My stepmom moved back to California with my sisters and in the years that followed I bounced back and forth between my parents.

The pain and embarrassment caused by my scars and family was intense. I hated looking like a freak and I was always searching for a way out. I found it in an older group of kids who regularly got in trouble. I began stealing nice clothes to cover up my scars. Eventually, smoking, drinking and using marijuana became a part of my everyday life. 

I was only 14 years old when the police came and arrested me …

To be continued next week.

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This post is adapted from our booklet, The Freak. To get the full story go to Amazon here.

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