Charles Alfred Nichols entered a South Carolina orphanage when he was about 7 years old. He was dirty and ignorant and his father was in prison.
When he left 12 years later, Nichols was arrogant and stubborn, but he had survived.
He survived abandonment by his mother. He survived physical, mental and sexual abuse. He survived betrayal. And he survived with his will to make something out of himself intact.
But he didn't escape without scars scars that would later interfere with his life.
When he sought counseling, Nichols was encouraged to write about his experiences. Eventually, he completed an autobiography of his first 17 years. It's called "Orphan Boy: A True Story . . ."
"Orphan Boy" opens with Nichols at home in a house with no indoor plumbing and the outhouse lying on its side where it had blown down the previous year. There is a tin roof, cracks in the floor, no curtains and glass in only three-quarters of the windows. But it's home.
The day Nichols' mother takes him, his three brothers and two sisters to the orphanage, she tells them she'll be back that night. Nichols is scrubbed, given new clothes and assigned a room, but he keeps going back to the front window to wait for his mother. Despite repeated beatings, Nichols returns to the window night after night.
Nichols writes vividly about his early years, sparing no detail of the sexual abuse he suffered. He talks candidly of attempting to expose the abuse, but not being believed by the minister in whom he confides. He was punished for lying.
Gradually, Nichols grows bigger and tougher, leaming to stand up for himself and ending the sexual abuse. But he also leams to participate in some of the more subtle emotional abuse. For example, every Christmas the boys line up and laugh at the presents the other boys get. It's cruel, but it's binding. All the boys are in the same boat.
From shooting a BB gun at people out his window to stealing Easter eggs hidden for the younger children, Nichols doesn't spare himself in the telling of his story.
"Orphan" is not a pleasant book, but it should be required reading for Newt Gingrich and other GOP leaders who advocate more orphanages instead of welfare. It should be required reading for judges, educators, ministers and everyone else who comes in close contact with children. And finally, it should be required reading for anyone who believes he comes from a dysfunctional family.
Now a successful self-employed Spartanburg businessman, Nichols ends "Orphan Boy" as the child he was leaves the orphanage to escape what he considered unjust punishment amid remarks that he'll never amount to anything.
"Orphan Boy" is available at Pic-a-Book, The Book Warehouse, Books 'n' Stuff, and the WWW Internet: http://www.easternx.com/orphanboy.htm
Priced at $14.95, the book is self-published because Nichols says, "I wanted to write it my way. I didn't want to change anything."
Spartanburg, SC Sunday
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