I was reading this article, “Out of the Box” by Judy Dutton in the October issue of Marie Claire and knew that I had to write a blog post about the contents of the article.
The person featured in the article, Jodi Jill and her family lived a normal life with her sister and parents until the age of seven when her parents become so paranoid about the government that they withdrew from society, moved out of their house, and drove around aimlessly for weeks until they settled in a 10″ x 20″ storage shed as their new ‘house’.
Jodi’s parents came from educated families and her father graduated from Iowa State so the importance of education was noted even though neither of the girls were allowed to go to school. They were told never to speak to anyone or tell anyone their names.
Living conditions were deplorable as one would expect. Everyone in the family would use a bucket as a toilet that was emptied at the end of the day in a nearby ditch. Another bucket was filled with water and that was used for the family to bathe. Each day the girls were promised they would move out to a real house with a yard and a swingset.
Reading Saved her Life
Every Sunday, the parents would take Jodi and her siblings to the library. Over the years, her parents had five children. The parents would read magazines while the children looked at the books since they couldn’t read. One day, Jodi accidentally came across an audiobook of Curious George and realized the words in the recording must match the words in the recording. She called her sister over and they would listen to the recording over and over, as well as other books/audiobooks, and taught themselves to read at age 18!
Even though the owners of the storage shed company, nightly security guards, and a host of others knew about the family living in the storage shed. The father tried to cover up the fact by printing copies of things for customers using an old printing press but everyone turned a blind eye and felt sorry for the family and allowed them to live in those conditions day after day.
I doubt the parents would have moved but the children would have happily left the shed to move to foster homes with regular meals, clean clothes, a bed without rats running around it, and a semi-normal life.
In all, there were over 173 people that knew the family lived in those conditions and not one person called the authorities to save the children or help the family relocate to safer housing. She commented, “No one cared. I had to save myself.” I NEVER want a child that I encounter or one of my students to EVER feel that way.
About a year after learning to read, Jodi and her sister escaped and miraculously began to live on their own and support themselves by starting out renting a room and growing from there. The sisters worked hard and thrived on the freedom and their love for literature and reading.
Children’s Public Service
How many times have we seen students that we knew slept on the doorstep, in a field or closet, in a car, or any host of deplorable conditions? Many teachers I have worked with send home ‘snack packs’ in the afternoons and weekends as they know the student will not have a meal until the next school day. I know in the past when I have reported those things, including physical abuse, I have been told by Children’s Protective Services (CPS) unless the child has broken limbs, is severely bleeding or near death CPS cannot get to them for a long time.
Or CPS would set an appointment to meet with the parent. This gives the parent time to clean up, get food in the refrigerator, get the electricity turned on and bribe/threaten the kids that CPS is coming to the house/school. This defeats the whole purpose of contacting the authorities when this happens. As soon as the visit is over the everyone knows, including the child(ren), that the situation will be even more severe than before so you are in a catch 22 when reporting cases to CPS.
A question that I ponder is how many teachers were in the same library on Sundays picking up class sets of books for their classroom while the Jodi and her siblings were there? Obviously they were not clean, their hair a mess, clothing in poor condition, etc. and seeing that week after week surely that would raise some questions one would think. What about the library staff? Couldn’t they see the kids were suffering?
If one person had reached out to the family or kids could things have been different for Jodi and her siblings? Who knows but I would like to think so.
Writing is her Voice
Today Jodi has gone back to visit the storage shed but it obviously is not a pleasant place and does not hold fond memories. Her parents have divorced and her siblings don’t really speak to one another. Growing up in those conditions I am not sure I would want to talk to a sibling and be frequently reminded of my past on a daily basis.
Jodi is a writer and columnist for the examiner.com. She has come a long way and as an educator that is so exciting to hear. As a child, she was never allowed to speak. Jodie became a writer, “…because I spent my childhood silent, and writing is how I can be heard.”