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Part 12: More on Riley's Journal and His Escapes From The Labor Camp/Prison for Boys

Above is a picture of a corner in my house, filled with my father's papers I've been organizing. To refresh, thanks to the popularity of the Hidden Brain episode, I was reunited with my father's stuff, which held these notes about his life. Sometimes, I find a page that was stuck behind another page, and the one I just found is handwritten. Here, Riley is recounting his escapes from the "school" or what he calls in his notes, the reformatory. On this page, Riley writes:


Escaped---Caught on railroad track.

Escaped---Caught by guard on highway Escaped---Got home. Went to live on uncle George's farm near Jacksonville.

Sheriff came looking. I spotted him and hid until dark, next day returned home. Lived with cousin in Pinehurst. Returned home. Caught and returned.


Riley had some kind of a car accident with another boy during one of his escapes, but in his journal, he never goes into the details of what happened. It must have been a wild ride, being a teenager running from the law.

Once, when I was 15, and staying with my maternal grandmother, I was out late at night, and ended up hiding from the police, this is a memory that connects me to my father, the fear, the desperation not to be caught. I was in Winona, Minnesota. Being from California, I didn't realize there was a curfew in that town, so when my cousins said we should go out that night, I didn't see the harm in it. I never got to know these cousins well, if I’d known them I prolly wouldn’t have gone out at night with them. Several blocks away, one of my cousins spotted a cop car. "Run!" she screamed out, and the cousins scattered in all directions. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I ran like the wind. I hid in someone's back yard for a long time. It was scary, but also thrilling, but only because we got away with it.

I wonder how these years on the run (age 12-15 and beyond) shaped Riley's brain.

On another page he writes about an escape that went awry:

Rocky Mount....Left with boy named home. Went to Island up Cape Fear River...boat filled with rain water...

Remember, each time he was caught (they'd send boys from the reformatory out after him. So "Lord of the Flies.") he'd be punished by having his hair clipped, and put in "the jug" or solitary confinement. He'd only be given water and crackers.

Riley writes that in 1932 when he was 14 years old, "Palace Theater, N.Y., quit vaudeville". These times as a paid performer, he was on the lamb from the Eastern Carolina Training School.

As a teen, Riley had sexual relations with full grown women, as mentioned in the last blog. In Toledo, one woman gave him a venereal disease. In another entry, he referred to it as "the clap" and here, simply, "disease" and "cured" in Los Angeles.

Escaped----Blackwell, Goldsboro, Kindston, Wilmington.

Charlotte......Bert Bertram Repertory. Thayer Roberts, homosexual.

Wilmington......caught (closet)

Reform school refused to take me back

4 months on country farm....Free.

Wilmington--Raleigh--Richmond--New York--Pittsburgh--Detroit--Toledo (disease)--El Paso--Los Angeles--Hollywood--Arizona--Knoxville--Ashville--Charlotte--Wilmington: Radio

Ashville---Cliff Carlisle

Toledo...Club, girl, apart, disease

Green River, Denver, Los Angeles....cured....

Here is a link about Bert Bertram. I might check out the library at Lincoln Center in New York, they have more information there. After Riley served his time on the farm, but still a teenager, he rode freight trains, hitched rides, stayed with distant relatives, and later he'd end up in a camp for homeless men. He managed to get gigs on the radio and on the stage, but also spent time in jail.


I've had a revelation reading through my father's various escapes and how he hid from the authorities. I finally understand why Dad would never call the police, even when there was a terrible event, like the time a man held a woman at knife point inside our apartment in Hollywood. Mom had left the door open to get fresh air, and a terrified woman ran inside our place, screaming for help. Seconds later, a man barreled in behind her with a knife. He grabbed her, holding her backside against him, the knife to her throat, yelling at us that he was going to kill her. Then he dragged her away to his van in the parking lot. My mother wanted to call the police, but my father wouldn't allow it. He ordered her to put the phone down. It is such a bizarre but vivid childhood memory. I was in the second grade.

On a phone call with my mother recently, she said the incident with the knife-wielding man and the woman was in the newspaper the next day. Someone, thankfully, had called the police. The victim survived, but had deep gashes on her hands and arms, protecting herself from his attacks. My mother said she always wondered if there was something much darker in Riley's past, because he avoided the police, even at the cost of someone's life. I'll write about this in a future blog.

Next, in blog 13, Riley writes about the Bonus Marchers during The Depression, his notes detailing his release from "The Farm", and Riley meets his first wife, Alma Anderson. They marry as teenagers, and it ends in tragedy. Also: I finally find a page in which my father admits to pulling a con.

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