In new book, Selma native talks life on the streets

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 17, 2002

It has been a long road for Johnny Bodley.

The Selma native grew up scrounging through trash cans to find food and forced to steal from grocery stores in order to survive. He witnessed his first crime when he was 6 years old and was placed in custody for the first time at age 8. One of the places he grew up in was a one-room shotgun house where the usually not working toilet stood in the backyard.

But now, Bodley is beyond all of that. The one-time criminal decided it was time to turn his life around. He is now an AIDS counselor and the author of a new book about his life, &uot;These Eyes.&uot;

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A book signing for &uot;These Eyes&uot; will take place tonight at the Larry D. Striplin Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

The Orrville Baptist Church youth choir will also perform at the singing.

When James was incarcerated, he was only 14 years old. At the time, Bodley worked for the department of youth services. James was a tough kid, Bodley remembered. Staff members had to watch his room 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Although James would not open to anyone else, he did to Bodley. Bodley related stories from his own childhood to the young man, about living on the streets and going to reform school.

And he did just that.

Bodley started the book, then moved back home to Selma to complete it.

He hasn’t seen James since 1995.

And honor him he has. At the beginning of the book, Bodley reprinted a letter given to him by James.

Bodley wanted to ensure that he stops others from going down the path he had gone.

And it has been a rough road. Bodley was in and out of foster care as a child when his mother had to leave Selma to work. When he was a teen-ager, Bodley was sent to reform school in Mt. Meigs. Conditions there, he recalls, were horrible.

The teens were treated no better than slaves, Bodley writes. They spent day after day in the heat picking cotton. Inmates were forced to lie down on the ground and have the back of their legs whipped until they bled.

Some, he adds, never made it out.

After he got out of reform school, Bodley spent several more years on the streets before deciding to clean up his act.

He moved to Boston, where he spent 15 years working for the department of youth services. It was during this time he met James and started his book.

The Selma that Bodley returned to as an adult was different from the one he grew up in. Segregation was rampant, he said.

&uot;These Eyes&uot; contains his memories of the Civil Rights Movement.

Bodley believes he has discovered what his mission in life is &045;&045; to save young kids from being victims of AIDS. He now works for the West Alabama AIDS Outreach office and has given more than 900 presentations on HIV/AIDS in less than five years.

For Bodley it is more than simply a job. It is a calling. It is an amazing power, he said, to be able to get a gymnasium of active schoolchildren so quiet that you can hear a pin drop on the floor.