The Selma Times Journal Article
edited: Tuesday, January 21, 2003
By Johnny R Bodley
Posted: Thursday, January 09, 2003
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A wonderful article about one of Selma Alabama's own
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December 17, 2002
In new book, Selma native talks life on the streets
By Megan Lavey / Selma Times - Journal
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 prevention specialist, and the author of a new book about his childhood life, "These Eyes."
A book signing for "These Eyes" 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 signing.
"These Eyes" came about thanks to a relationship that Bodley developed with an incarcerated young white youth named James in Massachusetts.
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.
"Man, why don't you write a book about this," James told Bodley.
And he did just that. Writing a book about his troubled life was something he'd already thought about doing over the years. Bodley started the book in 1994, then moved back home to Selma to complete it. He hasn't seen James since 1995.
"I don't know if he's locked up now, living or dead," Bodley said. "I just want to honor him."
And honor him he has. At the beginning of the book, Bodley reprinted a poem given to him by James.
Bodley wants to ensure that he stops others from going down the path he has 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.
"When I didn't die in reform school and some of my buddies became missing, I knew it was God's will," Bodley said.
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. "These Eyes" contains several of his memories from the Civil Rights Movement.
"On the whole, Selma has changed a lot," Bodley said. "But a lot of racism still exists in some people's minds."
Bodley believes he has discovered what his mission in life is - 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.