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Reformatory CP - April 1984


The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 19 April 1984

City Living

Black and blue welts for a birthday

In the first of two excerpts from his book, Hey Malarek! The true story of a street kid who made it, Victor Malarek describes his disastrous 12th birthday when he and his brothers Fred and Peter lived at Weredale House, a home for boys in west-end Montreal.

By Victor Malarek

JUNE 26, 1960. My twelfth birthday and my second in Weredale. So much for my mother's promise that I'd be home before this birthday. She couldn't take us out of Weredale on her own, and my father was still securely tucked away in prison. She had tried but the welfare people wouldn't allow her custody because they felt the boys' home provided us with a safer and better environment. Too bad they didn't live here, I thought. Come to think of it, I had never once been visited by a social worker in the whole time I had been in Weredale. Not one ever came to ask me, "How's it going?" Yet the welfare authorities felt this place was better than being at home with my mother. At least at home we'd be with someone who really loved us. No one in Weredale loved us. No one ever told us that they even liked us. The dozen or so staff members had their hands full controlling 160 boys. They couldn't care less about our personal problems.

My mother begged the welfare workers to let us come home. They were concerned about how she would look after us. She said she'd work. Then they asked who would take care of us while she was at work. Someone had to be at home, the social workers said. She said she would stay home if she got welfare, but they refused to give it to her, so she couldn't stay home. Later in my life, I wondered if any of those creeps ever considered the cost of keeping three boys in an institution. I'm sure it was much more than my mother would have received on welfare.


My hands were sweaty and my legs wobbled as I approached the clinic door. I was scared, yet I caught myself smile meekly inwardly. I felt as if I had finally made it to a high plateau in my life, as if I were receiving a kind of benediction. As Johnson disappeared behind the door separating the general office and the inner sanctum where his office was, a few heads peered into the hallway.

drawing of strapping

"Malarek! Malarek!" one of the heads called out. "Don't cry! Johnson hates babies. He only gives three biffs the first time. If you start bawling, he'll give you more!"

I reassured them with a glance that I could take whatever Johnson had to dish out. Inside, I was forcing myself to rein in tears. I entered the clinic. Johnson barged in through the side door of the office.

"Take your pants down and kneel on the footrest!" he boomed, pointing to the antiquated dentist's chair. "Move it." He flexed the leather strap and I gripped the arm rest.

"Drop your underwear to your knees!" Trembling hands obeyed. "You're going to learn not to talk back, Malarek. I've had it with your sullen attitude."

I swallowed hard. A second later, a stinging length of leather seared across my bare buttocks. I winced but didn't cry out. Two, three, four ... four? Five! Tears were drowning my eyes. I couldn't take any more. I thought my skin would split on the next whack. I began to bawl and Johnson stopped. While I pulled up my underwear and pants, my name was officially entered in the black book and beside it Johnson marked the number of strokes.

"Took more than I thought you would," he commented. "I expected you to be crying after one. I usually give three the first time but I guess you wanted to be stubborn. I hope this has taught you a lesson!" Johnson left.

I had learned my lesson. The guys had sucked me in, telling me not to cry. After rinsing my face under the cold-water tap in the sink, I limped out of the clinic, forcing myself to smile.

"Wow, Malarek got the biffs!" Gillis shouted while goggling at my backside during compulsory showers that evening. Thick, foot-long black, blue and reddish welts criss-crossed my behind. Even I was astonished at the sight. It damn well hurt but nowhere near as bad as it looked.

"Johnson! He gave me five. Didn't hurt!" I offered nonchalantly. My backside became the novelty of the shower room. I stayed in extra long so most of the guys could get a good look. I wanted them to see that I had made it. The biffs, after all, was an important ritual and there was no way I was going to let my moment in glory go unnoticed.

Copyright 1984 from Hey Malarek! The true story of a street kid who made it by Victor Malarek, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto.

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