A Childhood Lost (by Charlotte)

When I first started writing to Troy Merck an innocent man on Death Row in July 2011 as is usual we went through the stage of trying to find out as much as we could about each other. He asked me about my family and I shared everything I could possibly think of at the time including the fact that my youngest son has dyslexia. This was his response:

I was born with something called Foetal Alcohol Effect. It’s a milder version of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. ADHD is one of the things that manifest with it. That and the condition with my eyes. It’s called ptosis.

I have an IQ that ranges between 145 – 125 which is rare for someone with F.A.E. but because of the ADHD and the eyes, not to mention being dirt poor, I hated school. I broke my teacher’s ribs in 3rd Grade and would run off as soon as I got off the bus. I just could not sit still and focus for the length of a class so I stayed in trouble with the teachers and was fighting everyday with the kids who picked on my eyes and ragged clothes.

As a result I got very little education. About 3 months into the 8th Grade. But only two grades did I actually go for more than half the year. 5th and 7th. In the 4th I went for 33 days and in the 6th I went on full day and two partial days. They passed me both times.

They didn’t know how to deal with Special Needs kids at that time up in the mountain schools.

Then he added,

Alright I’m gonna get this in the mail to ya so it’ll be on it’s way tonight. I’ll write about the family but that’s a full letter unto itself.

Up until that letter written in October 2011 I’d had no idea about anything that had happened in his childhood. Now I was curious, but I didn’t have to wait long. Just a few short days later I received another letter which completely blew my mind.

To say my family was dysfunctional is an understatement and my childhood was far from idyllic.

My Mom was a few days past 14 years old when she got married to Jesse Whitmire who was 25. He’s the father of all my sisters and brother as far as anyone knows but there’s always a chance that he’s not. Apparently, Mom’s tail got hot early on, long before she got married and the ring on her finger didn’t stop her if she got the chance for some strange.

No one knows for sure who my Dad is. She was divorced and remarried to Hubert Merck when she got pregnant with me but by all accounts he had been in Vietnam for about a year when it was discovered she was pregnant with me.

She always told me Jesse was my Dad because he kept coming round to see the other kids and get a little while Hubert was at war. Who knows?

She had had Rosie, Roberta, Stacy and Tony and decided she didn’t want any more so when she got knocked up again she caused herself to miscarry. She did that twice and had one still born before she had me. She didn’t want me either and tried all the same methods she had used before to cause a miscarriage but as she used to tell me as she was pounding my head in, I just wouldn’t die.

I mean that Charlotte. She would be beating me to a bloody pulp and screaming about trying to kill me in the womb and say stuff like “You little bastard, I don’t know why you just wouldn’t die. You’ve always resisted me for some reason”. Even at 4 or 5 years old I was so stubborn. I’d be a bloody mess and yet still say something like “You should have kept your drawers on.” And she’d really go nuts then.

I have no doubt she would’ve killed me as a kid if she thought she could get away with it. At 10 years old I was placed in a Christian Childrens’ Home. She was given the choice, do it yourself or we do it.

Despite all that I love my Mom and had lots of fun. Hell, for the most part I’ve done whatever I wanted since I was a baby. I’d get my ass beat for drinking, playing around with some girl, or taking off from home as a kid, but so what? I’d get the hell beat out of me anyway, so why not do what was fun? Also I hated being dirt poor, so I learnt how to get out and get money by hook or by crook, which means I’d work or steal, it didn’t matter to me.

So that was me. The wild mountain boy with the fucked up family.

As you can imagine I really didn’t comprehend what he had just told me. Having 2 young boys myself, it seemed inconceivable that anyone could do this to their own child and I know that the majority of parents would feel the same. I know we all lose patience with our kids from time to time, and although I really try not to judge people, I was finding this really hard to deal with.

After a while we started talking about me visiting and for some time that is what consumed our letters. Then we had to start thinking about his case again in early March this year when oral arguments were scheduled for his post-conviction appeals and state habeas corpus. That was when we started talking about me writing about his childhood so people could understand him more clearly.

This is the last that he wrote to me about his mother. Since then he’s told me it’s just buried too deep and he doesn’t want to go down that road anymore, which I can understand completely. I was worried about how I was going to portray his Mom in anything that I wrote as I was finding it extremely hard to be objective.

I love my Mom and forgive her, but don’t worry about how she comes off. Just tell the truth. Having people understand what really happened is what’s important.

And the fact is Mom was more than a bit nuts, especially when it came to me. She blamed me for “ruining her life” as she would put it. She would say that she would’ve killed me when I was born by putting me in a ‘tote sack’, tying a rock around it and throwing it in a river or lake. People in their right minds don’t say things like that to kids that are 2,3, or 4 years old. She would get me down on the living room floor and stomp me as hard as she could until she was too tired to stomp anymore, sometimes just because she was mad that I didn’t die before I was born when she was trying to kill me.

Baby, at those times she was fucking crazy. Honestly I suspect she had some sort of bi-polar disorder, but no one in the country knew anything about that crap back then.

Plus Mom was hooked in prescription drugs and that too was something people didn’t think too much about back then. They knew how to tell a drunk or a dope addict but if the legal medication was being prescribed by a doctor then there really couldn’t be much wrong with it, or so they thought. I feel sorry for my Mom more than anything. She needed help and never got it.

At that point I decided to look into court documents to see if I could find out more. The abuse he had suffered at the hands of his mother was well-documented from her trying to self-abort by rubbing turpentine on her stomach and drinking excessively as well as a whole host of other things, to the sustained attacks that he had to endure as a young boy. So by the time I went to visit him in May I was expecting the stories he told me which usually ended with ‘I got my ass whooped for that one.’

But one story stood out amongst the rest, one story that made me go back to my hotel room and weep. He had told me of a time in his life when his sister’s boyfriend used to take him fighting. This was a place where children used to fight against one another and the adults used to wager on the outcome. Troy always used to do well, because even though he was small for his age, he was a lot stronger than he looked so he always surprised his opponent. However, one night was different. One night he was handed a knife and when he turned to see who his opponent was, all he saw was a dog sitting there. Troy refused. There was no way in the world he could harm a dog. He was beaten severely, but he still refused. Every threat was made, and still the physical attack continued, but he would not do anything to harm that animal.

I had a lot of time in between visits to process everything that he told me, we spoke about it a little in our letters and when I returned in November for Thanksgiving weekend I was expecting a lot more of the same type of stories. Nothing prepared me for one particular story which I will share with you now. Troy had just had his hair cut quite a lot shorter than it was the last time I was there. I was teasing him saying that it wouldn’t be long before they wouldn’t have to cut it because he would be bald! (He’s going a little thin on top) ‘You can see my scars better now,’ he said ‘See that one?’ pointing to a silver line that ran about 2 inches on the top of his head, ‘Mom did that with a table leg.’ He went onto tell me about the last ever time that his mother beat him. She had her boyfriend tie him to a chair, and she took a leg that propped up the table that was in their trailer. She proceeded to beat him. His screams were heard outside and the kids from the park went and got his sister who lived nearby. When she got there Troy was a bloody mess and his mother was still pounding him over the head with the table leg. She managed to wrestle with her mother and stop her assault. Then she turned to the small boy tied to the chair. He was sat with his head bowed, breathing heavily and when his sister knelt down by the side of him and asked if he was ok, a quiet voice replied ‘Just untie be before they kill me, I don’t want to die tied up.’ She took him back home with her and cleaned him up and he stayed there overnight. The next day he went back to his trailer, took the shotgun out of his room and chased his mother around the trailer park. After that day, she never touched him again. She knew that if she did he would crack.

He once said to me that she couldn’t control what she was doing, but she knew well enough when it was time to stop, that she had pushed him so far. He had grown up in a home filled with violence from before he was born and he had to adapt to survive. But even through that he kept his humanity, and his capacity to love. The man he is today is in spite of his childhood, not because of it. He is intelligent, funny, very strong minded and opinionated, and yet he is loving and gentle when he needs to be. That is the man that Troy Merck is, not the monster that the state want you to think he is, and that is the man that I fell in love with, a man that shouldn’t be where he is, a man who should be free!
Click here to read Charlotte's blog about visiting Troy on Death Row.

Please support One for Ten, who are exposing the endemic corruption in the US justice system that has resulted in hundreds of innocent people ending up on Death Row: 

Shaun Attwood


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