Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Jan 17, 2011

Housing Project Bullies and Reform School

by Rosemary Reeves

It had rained all morning and now finally, the sun was out.  I was seven and had all this unspent energy, having been cooped up inside.  I asked my mother if I could go out to play. She said I could.  Off I went.  But when I bounded out the door of our public housing unit and onto the grounds, I was alone.   I didn’t see any of my friends.  Everyone was still inside.  The project appeared desolate and barren in the stillness after the rain.
I walked along the pavement, just enjoying a nice stroll all by myself.  I pretended I was all grown up, as I often liked to do.  I was a lady.  No one could tell me what to do now.  I might go shopping and buy myself a mink stole to wear like they do in the movies.  And these were the childish thoughts I had as I walked past the bullpens that were lined up along the street, one in front of each public housing unit.
Along the way, I noticed that beams of light were reflecting off a puddle of water.  There was something in the water that was shining like diamonds in the rays of the sun.  It sparkled and gave off pretty rainbow colors.  I stooped down to see what it was.  It was only pieces of shattered glass from a broken soda bottle reflecting the sun’s rays. 
Suddenly, I was pushed from behind.  I reached out to break my fall and my hands fell on the shards of glass.  The searing pain took my breath away.  I stood up and turned around, still in shock.  A boy I recognized was standing there, staring at my blood-soaked hands.  I recognized him.  He was one of the bullies who terrorized younger kids in Liddonfield Housing Project.  I began screaming and he ran away, leaving me there with glass imbedded in my palms.
I started running frantically toward home, horrified by the blood that was oozing from my wounds.  My parents didn’t have any money for a doctor’s visit, so Dad pulled the shards of glass from my palms himself.  The smaller pieces of glass had to be removed with a pair of tweezers. Mom marched over to the bully’s house and told his father what he did.  This bully was always in trouble.  I heard later on that his dad beat him up good for it.  But that only made me feel sorry for him.  I didn’t like to think that someone was beat up because of me and I wished I hadn’t been told that bit of news.
“He’ll be in reform school one day,” a playmate remarked. 
“What’s reform school?” I asked.
“It’s like a prison for kids,” she said.  Then she told me that’s where Liddonfield kids are sent now and then.  The way she described it, I thought they’d come for me, too, one day, because I was also a Liddonfield kid.  It filled me with fear and dread that I might be taken away from my mother. 
“If they come for me, I’m going to hide,” I told her. 
She laughed.  “If they come for you, you’re going to reform school whether you like it or not.”
Time passed and they did not take me away.  Just when I became secure in the idea that I would be spared there would be news that another Liddonfield kid was sent to reform school.  That worry hung over my head like a dark cloud.  I didn’t want to be sent to a prison for kids.  I was a good girl.
Now, I look back on those days and find it extraordinarily sad that children in the projects think they are bound for reform school or prison one day and there’s nothing they can do about it.  We even called the concrete enclosures in front of each public housing unit “bullpens,” a prison term. 

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