Bart Jones was just in junior high school when he and a buddy decided to play a prank on their friend, Larry.
Larry was different and awkward. He had a small physical disability, and he was subjected to a lot of bullying at Johnston Junior High in Houston. But when Bart and his buddy decided to hide Larry’s orthotic shoe one day after gym class, it was part curiosity, part middle-school prank. Larry didn’t see it that way. To hear Bart tell it, it wrecked him. It wrecked their friendship, too. The three friends parted ways soon after.
Here’s how Bart tells the story:
In junior high, my friends and I bullied a playmate, Larry Dachslager. He wore strange, orthotic shoes and couldn’t walk without them.
One afternoon after school, my friends and I decided to steal Larry’s shoes. We hid them, then watched around the corner to see what he’d do. Larry couldn’t do anything but struggle and cry. I was appalled.
Ashamed, I returned the shoes and apologized. Every time I saw him afterwards, I apologized. To this day, I am ashamed.
This truly was a prank. We were curious. Did Larry really need those shoes? Was he ‘special?’ Was he different from us? Yes, he was. The experience changed me. I pray it didn’t scar him.
That was the only time Bart Jones remembers having been a bully. He still thinks about that moment, more than 30 years later — what it taught him about compassion and what it must have meant to Larry Dachslager.
Only, the kid whose shoes he hid?
It wasn’t Larry Dachslager.
Larry Dachslager doesn’t wear orthotic shoes. And he’s not even sure he remembers Bart Jones. He was a student at Johnston Junior High in Houston where he was a victim of bullying — by students and teachers alike. And people always got him confused for another kid he sat next to, another named Larry D.
Larry Daschslager still lives in Houston. And though it’s his name that’s been on Bart Jones’s mea culpa list these past three decades, he realizes he’s not in a position to offer forgiveness for a prank pulled on someone else. But the bullying Larry Dachslager did experience in his school years inspired him to become a teacher himself. He teaches theater to junior high and high school kids now, and he lets his own memories inform how he reacts to bullying when he sees it.
This story is one of a three-part series from the Public Insight Network’s exploration of bullying. It’s all over the news. States are legislating around it, school districts are implementing programs to prevent it, and in the midst of it all, parents are struggling to protect their kids.