I wanted to give up. My body ached. I was hungry, dirty, and tired. I was terrified, confused, and terribly alone. Everything within me said quit, but I couldn’t. I was a fugitive, and the police were frightfully upset with me. I couldn’t quit. I was afraid that if I turned myself in they would shoot me on sight. I had really been a thorn in their side, and they were plenty mad. They had to be; I couldn’t quit.
It had been four and a half days since breakfast at the St. Bernard Parish jail and I was starving. I eased down the creek towards a field that was full of thistles. I used my flip flop to chop down a thistle, then knocked the thorny branches off the hull. I cracked the hull and scraped the meat out with my teeth. It wasn’t that bad. I ate another one.
It was late evening, almost dark, so I eased back into the woods and lay down. I was still hallucinating from dehydration. I watched what appeared to be Angola guards putting a net in the trees to catch me. I knew that it was just an hallucination, because they wouldn’t need a net to catch me. I was awfully weak. They could easily arrest me with guns or by force, but the hallucination appeared very real. I soon fell asleep.
The next morning I began walking cautiously through the woods in search of anything that might possibly help me. I came up to an old deer stand. It was about 15 feet off the ground, with 4 foot walls and a tin roof. That old deer stand became my home for the next 52 days.
The woods were terribly dry. The only water that I could find was in tiny puddles along the creek bed. Every puddle was hot, dirty, and infested with mosquito larvae, but I was happy to have any water at all. During the first few days, I literally survived off of thistles and that filthy water. My body was too weak for hunting at first. I tried eating some poke salad, but it wasn’t edible. The blackberries were just beginning to bloom”. I ate them at each stage. I learned that you can eat green and red blackberries without getting sick.
Life was really tough in those woods. I was totally alone. I didn’t speak a single word the whole two months I was in those woods. That’s a long time to go without speaking. It was one of the most difficult things, the silence. For the most part, the only noises that I heard were from the animals. I went many days without seeing a soul, but I knew that there were still some guards out in those woods with me.
As my body got stronger, I started hunting. Life was primitive. I made a knife out of the top of a cat food can. I used it to skin my prey. I would kill armadillos, cut the backstrap out with my knife, and eat the raw meat right there on the spot. I couldn’t build a fire and risk getting caught, so there was no way to cook anything. I ate raw meat from everything that I caught: armadillo, frog, and turtle. The armadillos were the best to eat, but they were the hardest to kill. They’re hard to sneak up on, and they’re very fast. I would chase them down, and then kill them with a stick. I threw big rocks at deer several times from the deer stand, but never got one. I chased rabbits, but never caught one. I was living like a caveman.
It was wonderful to be out of those fire ants that had put me through so much misery during those first four days. The mosquitoes continued to plague me, but now that the guards weren’t close by, I could at least swat at the pesky things. In the deer stand the mosquitoes were not nearly as bad. It wasn’t air tight or anything, but the walls did slow them down quite a bit.
Periodically, there were still a few guardsaround. I was always on the alert. Sometimes the guards would try to trick me into thinking that they were civilian workers out building cattle fences in those woods. They would make noises and say things to try to convince me of this. They were trying to draw me to them, but I never approached anything that they had set up for me. I was very cautious.
I made daily scavenger rounds through the woods in search of food. I made trails which enabled me to always find my way back to the deer stand. It was my home, my shelter. I spent at least 15 out of every 24 hours in that shelter. Having no flashlight or matches, I went to sleep at the first of nightfall and woke up with the animals at daybreak.
I made the best of the situation that I found myself in, and my living conditions gradually improved. The dried up creek bed ran right by my deer stand. There were a few water puddles that weren’t completely dried up. I took baths in the largest puddle and drank from the smaller ones.
I had really learned my way around those woods. One day I found a wheat field. The wheat was pretty good food. I weaved some of it into a rope to replace a flip flop strap that had broken. I also made a belt; I had lost a lot of weight and my pants had been slipping down. I was really thin, weighing about 125 pounds, down 35 or so from my usual 160.
During another scavenger round, I found a couple of bulldozer dirt piles where someone had planted some turnip greens. Those turnips really helped and became a regular part of my diet. I later found a fresh garbage dump. It wasn’t a large dump, but was one that several families were using. There aren’t many luxuries in primitive survival; in fact, this was probably the best one that I found out there – a garbage dump. I browsed through it daily. Needless to say, there was no radio, television, or anything like that out in those woods, but I did find some old books and magazines to read, which probably kept me from going totally crazy.
When I think back on those days, I realize just how good we do have it, and how much we take for granted the good things that we have.
The dump was truly valuable. I found some old boots, a perfect fit, that were very beneficial to me in those woods. I found a blanket, a welcome companion during those cold nights. Among other things, I also found some two liter soft drink bottles that still had flat drink left in them. I picked some blackberries, put them in some empty milk Jugs, and poured the soft drink on the berries. I let them sit for several weeks to allow the sugar from the drinks to cause the berries to ferment. I squeezed the berries while draining the liquid through a screen into another jug. I had successfully made a potent batch of blackberry wine. I say it was potent, but who knows. I was so weak that it wouldn’t have taken much to get me drunk.
During the last 30 days of my ordeal, I was drunk every night. I would sit in the deer stand every evening and read magazines while getting drunk. That second month was much more tolerable than the first one. I was waiting them out. I wanted to let plenty of time pass by. My deer stand had turned into a pretty nice place under the circumstances. When it finally did rain, I was high and dry in my shelter. Well, maybe I should say, drunk and dry.
I had several close encounters with rattlesnakes while hunting animals and picking berries. I remember hearing the rattle from one that was right under my feet. Maybe I stepped on him. I’m not sure, but he certainly scared me. If he had bitten me, I would have died for sure.
Another day I saw the biggest rattlesnake that I have ever seen. I tried to kill it for food. I broke a big log over its back, but he never even slowed down. It’s a miracle that the rattlesnakes alone didn’t take me out. I was really fortunate.
The one good thing that I gained from the whole experience was an understanding of nature. I really became a harmonious part of those woods. It was interesting to live in the wild like that, to observe the animals as a fellow inhabitant for that length of time. The Discovery Channel cannot possibly bring that understanding to you; you have to experience it for yourself. In this high tech society that we live in today, most of us really miss out on experiencing nature firsthand. After being out there like that, I now have a new sense of understanding for the old cliche, “take time to smell the roses.” I had a lot of peaceful days out there. I guess a lot of my appreciation for what is good in life came from my experiences during those days. I’m sure that the Garden of Eden was really great. In a way it is a shame that technology is taking us further and further away from it.
Many weeks had passed since I had darted across the parking lot of that jail. As if being without the modern conveniences of home wasn’t enough, I was also without any snuff, a habit that I’d had since childhood. I had no television, no stereo, no soap, no shampoo, not even a toothbrush, much less any tooth paste. The clothes that I was wearing could nearly stand up in a corner by themselves. I chipped several teeth while eating thistles. Today, ten years later, my teeth are still stained from those thistles and blackberries.
I spent many hours planning my next move. I didn’t want to go back to civilization too soon. I knew that they would be looking for me to return. It would be dangerous to go back, but eventually I would have to. Fearful thoughts came to mind. What if a tornado blew in? I didn’t have adequate shelter for that. I had to start thinking about going back. Maybe I could use a storm to my advantage. Yeah, that would be a great time to go back. During a bad storm, no one would be thinking about me. So I waited for a bad storm, but it never came.
One day while walking in the woods, I saw a crew of men from an electric company out working on the power lines. I carefully maneuvered over to a position near them. I sat and watched as they worked. I wanted to sneak over, hide in their truck, and ride in with them. I kept thinking about it. No, that would be too dangerous. I needed a plan, a good plan. I decided to head out towards Highway 61, cross the highway, and make my way back to my mother’s house. I had waited long enough. I was malnourished to say the least. I would nearly faint every time I stood up, but was as healthy as possible under the circumstances. It was time to go back to civilization.
A few days later I awoke to a foggy morning: it was time to go back. I headed down my trail that lead to Highway 61. Up ahead I could see some activity. Something moved. I felt sure that it was a stander. I thought that they must have a guard line near the road, so I low crawled through the line. After 50 yards or so, I stood back up and headed towards the road. I took several steps and then ran head on into a guinea wasp nest. They started stinging me in the face. I was scared to slap at them for fear of making noise, so I mashed them into my face. What an ending.
I dashed across the road, unseen. I ran into the woods, then walked up to Rosedown Plantation. I could see the guard house at Rosedown from the edge of those woods. I wanted to go ask the guard if I could use the phone. I waited a minute. My mind ran. What do I look like? Can I even talk? I haven’t spoken a single word in nearly two months.
I had to do it. I walked up and asked if I could use the phone. He looked at me real strange. My voice must have sounded really weak. I told him that I had been lost in the woods for several days and really needed to use the phone. He let me. I called my mother and asked her to come get me. She said no. I wasn’t surprised. I thanked the guard, and then walked off. I had to find somebody to give me a ride home.
I walked back off into the woods, and started up the creek. I saw some kids up ahead, and one of them took a picture of me. When he took my picture, I ran up to them.
“Hey, I need some help. I got lost a few days ago on the creek. I was out hunting for antique bottles and got lost. Can ya’ll help me?”
They led me up to their house, and I went in with them. Their mother was cooking. It smelled great. It was all I could do to keep from asking for some food. Their dad walked up and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I had gotten lost while bottle hunting. I asked him if he would give me a ride home. He couldn’t. He was on his way to work, but instructed his wife to take me home. So she and her kids drove me to my mother’s house. I still wonder what they would have done if they had known who I really was Ricky Sinclair, a wanted man.