Robert Leslie Roberson III was born in Mineola, Texas on November 10, 1966. He moved with his family to Palestine, Texas when he was six years old and remained there throughout his childhood. He was one of five children. His father, after being medically discharged from the military due to polio, worked as a brakeman on the railroad for 39 years until a horrific accident left him unable to continue working—and pushed him further into alcoholism.

Robert’s father was a violent and vicious drunk. He drank continuously day and night, berating and beating his wife and children. Robert’s father routinely hurled insults at his oldest son, telling him he had “no sense” and would “never amount to anything.” Robert was beaten if he cried and so soon learned never to show emotion.

Robert also learned that escape was the only way to avoid his father’s rage. He ran away for the first time at age twelve, staying in the woods and sneaking home to get food. He would often run away for days at a time, sleeping on the hard ground, a jacket spread over him for warmth.

Much of Robert’s childhood was spent in unimaginable poverty. The Robersons lived on ramshackle properties deep in the East Texas piney woods, miles outside of town. After their tiny trailer burned down from a suspected butane leak one Christmas, the family of seven was forced to move into an old, filthy building, infested with rats, that had been rotting on the same land that had housed their trailer. During winters, Robert and his siblings huddled together at night for warmth as cold air seeped in through the holes in the rotting wood.

But he was always considered a “mama’s boy” and was grateful for his mother’s love and support. Robert’s mother had limited skills or education, but she searched for any way to provide for the family—working for a time as a postal carrier and taking in other children, hoping the minimal welfare checks would keep them afloat. Along with her own five children—Robert, Ramona, John, Billy and Thomas—the Robersons took in three of  Robert’s cousins, all of whom had been removed from Robert’s paternal uncle’s care due to physical and sexual abuse.

Robert struggled in school. In elementary school, he was sent to a speech therapist because his teachers and peers had trouble understanding him. Robert was also assigned to a teaching assistant for extra support during class. His difficulties remembering material made it nearly impossible for him to complete his assignments and participate in class, particularly in subjects like English and History. He eventually dropped out of high school before graduating.

Robert longed for friends but did not fit in. His genetic disabilities were compounded by the significant amount of head trauma he experienced in his early years. As a young child, Robert fell down a ladder in a dairy barn and sliced open his head; hit himself in the head when a rifle backfired; and was hit in the head with rocks when playing. As a member of his high school football team, Robert was exposed to repeated head injuries. But he never showed self-pity or blamed anyone for his struggles. He just kept looking for understanding.

Justice for Robert Roberson ©2020

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