Author Describes Life on the Streets

November 19, 2004

A 63-year-old Costa Rican whodropped out of school in second grade tolive on the streets and who spent time inreform school is creating a sensation herewith two books he wrote, which were publishedearlier this year.Carlos Luis Hidalgo, who prefers hisnickname “Tabín,” wrote about his ownexperiences of life on the street in the book“Niño de la Calle” (Street Child). In “ElCastillo de Terror,” he tells the story of astreet companion who went to prison at 17for killing a man in what he claims wasself-defense.The Castle of Terror was the CentralSan José Penitentiary until l979. Thebuilding was remodeled and reopened in1994 as the Children’s Museum.TABÍN said his life on the streetsbegan at age 7 after an episode of abuse byhis father. He lived first in the centralPacific port city Puntarenas, and latermoved to the Central Valley to seek hisfuture in San José.In both cities, he found a street societywhere boys earned money unloading shipsor trucks, helping in the central markets,shining shoes, selling newspapers anddoing odd jobs. Groups of boys sharedhousing in basements or shelters of theirown making, and shared responsibility forcooking and cleaning.According to Tabín, they got help andsupport from merchants in the marketswho gave them food and other items. Allhad left home as a result of abuse, accordingto the author.Although street life seemed better thanhome, there was a down side too. Beingpicked up by the police for vagrancy orpetty crime or simply as a suspect, meantpolice chases, time in reform school orworse.Tabín still carries a scar from a bulletwound he said he sustained trying to evadecapture by the police.“EL Castillo de Terror” describes lifein prison as told by Tabín’s friend Omar,who at 17 was sentenced to 15 years in theSan José Penitentiary, which housed children,vagrants, alcoholics, violent criminals,and corrupt and sadistic guards – allmixed together.It was the mid-1950s, a time when calabozos,or dungeons, were used to isolateand control prisoners. Prisoners createdtheir own activities and a black marketflourished. Races with rats captured in theprison was a form of entertainment,according to the book.For some the conditions spelled defeat,but for others like Tabín and Omar, determinationand motivation meant not onlysurvival but ways to get ahead.Tabín parlayed his shoeshine businessskills into success selling snacks on thetrain to Puntarenas. Later, he used ingenuityto get a job on a ship and spent eightyears traveling the seas.Omar used fortitude to get good jobsin the penitentiary and later at the SanLucas island prison in the Gulf of Nicoya,on the Pacific coast, to learn skills andgain rewards.Falling in love and starting familieswere important influences for both men,who are now grandfathers.TODAY, Tabín is an author and speaker.Omar, a retired farmer, takes his grandchildrento the Children’s Museum, in thebuilding where he once lived.Tabín began to write poems and shortarticles about 20 years ago, after his sonEduardo died of cancer at age 15.“In the months before he died we hadlots of conversations and it changed me,”Tabín said. “I decided to treat my familybetter. I too, had that syndrome of violence,and I was determined to change. Ialso made a promise to write my storyhoping it would help others.”Some of his poems are included in“Niño de la Calle.” Some are dedicated tostreet people he has known, and others toDamaris, the love of his life and his wifeof 34 years.A few of his articles on street lifeappeared in newspapers, which encouragedhim to write the books. The bookscame out in June of this year, in time forthe International Book Fair in San José.The books (in Spanish) are small, about100 pages each, and easy to read.THE unusual topics of his books andhis own personal circumstances led to TVappearances and then speaking roles atschools, colleges, church groups and communitygroups, sponsored by the Ministryof Public Education in hopes of discouragingchildren from the temptation of streetlife and drugs.Tabín’s interest in street kids alsoprompted him to participate in academicstudies and workshops on street gangs inCosta Rica, sponsored by the Ministry ofPublic Security.The soft-spoken, youthful-lookingTabín captivates his audiences, saidMarielos Valle, a counselor at the Instituteof Guanacaste, where he recentlyaddressed students.“He speaks about his own experiencesand street gangs today, and motivates thechildren to think about values. For theadults, his talks alert us to the problems ofstreet gangs and drugs,” she said.HIS books are available at the bookstallsin the plaza between the court buildingson Calle l7 between Av. 4 and 8, orfrom the publisher, Lithografer Morales inLagos de Heredia, north of San José, for¢1,500 ($3.32) each.The author is available for speakingengagements (in Spanish). For information,call Hidalgo at 264-0271 or 361-4031.

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