When Chris Smith thinks about his time at the family-owned J and J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, he cringes. Smith, now 39, is mentally disabled. He started working at the restaurant as a 12-year old dishwasher.
He told ABC15 that the abuse started when Bobby Edwards took over as manager, about six years later.
“I could get along with his wife, his momma, his daddy, his cousin, his brother … I could get along with all of them … but I couldn’t get along with him,” said Smith.
Smith worked at the restaurant for 23 years. For at least the final 17 of those years, he said that Edwards beat him, burned him with cooking grease, forced him to live in a room behind the restaurant and refused to pay him. According to Smith, he was even denied access to his own family.
“I wanted to get out of there a long time ago. But I didn’t have nobody I could go to,” he said.
“I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see none of my family so that was that,” he said. “That’s the main basic thing I wanted to see was my mom come see me. I couldn’t see my mom…and I couldn’t talk to nobody.”
He said Edwards even forced him to stay in the kitchen of the restaurant or his living space when his family went to J and J.
According to ABC15, the Department of Social Services and Conway Police got involved with Smith in 2014. Since that time, he said he’s worked for two restaurants in the Conway area, but he can’t forget Edwards and J and J.
He said Edwards’ family, who also ran the restaurant, did nothing to stop the abuse.
“I think he’s racist,” Smith said of Edwards. “But I didn’t know that though…until now.”
Now Smith is working in Conway , and he’s looking forward to what new opportunities the future holds.
“Everybody (is) on my side and that’s how, that’s how I like it,” he said smiling.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge R. Bryan Harwell sentenced 54-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards to 10 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.