"We didn't believe it at all until they actually reached us… It was the first time I saw what this war that we've been hearing about was doing to people. It was the first time we saw children running by themselves, crying the names of their mothers and fathers -- people who had been pierced by bullets in many parts of their bodies, people who had been amputated. "
Beah's trip home brought back some memories he would rather forget.
"One of the sights that remains strong with me is a mother who had been running, and she had her child tied on her back. The child had been shot. The only way she survived is that she had the child on her back. The bullet hadn't gone through the baby. Seeing things like that made me realize that things had changed, that there was no longer respect for life in a way because if an innocent baby can't be spared, then who will?"
Beah was only 12 years old when he says "everything changed." It was a terrifying and confusing time and "here was no one there to explain it to me," he said.
After discovering that his entire family was dead, Beah wandered the country-side alone, struggling with overwhelming loneliness, until he met up with some other orphaned boys. Together they sought refuge at an army base where the commander gave them a choice: fight or leave. Leaving was not an option.
"There was a man and his son that decided to leave, and the next day they were killed. They brought their bodies and showed everyone, displayed it to everyone to basically give you an idea what happens when you leave. So we stayed."
The solders, he said, made them feel powerful and safe, as if they were now part of a new kind of family.
"They learned to preach the idea of hatred in you and that psychologically, this was now a weapon, a power you have to no longer run from the war but to bring the war to people. That is what will bring you food. That is what will keep you alive."
Beah says the children were also told they were avenging the deaths of their family members.
"Most of us from the village had lost family, most were orphans. We were very angry with what happened to us. It made sense. They had killed our families, so we killed them. It seemed like the way to stop this."
They believed, Beah said, that they were doing the right thing by being "good soldiers."
"Anyone in that position would have to do the same thing. There was no option. It was the way to stay alive. It became a war where if you were not in a position to take a life, someone else was in a position to take your life. It was either kill or be killed."
The killing was made easier by the drugs readily provided to the children by the soldiers.
"In the beginning, when we were going to war, they gave us a bunch of amphetamines. As time went on we went from marijuana, to cocaine to brown-brown, which is a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder. It gave you power. It made you feel invincible to the point that when they say go, you go, even when bullets were flying."
Beah says the first time he went into battle, he "started my descent into madness."
"I have to say that one of the worst days was actually the first day of war, you know. Because as the rest of it went on and on it became more and more hardened."
Ishmael says he spent two years in the army -- committing atrocities and killing whomever he was told to kill. He has no idea how many people he killed, and says that women and children were not spared.