Sept. 16-19, 1957
"State Senate committee hearing" is one of the most boring phrases in the English language and the thick dust of half a century only adds layers of tedium.
But let's stand in the back of the hearing room at the State Building,* temporarily resurrected on the long-vacant northeast corner at 1st and Broadway, and watch the witnesses struggle to deal with the question of drug addiction.
The police are going to say what they always say: Drugs are becoming more of a problem, the courts are too lenient and law enforcement is hampered by rulings supporting suspects' rights. The answer: Tougher, mandatory sentences and compulsory classes for youngsters on the dangers of drugs.
The therapists have their own boilerplate: Long prison terms don't work and it's difficult to rehabilitate addicts. Their answer: Hospitalization.
Are you yawning yet?
Let's take a moment to listen to a father talk about his daughter, who is in her early 20s. If she can't get drugs, she'll use alcohol. "Daddy, I've got to have it," she says.
She's one of eight children, he says. The other seven are fine: "All are married and have families and make good livings. We have a good family."
Even the addicted daughter is "lovable, polite, sympathetic and one of the kindest persons I know," he says.
It all started when she was 16, he says. There was a party and she wanted to go. He was reluctant but met the host's mother, who assured him that she would be a chaperon. Then the call from the police: "We have your daughter." The kids were smoking marijuana.
He and his wife put the girl in a school back East. She ran away.
They brought her back to Los Angeles and put her in another school. She started using heroin "just for fun."
Then an interracial marriage (please recall that we're talking about 1957), a child, divorce and brief trips back home when she wasn't in jail, Camarillo or Patton State Hospital.
When she has nowhere else, she comes home for a few days, then vanishes. "She never gets a phone call at our home," the father says. "We don't know how she contacts them."
He finally got her admitted to a federal hospital in Kentucky for treatment. "I helped her pack her things and got her promise that she would faithfully make the trip, and I bought her ticket and gave her some money and put her on the bus," he said.
If you know anything about addicts, you know what she did next.
At the moment she's in jail, he says. Arrested yet again for narcotics.
He said: "I am her father and I love her. But I'd rather see her in her casket than the way she is today."
Fifty years later, you can hear the same story at any A.A. meeting in Los Angeles.
*Not to be confused with the recently demolished "new" state building, an ugly and utterly artless L-shaped box that was torn down without generating a single complaint from preservationists. This building was constructed on the site of the old Central Jail on 1st Street and Mason Opera House on Broadway.