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Paul Coates

January 14, 2008 |  6:45 pm

Paul_coates Jan. 14, 1958

This is the story of one kid. He lives here. His name is Gene. But with a few alterations it could be the story of any of 10,000 kids who live here. Or maybe 100,000 kids.

But I'm just going to talk about Gene.

I'm going to tell you how his trouble started.

They started, according to the man I talked to, because Gene didn't look quite like all the other kids looked.

He had some sort of a skin disease, which sometimes blotched his face and arms and legs.

He had a mother, with a college background, who worked as a secretary.

He had a father who was a fairly important union official in town.

Gene's parents, of course, had each other. But they weren't especially happy about it. So, to make their individual lives more pleasant, each picked up a private lover.

That's what the man told me, anyway.

He also told me how Gene found out about it, and how he reacted to it.

Gene, he said, gradually became a pretty irresponsible kid.

1958_0114_ads03 For no reason, he started skipping school. He refused to do his homework. He picked up the habit of smoking, but got his biggest kick out of doing it on the grounds of his junior high, where other kids could watch him.

His parents were told about what he was doing.

But they didn't do anything about it.

Because, I guess, they didn't quite know what they should do.

The result was exactly what you guessed. Gene's rebellion became a little more obvious.

In one semester, he ditched school 16 times.

And there were some questions by the police about some "Midnight Auto Supply" activities of his. About hubcaps taken from parked automobiles. Things like that.

Next--and it wasn't too long--Gene found himself with a probation officer.

And he found out that if he wanted to stay in good with his probation officer, and stay out of work camp--he'd better start paying regular visits to the "man" at the Southeast Youth Guidance Center in Huntington Park.

The "man" happened to be a professional, trained psychologist.

Gene's first visit was early last year, when he was 14. Since then, he returned for some 64 additional private sessions.

He didn't particularly want to go. But he went. And, after a bit of pressuring, his mother and father went to the center, too. To attend weekly therapy group classes.

The result, to date, of what has happened is on a paper in front of me.

It reads, in part:

1958_0114_ads02 "After approximately 20 sessions, the diminution in Gene's tensions and anxiety apparently resulted in alleviation of his skin disturbances.

"By then he had also begun to feel out possibilities of making friends other than those with whom he had been in trouble...

"He began to spend more time with his father, who was made to realize that a good parent did not always act like a union official...

"Gene's mother also became less rejecting of him and of her home in general...

"The last time I saw Gene he still could not be considered the personification of psychological adjustment. However his feeling about himself and others seemed to be such that he would have a very good chance of leading a happy and worthwhile life."

The report was one of more than 50 written during the past year by the 11 professional psychologists and social workers who contribute their time to youth counseling at the center.

Their tab for maintaining offices and purchasing supplies ran to about $1,200 for 1957. It was picked up by local service clubs, which felt the need in their community for such a center.

From the reports I've read, it appears that Gene and a lot of other pre-delinquent and delinquent kids were given the attention they needed before they committed some major crimes against our society.

We need more centers like this one in Huntington Park.

But it isn't very likely that we'll recognize the need until an awful lot of kids who could have been helped are standing behind cell bars.