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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Juvenile Delinquency: A Case Study

Paul David is in trouble again. The 16-year old juvenile delinquent’s latest antics: Playing the Grinch That Stole Christmas.

Here’s an at-risk kid that I’ve being observing over the years. Like the generation of black youth before him, he is on his way down the river, either into prison or to an early grave. And, in the end, all I can say is that he was a good kid, but he had issues.

I know it’s premature to chalk the child off as lost and doomed, especially since he has not yet made that fatal mistake. Nevertheless, he is lost because society has not figured out his problem or how to solve it. Instead, they have given his problem a new name: ODD (Oppositional Disruptive Disorder). So, it is not the child that I have given up on. It is society and its inability to solve a problematic in basic human development that is resulting in a disproportionate number of alienated black juveniles.

The name is not the thing

Giving Paul David’s problem a name does nothing to solve it, but rather opens up a new market for some pharmaceutical company, a new area of research for psychologists who have nothing better to do, and heap more burden on the juvenile justice system. None of these social engineers have the answer.

So what does ODD mean in the case of Paul David?

It means that he curses his mother, manhandles her, steals from his siblings, fights in the streets, stay out all night, always in trouble with the law, and half-in and half-out of school. In sum, he is the next American nightmare.

But the issues surrounding the life of Paul David are no big secret. I’ve been writing about them since the boy was 12. Born to a single-mother, living in the poorest area of the community, barely able to survive from week to week on a meager teacher’s salary, he has a Malcolm-in-the-Middle complex. Smart kid but he hates his mother. Even worse, his mother hates him but does not know it- or, at least, she is in denial.

There are more households like this than society is willing to admit. A teenage son hates his mother, hates living in a ragged rundown overcrowded house, hate living on a full-time diet of donated can goods, wishing for better, but never seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. As a small child, he made his mother promise to never to have another baby out of wedlock. He was the second without a father.

The mother hates the child because she hates the baby’s daddy, a deadbeat father who, himself, stays in and out of trouble with the law. The child is just like the father, she claims, and all her bitter frustrations are aimed at the father through the child.

Then came another baby brother, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Paul David.

Several years back, this boy was placed in my tutelage. He had been expelled from school so many times that the teachers had given up on him- not one year, but two years in a row. The mother thought that I could rein him in, which I did, with some success. But I could do nothing for his home life. In the end, we decided to ship him off to California to live with his uncle. There, Paul David started a new life and became an honor student.

In a recent article, “My Dancing Dayz ‘Bout Over”, I wrote that Paul David was back, living in the same economically depressed neighborhood that he left. And, in an urgent plea, I called out to others who knew the child to watch out for him.

Oh sure, I can hear some of my friends in the establishment world say, “How nice, having dedicated people in the community looking out for these poor at-risk kids.” They do not know that Paul David filled his backpack full of food, ran away from home, was sleeping in an abandoned mobile home, and got a black eye in a fight just outside of one of his mentor’s business location. Since then, I have seen him on the streets, working in a youth volunteer program, all smiles, but ever closer to hell than he has ever been. Nobody knows it, however, except his mother and me.

You see, Paul David has the sweetest façade that you would ever see on a teenager- always smiling, courteous, and gentle mannerism. But that is only around adults. Around his little hoodlum friends, he sheds his sheepish veneer and lets all the wolf hang out. He is still the leader of the gang, except now he is not a 12-year old riffraff. He is a graduated banger on probation drifting in and out of alternative school.

So, whatever happened to his golden days in California as an honor student? The school went bad, no longer a shining example of academic excellence, but a disciplinary institution with a change in administration. I would not be surprised if the kid had an influence in changing the school. Given the chance, Paul David would be the type of child that would. But it typifies the up and down trend in public education- one day chicken, next day feathers.

In any case, Paul David was back in the ‘hood, picking up where he left off, and leading his street friends down yonder path.

When I saw him attending a Fort Worth ISD Dropout Prevention session at the community center, I first thought all was well, though I was somewhat dismayed at his return. But it only goes to show that whenever you think that the problem with a young person is solved, we need to take a second look.

Sitting in a circle, full of meandering discussions about staying in school, I pointed out how Paul David was a “success story”, having broken away from his early years as a local gang leader, going to California, and making good on the honor roll. When asked how he was doing since his return to the city, he answered, “Aw ‘ight.” I should have known then that something was amiss.

His mother called me at my home this morning and gave me the real low-down. Paul David had stolen his little brother’s Christmas present- a flute- and had probably sold it. No, everything was not “aw ‘ight”. This is when I learned the whole story- about the probation, alternative school, and how he got the black eye.

Now remember, this woman is a school teacher in the Fort Worth ISD, and she swears her child is more like the other public school students than we can imagine. She, like many other public school teachers, was only one stroke or heart attack from totally giving up.

There, she said it. The burden was now off her shoulders. She was tired of holding it in.

Whose burden was it now? Well, it must now be up to the problem-solvers- the “oh, how nice that someone is working with the kids” folks. Meanwhile, the rest of us can hardly get a decent word in edgewise. Our voices get drown out by the psychologists who give us a daily dose of psycho-babble alphabet soup about ODD, ADD, ADHD, along with theoretic solutions and recommended medication.


  1. ODD? Don't a few of us in the Afrospear have that? HA!

    Good post, nonetheless. Rings of stuff I usually ruminate on in my classroom. :: rolls eyes::

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  3. I have seen many like Paul David's and one in particular was a 14 year old friend with a drug addicted mother and no father in the home. He was his little brother's dad while his mom was in the street buying crack. My friend saught family in a group of boys, which I never saw as a gang back then. They went off doing the wrong things much involving criminal activity. I tried as his peer to counsel him to "stop hanging out with those boys." A few months later, he was shot in the back attempting to rob a restaurant with those same group of boys who were 18 at the time are still alive. I have never gotten over the follower dying rather than the leader of the pack. In all, as an adult, poverty,broken and dysfuntional homes continues to fester our minority population and many youths are raising themselves and leading down the path of distruction. Will it ever change? I'm sure not.

  4. There are so many factors that contribute to juvenile criminality and it is my belief, that one method or solution is not going to have a tremendous impact. Starting within the community, let's educate young people about unwanted pregnancies and how to avoid them. It's difficult to tell young people not to have children they can't afford or care for when they live in an environment where some of their parents are doing it. We could start by providing parenting skills programs for at-risk families. I certainly respect the views of Mr. Griffin, but if we take a more rehabilitative and less punitive stance to address juvenile delinquency and crime, we many eventually see some reduction in crime rates. Psychiatric illnesses are very real, yet some people doubt their existence because these illnesses cannot be proven by medical testing or any other means. The criminal behavior is merely a symptom of a greater underlying problem. Children need nurturing, kindness and appropriate discipline, but most parents don't know the true meanings of these words and have no idea how to provide these as a parent.