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Jewish World Review March 26, 2002 / 13 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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He failed at washing his father's clothes | At first glance, the photograph -- taken in a hospital room -- looks as if the person in it is a prizefighter who has been savagely beaten to within a breath of his life. It looks like one of the photos of fighters who have almost died in the ring, one of the photos that are used from time to time to advocate the outlawing of boxing as a sport.

The face of the unconscious person is puffed up from the blows he has taken, the cheeks are bruised, the eyes are blackened and swollen shut.

Then you look closer.

This is no prizefighter. The face is that of a 7th-grade boy. And what put him in the hospital, according to police in Minerva, Ohio, a town of about 5,000 people, was a beating with a hammer or a mallet by the boy's own father. The father, according to Minerva chief of police Bob First, was punishing the boy.

The punishment was such that the 13-year-old child ended up on a dialysis machine in the hospital, because the beating was so intense that his kidneys shut down; the child ended up on a ventilator, because the beating was so complete that he could not breathe on his own.

We have been reporting this week about a common thread that seems to run through so many of these stories of what is done to children by the adults in their homes. In the United States, the Constitution guarantees every citizen freedom from "cruel and unusual punishments." But that means that the government, and the courts, can't administer such punishments. So often, the cruelest of punishments are delivered to children by the very people who are supposed to protect and care for them.

The punishment of the 13-year-old boy in northern Ohio came in the basement of a house on McDaniel Avenue in Minerva.

The boy had not lived there long. He had been raised in the western part of the U.S. by his mother. The boy was said to have been very close to her. When she died, reportedly of Hodgkin's disease, last summer, he was said to be devastated.

He was sent to Ohio to live with his biological father, Brook Polen, 34. Evidently it was a difficult transition for the boy; the father claimed not to have known until three years ago that the child was his son. The boy began to live in the basement of a house with Brook Polen, and was enrolled at the Hazen Middle School, where he knew no one.

"He was going through some depression and anxiety, which is understandable because of the loss of his mother and the changes in his life," said Jerry Coleman, attorney for the Stark County, Ohio, Department of Job and Family Services.

One night last month, Minerva police were called to the house on McDaniel Avenue.

"When our officers got to the basement, they found the boy unclothed, unconscious and face down in the shower with cold water running on him," Police Chief First told us. "He appeared to have been beaten all over his body with some sort of object."

The boy was rushed to a hospital and was brought back to consciousness long enough to tell police officers and social workers what happened to him.

The boy said that his father's work clothes had been dirty, and that he had been ordered to clean them.

He had tried to, he said, but the dirt from the clothes had clogged up the washing machine. This had angered the father.

Later, as punishment, the boy said, the father had ordered him to do 50 pushups on the concrete floor of the basement. The boy said he was able to do less than 20.

At this point, the boy said, the father got out a mallet or a hammer, and began striking him in the head, knees, feet and back. (Police say the boy was struck as many as 50 times.) The boy said he was also punched and kicked. His father, he said, ordered him to shower and go to bed; when the boy was unable to walk to the shower, he said, his father dragged him there and turned the cold water on him.

"That's where we found the boy -- unconscious as the water ran onto him," Police Chief First told us. More in tomorrow's column.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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