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Jewish World Review March 27, 2002 / 14 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Blaming the boy for his own beating | Beaten so brutally that his kidneys shut down and he could not breathe on his own, the 13-year-old boy lay in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines that performed the tasks his internal organs were unable to.

The boy, about whom we wrote in yesterday's column, lived in Minerva, Ohio. He was new to town; he had lived most of his life with his mother in the western U.S., but after she died last summer he was sent to Minerva to live with his father, Brook Polen, 34, who claimed to have been unaware until recent years that the child was his. The boy was said to be depressed and anxious after losing his mother and being moved to an unfamiliar town.

Last month, according to Minerva chief of police Bob First, officers found the 13-year-old face down and unconscious on the floor of a shower in the basement of the home where he lived with his father. The boy -- when he was briefly brought back to consciousness -- said his father had beaten him with a mallet or a hammer. The boy said his father had ordered him to clean his work clothes; the boy tried, he said, but his father was displeased that dirt from the work clothes clogged a washing machine. As punishment, the boy said, he was ordered to do 50 pushups on the basement floor; when he was able to do fewer than 20, he said, his father commenced the beating.

Police say the boy was struck as many as 50 times, and that his wounds came from a blunt instrument. The boy told social workers that, after his father had beaten him, he ordered him to take a shower and go to bed. When the boy was too weak to make it to the shower, he said, his father dragged him there and turned the cold water on him. The water was still running when police found the boy, unresponsive.

With his face and eyes swollen from the beating, with a broken ankle and a possible fractured skull, the boy lay in his hospital bed while his father made his first court appearance.

This is what Brook Polen's attorney said at the courthouse:

"I don't want to speak ill of the ill, but [the boy], to put it mildly, was a handful."

So while the boy was fighting for his life in the hospital, the legal drive was already on to blame him for being there.

We have been reporting this week on a connective thread that seems to run through so many of these cases, in which the punishment of children is brutal and relentless. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that no citizen shall have to submit to "cruel and unusual punishments." Yet that is exactly what is done to children in this country, in case after case. And because the punishments are administered by the very people who are supposed to protect the children, the children have no recourse, no avenue of appeal.

Paul Grant, an attorney appointed by the court to represent the boy's interests, told us: "What exactly does a child have to do to be disciplined to that extent?" Brook Polen allegedly had a number of ways to torment the grieving boy who had been sent to live with him; police officers say the father would regularly awaken the boy at 2:15 a.m. and make him shower in the middle of the night before allowing him to go back to sleep, and would criticize him for "having no friends."

On the day the boy was hospitalized, according to Jerry Coleman, an attorney for the Stark County, Ohio, Department of Job and Family Services, "there had to be a point at which [the boy] was unconscious, and the beating kept going on anyway."

Late last week, a grand jury in Stark County indicted Brook Polen on assault and child endangerment charges; no trial date has been set. The boy has been released from the hospital after 18 days; Jerry Coleman told us: "I'm not sure he has gotten to the point yet at which he is asking himself, `How can someone do this to me? How can my own father do this to me?'" The boy is in foster care with another relative.

The reason we report these cases is not because they are isolated or rare -- but because they are not. Even as this case was unfolding, another -- involving the punishment of an 8-year-old Wisconsin girl -- was in court in that state. We will report on that next time.

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

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