My Stay At Mary Graham Hall Children's Shelter
by Carlton Pruitt
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It was sometime around February or March of 1971 when I moved from my aunt and uncle's home in Fremont, CA. to a children's institution that went by the name of Mary Graham Hall.
Before transitioning into Mary Graham Hall I should tell a bit of my stay with my aunt and uncle just prior to moving from their custody.
I attended part of my seventh grade year at William Hopkins Junior High School in Fremont. This school was much larger than any I had previously attended. I remember enjoying all my classes and doing pretty well in them except math. Math was now a challenge but it had never been difficult for me until this point. I took a course in metal shop, history with a female teacher by the name of Belshaw if I recall correctly. I remember this particular woman because she was fairly attractive and she was a good teacher who communicated in a memorable way which stuck in my brain. I can't say I remember any other teachers except the one from my composition class whose name was Mrs. Chishom or Chisom. I had a vivid imagination at that time and wrote some fiction along the lines of either horror or mystery genre. Then in my lost state of Christless endeavors I was never mindful of doing the will of God but rather sought to please my own self. The little discipline I had was inculcated into me by my aunt and uncle and while I may have despised some of their harshness I later came to realize God's hand in it. As just one example I was given the task of pulling up the weeds in the back yard of our new home and was expected to finish this before I could play with my friends or do any fun activities. This got to be an arduous bore and chore day after day with hardly any progress in sight. I couldn't seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel and so felt like this job of weed pulling would never end so that one day when asked by my aunt why my countenance was so sad and troubled I emptied my feelings and told her my heart. She asked me what I wanted to do and I told her I wanted to move to a foster home. I knew a little about foster homes because my aunt and uncle had been a foster home for my foster brother John Ferrera. John was about three years older than me and had lived with us in Seven Hills in Union City, Ca. This was during the 60's. John and I had our differences in music. He listened to the Doors, Jimmy Hendrix, Moby Grape, The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish. I only group I liked that he liked was the Doors. After about two years John was busted by a nark for selling drugs at Logan High School if my memory serves me correctly. He was forced to leave our home as a result. I liked having a brother to live with even if he wasn't my blood kin because we did share similar interests like sports.
After moving to Fremont, Ca and while attending William Hopkins Jr. High my social worker Mr. Francois made arrangement for me to stay at Mary Graham Hall which was set up as a temporary shelter for minor boys and girls awaiting placement in either a foster home or until arrangements could be made to reunite the children with their family. I didn't have much of a family since my mother wasn't able to care for me and my great grandmother was too old to handle my rambunctious ways. That was the reason for my moving with my aunt and uncle. They couldn't have children so they decided to take on the responsibilty of rearing me or else I may have ended up being adopted or moving into a foster home earlier than I did.
Since the early 1960's, thousands of children have found refuge behind the doors of Mary Graham Children's Shelter--the only one of it's kind in San Joaquin County.
Each year nearly 1,400 abused, abandoned and neglected children find their way to this children's shelter. Some have been sexually abused by parents or siblings. The children stay at the Shelter for an average of 14 days. However, some children may live at the Shelter for many months. My stay was much longer than most which allowed me the opportunity to get well aquainted with the staff and other children who came from various backgrounds. I was at the shelter for nine months and met some very interesting people.
Of particular note are the counselors who worked at Mary Graham Hall. I recall a Ms Gryzinski, a Mr. Martin, Mr. Lucachinni (who I later discovered became a lawyer and judge) Mrs Equinoa, Mrs Schaeffer, Mr. Warren. There's a few others whose names escape me but now but I recall various incidences that took place in my teenage memories.
One thing I noticed when eating meals with the other children was the lack of etiquette that I had been taught by my aunt and uncle. For example I was taught to hold a folk a certain way with your palm facing up and not down. The children I dined with seemed a bit more rude than myself but eventually I became much like the rest and even worse over the course of the next nine months.
The shelter had two buildings, one for the boys and another separate building for the girls about 30-40 yards distance. There may have been as many as 15-20 rooms per building. I can't recall but each boy had a separate room with a single bed. We earned merit points for how neat and clean our room was and for our attitude and behavior throughout the day. Extra points could be earned for extra work. At the end of the week each of the top three or four boys got the privilege of going to special outings with the top three or four girls. The only place I can recall going to was the movies and we all car pooled in a van.
At the facility there was a small playground with jungle bars and a few other gymnasium type activities. In a separate area paved with asphalt or concrete was a basketball court. I love basketball and was pretty good at it despite my short stature. I have fond memories of shooting baskets with one tall teen name Dwayne Johnson and another named Don Souza. I was a short thirteen year old and these two were about sixteen or seventeen years of age.
One boy I made quick friends with was Sam Hyatt. We must have been the same age because I remember us both going to the same cafeteria at the San Joaquin County Hospital, eating breakfast and then catching the bus for school. Breakfast at the cafeteria was pretty good compared to the food at the shelter. Maybe it came from the same source but it seemed to taste better and that might be because you could choose what you wanted to eat much like a smorgasbord.
I remember starting out well at the shelter at least as well as I had been taught from my aunt and uncle but eventually the disciple they inculcated into me wore off. I became unruly and very foul mouthed. One boy who acted out rebelliously was Fernando Adolfo. Fernando spoke with a Spanish accent and walked pigeon toed. This boy's profanity and cursing both amazed me and shocked me. I suppose it had such an affect on me because I had never seen such outbursts of bad behavior before. Many times I would see this boy who was about the same age as myself curse or give an obscene gesture with his finger to one of the counselors.
He would either laugh or turn spiteful as he lashed out with anger toward either staff or his peers. Eventually, after refusing to go to his room, one of the male counselors would pick Fernando up by his waist and carry him to his room. Sometimes the female counselors might have to drag the boy to his room because he refused to go willing on his own. This kind of behavior was shocking to my senses and while I never acted out in such a manner before I would soon learn the same way as this young boy. May be it was my way of getting attention but I found myself getting as bad as Fernando at times and even cursing as much or more than he did. Wickedness was indeed bound up in my heart but I didn't have the rod of correction to drive it far from me. These counselors never spoke of religion to my soul as I recall but they did follow the protocol of behavior modification and other things they learned as a way of managing the children. I may have started out well with Sam Hyatt as others as a relatively good influence but soon through Fernando I would learn to misbehave as sin was just waiting to break loose from my timid soul. It wasn't God's time yet to reveal His truth to my stony heart. That time was yet future when I would experience living in a foster home.
Carlton Pruitt ministers the gospel to the Los Angeles area. Formerly a Hollywood actor (SAG member)and junk removal expert he now spends most of his time studying the scriptures, writing articles, hymns and poems and doing street preaching.
See his videos on http://www.youtube.com Type LAStreetPreacher in the search bar. CONTACT at Carlton2061@gmail.
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