Local groups unite to remedy juvenile delinquency

The groups hold an uplifting event in the midst of a criminal investigation into the L.A. County Probation Department.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The youth probation camp program “Locked Up in Malibu” and local storytelling group “Tales By the Sea” last weekend hosted an event at Malibu United Methodist Church to aid troubled youths.

The two organizations have been working with the Los Angeles County Probation Department for several years, forming an innovative program designed to give young people who have run into trouble certain skill-sets to help transition them into the real world once they’ve served their time.

The L.A. County Probation Department, which runs David Gonzalez and Camp Kilpatrick probation camps in Malibu, has recently come under fire.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a criminal investigation was under way into allegations that 31 probation officers have committed misconduct ranging from child cruelty, sex with a minor and assault with a deadly weapon. Those employees are also charged with using county-issued credit cards to buy $100,000 worth of gadgets, including televisions and DVD players, for themselves.

The department operates on an annual budget of $79 million. A report by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review states that the 31 officers will most likely go unpunished because investigators took too long to take action.

However, Camp Kilpatrick’s sports programs and “Locked Up in Malibu” are shining examples of the probation department’s successes. Last week, the Kilpatrick team came in second place by only one point in the probation department’s annual academic decathlon-style competition for incarcerated youth.

The Camp Kilpatrick boys invited the “Tales By the Sea” storytellers to improvise a story with them on stage, and the resulting silliness was testament to a program that shows these youth that working as a team can produce creative substance.

The young performers improvised on the stories told by “Tales of the Sea” storytellers, most of them internationally known “tellers” who will be performing at the National Storytelling Network 2010 Conference this week.

Barbara Clark is a teller who has performed with the Malibu Public Library Speakers Series. Her story about a first prom dress symbolizing her passage to womanhood was masterfully touching in its dignity and simplicity. And then the boys lampooned the whole idea in a funny improvisation, incorporating their personal circumstances into their routines.

Jeremy Haibel is a probation officer at Camp Kilpatrick. He said that the “Locked Up In Malibu” program gives the teens a different self-image.

“They’re being pushed to grow in a positive way,” Haibel said. “This program gives them something they can take into their community and feel that they are just as valuable as anyone else. That’s what they need to hear.”

Natalie Curtis, the supervising probation officer at Camp Kilpatrick, hailed the “Locked Up” program that teaches the boys, through improvisational performance, “how to bail each other out.”

“In the dorms, these boys are rivals and on the streets, they’re enemies,” Curtis said in a phone interview. “With programs like this, there is a shift in attitude that has a long-term effect when they take it back into their community.

“Earning laughter and applause gives them the chance to feel good about themselves,” Curtis continued. “My hope is that they get used to that feeling, that it opens their eyes to their own potential and that, when they’re outside again, it’s a habit that drives the rest of their lives.”

Curtis, however, acknowledged the challenge of furthering such programs in the face of perpetual budget restraints (Malibu resident and “Locked Up” founder Susie Duff has received no payment for her services for a year now).

“But we’ve managed to survive ups and downs,” Curtis said. “The people who direct these programs are so committed.”

The National Storytelling Conference takes place at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills July 29-Aug. 1. More information may be found at www.storynet.org/conference.

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