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Brightening the Holidays : Inmates of Youth Guidance Center Are the Youngsters That Santa Forgot

December 25, 1987|RAY PEREZ

There will be other troubled Orange County children not home for the Christmas holidays. These, however, are incarcerated at the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana.

Many of them are victims of abuse and neglect who are doing time for their own crimes. Some are even former residents of Orangewood. Still many others are repeat offenders who have spent more time under lock and key than in their parents' homes.

Juvenile Court Judge Betty Lou Lamoreaux visited the county facility last week as part of a team judging the Christmas decorations of the five units at the center. She came away saddened by the lack of Christmas cheer.

"Everyone knows about the children at Orangewood. But these poor kids don't get anything," Lamoreaux said.

The judge is right. Except for plenty of special food on Christmas, the teen-agers at the Youth Guidance Center are not getting anything special today. The only concession for them this week is that the normal Sunday visiting day will be moved to Christmas.

If parents or relatives of the 110 boys and girls visit today, they will be allowed to bring them only soft drinks or magazines.

Doug Bercoman, a supervisor and probation counselor at the facility, said teen-agers at the Youth Guidance Center have been remanded there for crimes ranging from theft to grand larceny to assault and battery.

"And those in here on sexual charges were abused themselves as kids," Bercoman said.

Although most the youngsters have long police records and a history of skipping school, some possess certain talents that shine inside the walls.

Erwin (like other teen-agers in this story, his real name is not used) is just 14 and has been in trouble since he was eight. He talked a good game and said he doesn't really care about not being home for Christmas. But Christmas does mean something for him.

Erwin was the chief architect of the winning Christmas project for the boys in Unit 400. Using nothing but twigs, discarded scraps of paper and paint, the boys built an elaborate Christmas floor setting called "Elfville."

Almost all of the teen-agers take an inflated, false pride in their crime records. But eventually, they admit the loneliness of Christmas.

Jerry, 15, boasted that he was serving 45 days for running away and for petty theft.

"It's fun in here when you're young," he laughed.

Later, when he was away from his pals, he talked more somberly and honestly.

"It's just not the same feeling as being at home during Christmas," Jerry said. "I'll feel really left out on Christmas."

Holly was living in Fullerton with her grandmother and father. Her mother died five years ago. She is charged with two felonies, for assault and battery on schoolmates. The 15-year-old girl ran away from home to escape the abuse of her father.

She said her father is now gone himself, and she misses her grandmother. But it will be at least February before Holly is free again.

"I guess I'm just stuck in here for Christmas," she said.

Linda will be spending her second Christmas at the facility. She said she can't remember how many times she has been at the Youth Guidance Center but estimated at least five.

This time, she was caught smoking PCP (phencyclidine, also known as "angel dust.") She also said that her involvement with F-Troop, a notorious youth gang in Santa Ana, has been the source of her problems.

"I was raised around them, and I don't know any better. I'm trying to do my time, and I will try to change when I get out," she said.

Linda also said she was hoping her parents would visit on Christmas. But she was not encouraged, because no family member saw her last Christmas.

"It was very boring and sad last year. It's going to be the same again," she said. "I know I'll be depressed. . . . I'll be in here with strangers."

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