After being charged with trafficking cannabis, 16-year-old Steve was sent to YSAS youth worker Andrew Bruun for counselling. The son of disabled parents, Steve grew up in a poor part of the Western suburbs and had been placed in state care. He would rebel against his situation by urinating on the walls of the residential unit and disappearing for days at a time.
His skin was grubby and his hair was knotted together from poor hygiene. “When he came to see me those first few times, he had that look of a homeless kid – old tatty clothes, holes in his shoes,” says Andrew.
Since Steve came from such an underprivileged background, Andrew assumed he hadn’t had much education. One day Steve needed to catch a train back home and Andrew offered to buy him something to read on the journey – perhaps a comic book, given his low literacy skills. “Nah, I’ve already got a book to read,” replied Steve. He then unzipped his backpack to reveal the literary classic For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. “It was this jaw-dropping moment,” says Andrew. “He had this love of reading and this aptitude that was invisible.” They started talking about books, and it turned out Steve had also read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, one of the most famous literary non-fiction books of all time. Over the course of a year, Andrew encouraged Steve’s passion for reading, which provided motivation for him to curb his substance dependency. “He needed to work out ways to bring his drug use under control so it didn’t jeopardise his education.”
More than a decade later, Steve has never had another criminal conviction. And Andrew has finally read For Whom the Bell Tolls.