A Needed Change
The conditions of his poverty, and then his stealing to try to do something about it, led to Patterson's being sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys in 1945. This was an alternative to jail for boys aged eight to twelve. It was located north of the city in a pastoral setting, and it is while he was at the Wiltwyck School that Patterson came into his own. He relished the attention he was given from his teachers, attention that his parents, with eleven children, could rarely give him. He also noticed that he was treated as an equal with the white children.
Patterson fell in love with the countryside. He studied nature, rode horses, and acquired a fondness for snakes. His teacher, Vivian Costen, would help him overcome shyness and lack of self-confidence. Coach Walter Johnson, the school's sports director, introduced Patterson to boxing.
Under Johnson's tutelage, Patterson slipped into boxing gloves like a second skin. He won all three matches he fought while at the school, and then it was time for him to return home.