Sultan of swat

Charged with assault for spanking an 11-year-old boy, a volunteer tutor defends old-fashioned discipline

Fish says he has spanked his son no more than five times in his life. The last time was in August when his son and another boy berated a young girl Fish tutors. The boys used very graphic language to describe what they were going to do to the girl sexually, Fish alleges. He spanked both boys and washed their mouths out with soap and made them apologize to the girl, he says.

"Spanking my son is important," Fish says. "If I didn't love him, I wouldn't do it. I want him to grow up to be the right kind of guy, who knows how to act."

Giselle Nicolini agrees with Fish's philosophy. Fish has been tutoring and coaching the single mother's two sons, ages 8 and 9, for the last year and a half. "Sometimes words don't do it. Sometimes you have to swat them," says Nicolini, who is originally from Peru. "But all Russell does is swat them on the bottom, no more than that."

As far as Nicolini is concerned, Fish has been a godsend to her children. "Before Russell began working with them, they were getting Cs and Ds on their schoolwork and their behavior," Nicolini says. "One even repeated a year. Now they're getting straight As. I'm really glad I met Russell. I'm a single parent, and sometimes I don't think I'm going to make it."

In his own defense, Fish says: "I spank kids as a last resort. The idea is not to inflict pain, but to get them to pay attention to what they did was wrong. The kids I tutor are out of control most of the time they are not with me. I am usually the only calming and regulating influence in their lives. The point is, there are very few guys who are willing to do what I do--step in and, for no money, try to make a little bit of difference in lives of kids nobody wants. It's important that people who are willing to do the kinds of stuff I do not have to worry about being brought up on criminal charges.

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