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October 8, 2003

J. Daniel Scruggs
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 PM *

The kid was twelve. His father’s in prison. His mother works two jobs, as a teacher’s aide and as the part-time manager of a Wal-Mart. And in January 2002, J. Daniel Scruggs hanged himself in the bedroom closet where he often slept.

He was small for his age, socially backward. He got made the goat at his middle school:
It was easy to push J. Daniel Scruggs around, to throw him off gym bleachers and send him hurtling down school staircases. A slip of a boy, he was short, and at age 12, just 63 pounds. At Washington Middle School here, where he attended seventh grade until he killed himself in January 2002, he may as well have been invisible. And in many ways, he was.

“Like he was nothing,” said Melissa Smith, a 14-year-old student at the school, when asked how teachers and classmates regarded Daniel. She testified for the defense in the trial of Daniel’s mother, Judith Scruggs, who was convicted Monday in connection with his suicide. Ms. Scruggs was charged in April 2002, two months after her intent to sue the city had been filed.

Indeed, most school officials did little to halt the grim parade of attacks and indignities foisted upon Daniel. A report after Daniel’s death by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate, which oversees state agencies serving children, said he “seemed to be held responsible for his circumstances.”

The advocate’s report describes a boy who had failed to navigate the byzantine corridors that are middle school. His classmates and teachers said that his clothes were not right, that he smelled bad and that he had virtually no friends.
Only nothing was done about it, because everybody knows middle school is hell on earth, and therefore its miseries are normal, and therefore you aren’t obliged to do anything about them. Besides, he had other problems:
The Meriden police, who investigated his death, described a house knee-deep in clutter, garbage and unwashed dishes. They charged his mother with misdemeanor cruelty and two felony counts of putting her child at risk. She was found guilty of one of the felonies, creating an unhealthy and unsafe home environment. She was acquitted of the cruelty charge and the second felony charge that she put her son at risk by failing to get him proper help when he showed signs of trouble. Although the child advocate’s office found repeated instances of Daniel’s being assaulted at school, the school is not the subject of a criminal investigation. State prosecutors said there were no plans to file criminal charges against it or any of its students.
In the wake of the outcry following Daniel Scruggs’ death, Connecticut passed stiff new laws requiring schools to maintain active anti-bullying policies, and to log and report all such incidents. Nevertheless, the school in question has not been held responsible for anything. On the other hand, Judith Scruggs, Daniel’s mother, was convicted yesteray on one felony count of having put her child at risk by creating a home environment that was unhealthy and unsafe. She faces up to ten years in prison when she’s sentenced next month. You can read about it here. It does sound like the Scruggs family was living in a garbage house. As the NYTimes story said:
The Scruggs home, viewed from the outside, is ordinary, complete with cute decorations, including scarecrows and garden gnomes. But witnesses during the trial testified that the conditions inside the house were a nightmare of dirty clothes, dishes and debris.

“They had to climb over things to get to Daniel’s body in the closet,” Mr. Dinnan said.

Detective Gary Brandl, who led the investigation and testified during the trial, said in an interview that the police did not come to the decision to arrest Ms. Scruggs immediately. “When we first arrived at the house, we thought it was a routine suicide,” he said. “Once we started working the case, our eyes began to open.” Ms. Scruggs was arrested on April 23, 2002, four months after the suicide.

Detective Brandl bristled at the suggestion that the case was simply about a messy house. “Somebody wouldn’t be arrested just because they had a messy house,” he said, adding that in 22 years as a police officer this was among the worst-kept homes he had ever seen.

“It was disgusting, absolutely disgusting,” he said. “It is a tragedy that he took his own life, but the mother had many opportunities to address some of the major issues and repeatedly failed to do so.”
On the other hand, the story also says:
By the time he killed himself, [Daniel] had missed 44 days of class. He was so frightened of being bullied that he had taken to defecating and urinating in his pants, presumably to get out of school, witnesses said.
According to the jury, the deciding factor was that Mrs. Scruggs had been aware that Daniel was keeping knives—big ones, not little folding pocket knives—plus a homemade spear in his bedroom closet hideout. Mrs. Scruggs said he had his knives and spear because he was terrified of being bullied any further. Here’s the end of the AP version:
Judith Scruggs acknowledged Daniel would sometimes have body odor or bad breath and would soil himself to get out of going to school. She said she frequently told Daniel to take showers, but insisted she could not force him to do so.

Scruggs told police Daniel was afraid of bullies who had kicked and punched him, and he kept knives in his closet out of fear.

“These were not just pocket knives they were talking about. They were pretty big blades,” said Thomas Diaz, the jury’s foreman. …

“I definitely didn’t think she did enough. You just don’t let things go,” juror Vinny Giardina said.

Prosecutors said they took no joy in charging a grieving mother, but felt a jury should decide whether Scruggs’ actions contributed to the boy’s death. They presented evidence that there was barely room to move around the home because of clutter, the kitchen was full of dirty dishes and the toilet, bathroom sink and tub were soiled.

“Parents are responsible for the care and welfare of their children and must ensure their basic medical, emotional and psychological needs are satisfied,” prosecutor James Dinnan said.

Norris, who had called the boy’s death a case of “Bullycide,” said prosecutors never provided evidence linking the condition of the home to the suicide. He portrayed Judith Scruggs as a loving single mother who worked two jobs — full-time as a teacher’s aide in Daniel’s school and part-time at a discount store.
Christ, they all needed help, and none of them got it.

I must pause here to observe that many children survive being raised in garbage houses; and many children who are raised in perfectly orderly households but who are being bullied at school become severely depressed. Some of them commit suicide. In Daniel Scruggs’ age bracket, if you look at the stats for completed (as opposed to attempted) suicides, boys off themselves four to six times as often as girls.

And one other observation. Some of you may recall a post I did some time back about animal hoarding, garbage houses, and OCD. I’m not sure how clear it was at the time that many of the houses in question also had children or other dependents living in them. What follows is the text that accompanies a page of very vivid photos put together by Tufts University’s program on hoarding. The italics are mine.
The photographs on this page are meant to be representative of the conditions seen in animal hoarding. Although the newspaper and press coverage provides some idea of the conditions, it is difficult to appreciate how extreme the situation can get. In many cases, dwellings must be condemned and bulldozed because they are unfit for human habitation and are beyond repair. The dwellings pictures were all occupied by both people and animals. In some cases, the occupants were able to live double lives, holding down full-time jobs, with little clue as to their home situation. Hoarding behavior knows no socioecomonic or class boundaries. Although the stereotype is an older woman living alone with little social contact, this behavior has been discovered even among health care professionals, including veterinarians. In many cases of hoarding, dependent human victims of the hoarding (including children) were helped only because animal protection groups drew attention to the situation because of their rescue of the animal victims.
Comments on J. Daniel Scruggs:
#1 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 12:47 AM:

What seems a bit unlikely is that these photos are actually _representative_ of the results of animal hoarding. I do think it's likely that they're a bit on the extreme end. Not that I haven't seen things that approach (say about 10% as bad) among friends....

Unless their definition of hoarding is actually extreme.

They're really bad. I can't say I've seen worse. But I question the use of the term "representative". Putting on my statistical hat -- sample size? Range? It's almost as bad as the question of how you'd actually design a sample good enough to capture most of the variation in the human genome....

All that said, the pics are gutwrenching in part because I've seen things that are in that direction. And there's a parallel here to another thread in which people are talking about those who might choose to be homeless, or live very close to the edge of that. I won't go into my current living situation, except to say that the kindness of others sometimes goes much farther than I might think.

Cheers,
Tom

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 12:59 AM:

Tom, I'm afraid they're fairly typical of end-state animal hoarding sites. That's why some of the houses have to be bulldozed or burned afterwards: there's no cleaning them up. Go read my original post on hoarding and follow the links.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 01:05 AM:

I did -- that's why I'm just questioning. Agreed that these are end-state conditions -- I'm wondering what happens in the middle, where interventions can be more useful. Representative of the end-state I'm willing to believe -- representative of the problem, that's harder for me to swallow. Because the problem is a lot larger than the end state. Odd parallel, throw it out if it doesn't work for you -- living with HIV is very different from having AIDS. But they're aspects of the same problem (assuming HIV is the cause, etc. -- the metaphor is likely to work whether that's true or not, just have different resonances, and I do think it's pretty likely to be true).

Can you tell I'm in a down mood tonight?

Cheers,
Tom

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 01:15 AM:

Yes. Don't follow all those links tonight.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 01:18 AM:

Click on MORE at the bottom of the Particles list and read cheerful-looking Particles links instead.

#6 ::: Kim Stagg ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 01:52 AM:

Oh my gosh, my heart goes out to his poor boy. The conditions described are horrible! When I was growing up, someone was found to be a hoarder and the local press went crazy. I remember seeing the house and reading the papers. It was one of the saddest and most disturbing things I had ever seen. What kind of help can these people get?

#7 ::: mattH ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 02:21 AM:

My heart goes out to his mother. Being held responsible for his death, with little or no substantive connection, it's horrible. It's also seemed that the jury was looking to blame someone, and she happened to be the one who was brought to them.

#8 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 03:24 AM:

My mum's a pack rat (no, not nearly an end-state hoarder: but I recognise the pattern...) and I was bullied in school. I didn't mind living in a cluttered, messy house - but there were times when I'd have pled sick to stay out of school. (Didn't work.)

#9 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 06:43 AM:

It makes me so angry that they are blaming his mother. She was working two jobs to support her family; no mother should have to go through that. How could she possibly have the time or energy to do what needed to be done? Someone should have stepped in to help the mother, and the son.

I was teased in junior high (and a little bit in high school), and what amazed and baffled me is that it would sometimes occur literally right under the teachers' noses and they did NOTHING to stop it. They didn't say a word. I felt like I was living under Plexiglas. If they could see it, why didn't they say anything about it?

Once in elementary school I was being picked on by some kids at lunch and went to an aide for help. She admonished me not to "tattle."

I have never understood the extreme reluctance adults have for intervening in the lives of children. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

#10 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 07:08 AM:

mattH, the mother didn't "happen" to be the one who was brought to the jury to be blamed. She was the one who was weak enough to be attacked--the school wasn't, and apparently neither were the bullies or their parents.

I think I see Tom's point--there can be easy slippage in the news from the ordinary problem to the extreme cases.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 07:21 AM:

Yonmei, I have some dear friends who keep a very messy house, but are raising extraordinary kids in it. These friends commonly work long hours. They only have so much time left over. If the amount of loving, devoted effort they put into their children were instead applied to their house, it would probably be in pretty good shape -- and no one would say a word to them about their priorities.

Sometimes I wonder how much our society actually likes kids.

#12 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 10:19 AM:

Sometimes I wonder how much our society actually likes kids.

That answer, sadly, is "not very damn much."

Which is why I get pissed every time some pundit starts moaning about all the things we should do "for our children" - the Jesus Castillo debacle being only one recent case in point.

Adult comics? Omigod, think of the children! But if some poor misfit's being bullied quite literally to death - hey, life's tough, right? Kids just hafta learn to cope.

What a fucked-up world.

#13 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 10:30 AM:

"mattH, the mother didn't "happen" to be the one who was brought to the jury to be blamed. She was the one who was weak enough to be attacked--the school wasn't, and apparently neither were the bullies or their parents."

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on October 8, 2003 07:08 AM

Nancy, you've been putting out perceptive posts for many years now (I remember your name from rec.arts.sf.written), but this might be in your top 10. Elegant and cutting to the heart - the bullying just moved up one level.

#14 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 10:59 AM:

I think we can all see such parallels in our own lives. I was that 63 pound 12 year old. A friend's uncle was a hoarder of extreme measures - once, he had to be hospitalized, and when they went into his house, they found whole rooms packed floor to ceiling with newspapers and garbage he and his wife picked up on the side of the road.

As for the bullying, I experienced that, too. At my school, because I was one of the "hoods", the administration actually encouraged the jocks to bully us so as to provoke us into suspendable or expellable actions. It would have been very lonely and difficult without kindred spirits.

#15 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 12:46 PM:

You know the mother had to have been getting minimal pay and benefits from Wal-mart. Working long hours at 2 jobs can have a lot to do with lack of attention to housekeeping.
but you can't blame someone for someone else's suicide unless they actively allowed or abetted the situation---e.g., Dr. kevorkian, or, say, not calling an ambulance for several hours when you know someone took an overdose of pills. the mother obviously has her problems, but she's a scapegoat. If they're going to lock her up for havinng a sink full of dirty dishes...(better not give Mayor Bloomberg any ideas).
And in my experience, bullyinng generally goes on in schools that are negligent about it or encourage it. To a certain extent, it's good to let kids fight their own battles; but part of the responsibility of a school administrator is to deal with stuations that have gone beyond the "boys will be boys" level. You can be sure that at least some of the teachers were quite aware of the general situation and did nothing about it. if anyone deserves to go to jail, it's the principal...

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 05:26 PM:

I really disagree. Her neglect contributed to his isolation. If he was soiling himself at school, don't you think she could have noticed?

And her house went way beyond "a sinkful of dirty dishes."

Not that I exonerate the school, not by a long shot. And what about all the people who could have called Child Protective Services or the equivalent? No one knew about the conditions he was living in?

It's all very well to say "she was working two jobs to support him." Sorry, if she couldn't care for him any better than that, she had a moral responsibility to get help -- for him and/or for herself, up to and including surrendering him to the foster care system if need be. (No, I don't think that's a great place either; just better than being dead.)

I agree, in part, with Nancy's post above. She was arrested because she was targetable, not because she was the only one to blame. BUT she cannot be considered blameless: parents have the PRIMARY responsibility to see to the health and safety of their kids. The unjust thing was not her arrest, but the LACK of arrests in other areas.

#17 ::: Someone ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 05:33 PM:

I went to a meeting with teachers and counselor at my son's school last week. The P.E. teacher described my son's experience in P.E. as "daily mental rape" and recommended that they put him in another class. What amazed and outraged me was that the "solution" was for me to get a note from his psychiatrist excusing him from P.E., as if the fact that he was not very coordinated and was being subject to "daily mental rape" because of it was his fault, or maybe mine for not teaching him how to run properly or something. We asked whether he could do an "independent study" contract for P.E., and the counselor said, rather snottily, "We only do that for the four olympic-track athletes that we have at the school." Fucking-hell, like my son isn't worthy of the same deal that the "olympic-track" athletes get. I thought moving to a neighborhood with the alleged good schools would be the right thing, but they turn out to be run by pompous jackasses. Grr, it makes my blood boil.

#18 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 05:53 PM:

It's stories like this that make me eternally grateful to have my job.

I work for Bear Valley Healthy Start, a rural cooperative funded by the local school district, California's Healthy Start and First 5 programs (via First 5 San Bernardino) and the San Bernardino County's Promoting Safe and Stable Families program. We provide pre-schoolers and elementary school kids with Family Advisors who provide counseling, socialization groups and sometimes just someone to talk to.

We work very closely with our in-school health aides, teachers and parents as well as other resources in the community, helping people deal with problems from divorce or death in the family to domestic abuse to homelessness to not having a warm jacket or a pair of shoes that fit.

One of our most beautiful success stories was an 8 year old boy who couldn't control his bowels in class. He was mocked and shunned by other students and disliked by teachers who thought he was just "acting out for attention." Word got to the school nurse who checked his medical file and found out he had spinal bifida -- he literally could NOT control his bodily functions.

We contacted his parents, helped them get low-cost medical insurance through a state program, and kept checking to make sure they followed up with doctor appointments. We set up routines with the health aide to help him work on control. On the social side, we invited the boy to join one our of lunch groups, where a half dozen kids of about the same age would have lunch with a Family Advisor.

Within six months, his "accidents" had dropped to nearly none. Within a year, he was a normal kid, playing on the playground with his new friends.

We hope to find out within the next few weeks whether or not we'll be awarded a grant to allow us to extend our services to the middle school and high school.

Just wanted to bring in a small ray of hope amidst the horror and dispair.

#19 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 06:28 PM:

There's plenty of blame to go around, if we want to lay any at all, but I'm on the compassion and horror side of the ledger myself.

I feel bad for the kid, and his mother, and the overburdened teachers, and everybody who tried to help but didn't know how or didn't succeed.

Rachel, (or anyone else) what advice do you have for "ordinary folks" who would like to be part of the solution?

#20 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 06:59 PM:

Xopher, I agree that the house went way beyond "a sinkful of dirty dishes". But then... so does the mess in my house, some days. (No, not as bad as described. But not good.) When I'm depressed and working long hours (so that when I get home I have neither the physical nor the mental energy to do anything but sit down and play on the Internet or watch TV or re-read a thrice-read novel) I don't tend to pick up stuff. I don't tend to pay attention to much outside the basics. And fortunately for me, my only dependents are two cats.

Daniel's mother needed help almost as much as he did. Neither of them got it.

Sorry, if she couldn't care for him any better than that, she had a moral responsibility to get help -- for him and/or for herself

Where was she supposed to get help? A serious question. What it seems (from a way distance away) she needed was to be able to quit working two jobs with long hours just to get by, counselling to deal with (what looks like to me) serious depression, someone to help her clear up her home, and support in fighting the school to make them do something to protect her son from the bullies. (That's just my guesslist: feel free to alter or add anything to it.) Now tell me (I'm not American) where should she have gone to get (a) more money (or at least, the same money) with less hours (b) free counselling (c) free home help (d) moral support to help fight the school?

up to and including surrendering him to the foster care system if need be. (No, I don't think that's a great place either; just better than being dead.)

What makes you think surrendering hin to the foster care service would have prevented him from committing suicide? Seriously. He was being bullied at school to the extent that he felt unable to do anything but die. Why would removing him from his home make him want to live?

BUT she cannot be considered blameless: parents have the PRIMARY responsibility to see to the health and safety of their kids.

Primary responsibility falls on parents. Father in jail, mother unable to cope and not getting help. Where primary responsibility fails, secondary responsibility is to blame when it also fails. Yes?

The unjust thing was not her arrest, but the LACK of arrests in other areas.

Arresting her was completely futile. Just or unjust, not really to the point: just futile. Sending a mother to jail because her only son has committed suicide because he was being bullied at school is a new record - it stands above all other jail sentences I have ever heard of as utterly, completely pointless. (My standard "zero point" of pointless sentencing is sentencing people to jail because they have not paid their TV licence. This is somewhere around minus 5, I think. Maybe minus 6.)

#21 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 07:36 PM:

Xopher wrote: Not that I exonerate the school, not by a long shot. And what about all the people who could have called Child Protective Services or the equivalent? No one knew about the conditions he was living in?

Not to excuse her behavior, but to provide clarification: Child Protective Services varies from state to state, but as I know it the Child Protective Services people can only start work on cases when they know there's something up already--a neighbor or friend tips them off.

If the mother was working a full and part-time job, she probably didn't have many friends over. If the kid was being bullied every day at school, he probably didn't have any friends to invite home. If the outside of the house was kept clean, and it's anything like the suburb I live in, the only thing that would ever have stopped daily at the house would be the mail delivery truck, 15 feet away from the living room. No one would have noticed.

It is very probable that no one could have known.
The teachers, maybe, would have thought it odd that he had ill-fitting clothes that smelled. But they wouldn't have done anything about it. Ill-fitting clothes and faint odors don't concern teachers if someone could have bullied the boy in front of them and it didn't make them bat an eye. Most of the time they would probably have forgotten his existance as one of those quiet children who cling to the wall.

#22 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 08:03 PM:

The mother was working two jobs to keep her kids indoors. After seeing what the system was doing for her child, perhaps that's all she thought she could do.

A single mother working 60+ hours a week would have to be a hero to find a way to advocate for a child who the system was complicit in abusing. This mother wasn't that much of a hero. Probably she was also depressed and feeling helpless.

I find it very, very odd that a child who missed literally months of school because of bullying, whose teachers made him clean it up when someone spit on him, and who told the truant officer why he didn't feel able to go to school, died because of bad housekeeping.

#23 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 08:30 PM:


Until her son's suicide, she was working at his school.

"She lost a well-paying job with benefits as a paraprofessional at Washington Middle School in Meriden, the school Daniel attended."

http://www.ctnow.com/news/local/hc-scruggs1008.artoct08,1,1449947.story?coll=hc-headlines-local

#24 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 08:33 PM:

I find it interesting that the mother was charged only after she sued the school system for allowing the child's death.

#25 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 08:56 PM:

"She lost a well-paying job with benefits as a paraprofessional at Washington Middle School in Meriden, the school Daniel attended."

Oh, terrific. So if she had advocated for her son she could have lost her job.

Hey, good work, jury.

#26 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 12:02 AM:

Sometimes I wonder how much our society actually likes kids.

Sometimes I wonder how much it actually likes mothers.

#27 ::: S. Ann Ran ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 12:42 AM:

It tells me something, TNH, that the first words you wrote were The kid was twelve. And for all the comments on bullying and teasing, has anyone else here come close to suiciding because of it? I have only noticed one mention of personal bullying... and not near the problems I had. Have. I am not saying it still happens in my life, merely that that teasing--such a small word for such a heinous act--reverberates in my life today.

I was eleven, had been teased for various reasons--mainly because I would react and cry--since kindergarten. Sixth grade, and a classic sign of "crying for attenting"--my grades dropped. I wasn't turning math homework, teacher knew I knew the stuff as I aced the quizzes, and my parents watched me do the homework. It simply wasn't going from my home to my school. No one noticed. And any time I asked the school to help me in any capacity I was told to simply ignore the teasing. And if this seems a little dry to anyone reading this, sorry, I tend to do that when trying to refrain from extensive cursing.

I was fighting with my mother at home, her work was causing her stress, and as eldest kid, I was a very viable target. And there was problems in the family--a first cousin got pregnant, and Mom did not find out from the cousin's mom (her middle sister), but from the youngest sister. Stress meet target. That boy hung himself. And all I can think is, he's brave. Hanging, unless you're heavy enough to snap your own neck--at 63 pounds he wasn't--you suffocate to death. I was going to use my Dad's handgun that I had found, plus the bullets that he kept, correctly, in a separate place. When you're hurting like Daniel and I were, you don't want anymore pain, but you want it to end.

I never did shoot myself, I'm not exactly sure why. We were studying the Holocaust in Sunday School that year (I'm Jewish), maybe the suffering I was reading sunk in, along with the will to survive. I promised myself I would review my life at my 13th birthday, and decide again whether I wanted to go on. If yes, decide again at 16. Then 18. I still have my 21st birthday to get through in a little more than six months.

They never will punish those kids. I know from experience. The only punishment any of the kids I was teased by got was from my own tears and words and hurt. I wrote a poem in high school, some ten quatrains long that I got permission to read to my English class, which wouldn't you know, held some of earliest teasers. It was me, in that narrative poem I read to them, about the pain, and I looked in their eyes as I read it. And I made sure they understood it was me and that the bullies were them. And by that time they were old enough to understand the shit they put me through. See, to me, the greatest punishment would be for those kids to understand exactly the extent of their crime against Daniel. As young as they are, it isn't going to happen now. And without Daniel, it may never happen. I barely got through to some of the boys who teased me; few people who haven't undergone this understand to what depths it hurts you.

Worst thing of mine and Daniel's situation is no one takes notice until it is too late. Daniel's dead. Me, my own parents didn't realize how bad it had gotten until I screamed it in a fight two years later. People, don't keep silent, and think that the kids are handling it fine; when I was with my folks, I was a normal kid, but I hurt for six years before making my stance, if only my mind, that they weren't going to hurt me anymore.

If I sound bitter, I'm sorry. If I sound fanatical on the subject, I have reason to be.

#28 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 02:01 AM:

S. Ann: No, I never came close to suicide; and looking back, each time as the situation escalated, it finally got bad enough to trigger adult radar. Understand, it was pretty bad from my POV for quite some time before that: but no adult at my school, or in a couple of other situations, let it slide once it had visibly gone beyond "just teasing".

Two girls got hauled up in front of the headteacher because they were punching me in the classroom: if they'd stuck to whispering names, nothing would have happened (I speak from experience). Hitting and damage to property seems to be the point at which adults at my school at the time I went there realise "just teasing" is actually bullying: but then, I was a girl - and I suspect that a teacher might register a boy hitting another boy as "fighting" rather than "bullying" if they are both roughly the same size.

Officially, British schools are much tougher on bullying now than they used to be. All kinds of name-calling (racist, sexist, homophobic, sectarian) are now recognised as a form of bullying that equally needs to be stopped as much as outright violence. In fact, while racism is recognised as important, and sectarianism runs a close second (at least in Scotland), sexism and homophobia are still regarded as perfectly normal; a boy being called a poof or a girl being called a dyke will not arouse the same kind of teacherly wrath as racist or sectarian abuse - and sexist bullying is still pretty much completely invisible.

#29 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 03:57 AM:

"I was teased in junior high (and a little bit in high school), and what amazed and baffled me is that it would sometimes occur literally right under the teachers' noses and they did NOTHING to stop it. They didn't say a word. I felt like I was living under Plexiglas. If they could see it, why didn't they say anything about it?"

Because they supported it, of course. Silent participants. It is amazing how many people think that this is healthy. And it doesn't stop in high school; the way some professional schools treat their students is similar. Or even school at all--look at how Schwarzennegger has treated people under his authority.

Ever hated someone in the "caring" professions? I have. Somewhere, there's a really bad psychologist and wannabe guru who owes me about half my adult life back.

#30 ::: mattH ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 05:00 AM:

Nancy, I'm sorry that I and my posting style are not well known here. I understand the less-than-random targeting of Judith Scruggs to the exclusion of the other possible, and more deserving, targets. Sorry I didn't indicate as much. Even if it hadn't garnered national media attention she would have been treated exactly the same. A big part of my frustration is that she was punished in large part for failing to fufill sterotypical "maternal" responsibilities, and the implication that she must not have been much of a parent when it mattered most.

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 02:28 PM:

What makes you think surrendering him to the foster care service would have prevented him from committing suicide? Seriously. He was being bullied at school to the extent that he felt unable to do anything but die. Why would removing him from his home make him want to live?

Perhaps experienced foster parents might have noticed he was soiling himself at school each day. Likely they would not have been able to get away with squalid living conditions, either (though there are always horror stories). Removing him from his home would not have made him want to live -- it just might have taken away some of the reasons he wanted to die.

Where primary responsibility fails, secondary responsibility is to blame when it also fails. Yes?

Yes. That's what I meant by "I'm not exonerating the school, not by a long shot."

#32 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 03:30 PM:

Perhaps experienced foster parents might have noticed he was soiling himself at school each day.

I'd place that onus on experienced, or even rank amateur, teachers-- they're at the school.

His mother did notice he was soiling himself regularly, though. Perhaps she could have done more than (a) nag him to shower and (b) despair. What I don't understand is how her failure to rise to this challenge is a criminal act, let alone one for which she is solely responsible.

#33 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 04:06 PM:

Perhaps experienced foster parents might have noticed he was soiling himself at school each day.

And might not. Or might not have attributed the correct reason to it.

I will grant you that had J. Daniel Scruggs lucked into exactly the right foster parents, they might have figured out what was going on at school - assuming that they're probably working shorter hours than Judith Scruggs was - in time to act and thus save Daniel's life. But it's evident that was needed was for someone to pay attention to the terrible things that were being done to Daniel at school. He didn't need to be removed from his mother - however overworked - and his home - however squalid - for that to happen.

What I don't understand is how her failure to rise to this challenge is a criminal act, let alone one for which she is solely responsible.

Because that makes everyone else involved feel better.

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 04:10 PM:

Child neglect is a criminal offense. Letting them be dirty is only slightly less serious than letting them go hungry. If she had sole custody (and Dad was in prison, so she probably did), she has the sole parental responsibility.

That said, my comments about not exonerating the school still apply. I still think she was singled out because the other targets were too hard to prosecute. I'm starting to feel that people are not hearing me say that; I've said it several times now.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 04:26 PM:

I think his mother knew he was in trouble. I think there was little or nothing she could do.

First, she was working two jobs. That doesn't leave a lot of time or energy to spare.

Second, there's the matter of her being an employee at the same school her son attended. She was a teacher's aide. They're low on the totem pole, ill-paid and unprotected. Nevertheless, that was her full-time job. Losing it wouldn't just have been a catastrophic loss of income. Any benefits she had would have depended on her keeping it. It could have gone further than that. For all I know, she could have financed her mortgage through the teachers' credit union. But whatever her precise circumstances, it remains that she had far less power to protest on behalf of her son than parents usually have. And as Arthur Hlavaty has pointed out, she was charged only after she sued the school.

Daniel Scruggs knew more about his reasons than anyone else. There's a lot we can infer about his opinions. He was doing everything in his power to stay at home instead of going to school. I have yet to hear of him telling a counselor that he couldn't bear the thought of staying with his mother. Going back to his old school was what bothered him. He didn't deliberately piss himself -- an enormous humiliation for a kid that age -- to keep from having to go home.

If Daniel's mother knew he kept knives in his hideout, she also knew why he kept them, which is more understanding than his school ever managed. And if those knives were such a big signal of suicidal intentions, why didn't Daniel use them when he killed himself? Because he didn't. He hanged himself.

I think his school knew he was in trouble, and didn't care, and didn't act, because they thought he and his mother were powerless. This matters in the public school system whether you have good administrators or bad. Public schools don't have the resources to contest legal actions that don't threaten the integrity of the school system itself. Combative or litigious parents get their way oftener than they should. Some districts or administrators deal justly where they can, and give in where they can't help it. Others more cynically base their decisions on who can and can't fight back.

I think the school district in question is in the latter category. I think they didn't foresee a twelve-year-old killing himself; or, if they did, they didn't anticipate how much clear evidence he'd leave behind of his reasons for doing so.

Daniel repeatedly asked for help. He knew you were supposed to be able to do that, because his mother worked in the system. And given his behavioral symptoms and attendance record, the school would have known he was in trouble whether he said so or not. If they honestly thought his problems were his mother's fault, why didn't they intervene? Furthermore, why did they continue to employ her? It couldn't have been more obvious that one or more member of that family needed help.

These criminal charges are not the usual thing in garbage-house cases. I don't have access to legal databases, but in all my reading on the subject, most of the legal wrangling referred to has been about stuff like cleanup costs or loss of custody. Maybe those bits just didn't make it into the printed version. But there've been garbage house cases where the condition of the household has materially contributed to the death or injury of a dependent living there. I think there'd have been some mention of criminal prosecutions for that; and if there were, I think I would have noticed it.

I don't know whether Connecticut's schools are locally financed. If they are, a liability judgement against the school district would have put a big dent in Meriden's budget.

Daniel's treatment at school had been so appalling that only a few months after his death, the state had passed strict new laws intended to make sure it never happened again. Nevertheless, the prosecution in Judith Scruggs' trial kept the case narrowly focused on her housekeeping. "Odd" is the least I can call that.

#36 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 04:39 PM:

Nice synchronicity:

An MSNBC story about the discovery of part of the brain that becomes active when a person recieves a social snub . . . and speculation that this stimulation is as unpleasant as actual physical pain:

http://www.msnbc.com/news/978061.asp?0dm=C11MT

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 04:47 PM:

Christopher, I know she was responsible. But usually this kind of thing has to get really, really bad -- and the parent or guardian has to reject attempts to help -- before anyone thinks of bringing criminal charges.

As that last quote said in my initial post, it's fairly common for the plight of human dependents living with animal hoarders to be brought to the attention of the authorities by the animal rescue organizations.

You could say, justly, that we understand violent physical abuse better than we understand neglect. That's a problem. Neglect is by far the commonest form of child abuse. But I don't think that's what this is about. The main thing the school's neglect of Daniel when he was alive has in common with the criminal prosecution of his mother after his death is that both are the cheap and easy options.

#38 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 05:00 PM:

Well, Teresa, I think the fact that he frequently slept in the his closet with his knives says something about how comfortable he felt at home. Most people don't sleep in closets with weapons. They sleep in beds. Did he bring his knives to school? I think where he kept his weapons is rather important.

Also, he was almost certainly was bullied in part because he smelled. NO I don't think bullying is right, but one way to stop it is remove whatever it is you're bullied for. Smelling funny is fatal in teen groups. The responsibility for clean clothes and body lies with the parent. Also, was he poorly socialized?

And, I know someone whose parents were quasi-animal collectors. When a home is too full of dirty dishes to get to the stove (as my freind's home was), then food is not cooked. If food is not cooked, then food is not eaten. The boy was listed as being exceptionally small. Malnutrition maybe? Nutritional deficiences can cause mood problems. Could he have made friends and invited them into the home when it was like that? Friends are another bully deterrent.

I am not saying it's all the mom's fault. I think the school is at fault, oh yeah. Tons of fault to go around.

But parents bear primary responsibility for their children's needs, in my book. If she was part of the school system, she knew she could contact child protective services herself, and hand over her child. If I was in her shoes, I would have. Clean clothes and meals, and supervision are all things she seems to have been unable to provide.

Yes, I feel sorry for lots of working single mothers with few resources and a hard road. But my mother, who worked for very little money for years, would never have let me soil myself without doing SOMETHING besides nag me to take a shower.

I think it's very sad.

-Elizabeth

#39 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 05:02 PM:

Teresa, you say, "These criminal charges are not the usual thing in garbage-house cases. I don't have access to legal databases, but in all my reading on the subject, most of the legal wrangling referred to has been about stuff like cleanup costs or loss of custody."

That's different.

That's about property values--of course the legal system responded to that--or billable hours for divorce attorneys. This is the stuff that lawyers' dreams are made of.

But who was going to make a buck saving this kid?

For the second time this week, I'll quote Lemuel Pratt (a clear sign I give a damn, or maybe that I'm pissed off, is that I start quoting fictional characters, and this quote in particular). It's not on point, perhaps, unless one considers childrearing work (as a parent of seventeen weeks and one day, I assure you it is) allocated by society (an arguable proposition which I support):

"The way a civilization produces its goods and allocates its work is the most sincere expression of its moral character."

#40 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 06:56 PM:

Rachel, (or anyone else) what advice do you have for "ordinary folks" who would like to be part of the solution?

If you're a parent, I highly recommend becoming involved in your child's district: volunteering, becoming part of the booster club, etc. I know it's difficult in today's world to juggle working and home life, trying to pay bills, yet I find it sad how many parents don't realize how important it is to be involved. This also offers an opportunity to network with other parents and find out if they're experiencing or have heard of problems as well.

If your child is the victim of bullying and the school system seems to be trying to sweep it under the rug, keep taking it to higher levels in the district. Heck, for myself, if the situation warrants it, I always consider going to the media as a viable alternative. The down side of this is that, although you might win a battle this way, you might make an enemy of the district, which is why networking with other parents (and teachers) is helpful.

I don't know any other advice to offer. We're in the process of setting ourselves as a Model Program, meaning we're documenting what we do and how to do it with an eye to helping other groups develop similar programs throughout the nation. Fingers crossed....

#41 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 07:14 PM:

spacewaitress - I was teased in elementary school and junior high and I think there were a lot of reasons why adults back then didn't intervene. I think some of the adults thought it would just be worse on the kids if they intervened -- I know *I* was sure that things would be worse for me if I broke the Kids' Blue Wall Of Silence and tattled to a teacher or some other authority figure.

Maybe the authorities were right to file criminal charges against the mother. I don't know. But even so, we can still feel compassion for this woman who was handed an enormous burden in life -- working two jobs, and CRAPPY jobs at that, raising a son alone -- not just a son, but a TROUBLED son -- husband in prison -- and found it too much to bear.

By the way, this is one of the things that I find most appalling about some conservatives' agendas, the notion that it's weak to be compassionate toward criminals, even if we also accept the need to punish them.

Robert L.: "And in my experience, bullyinng generally goes on in schools that are negligent about it or encourage it. To a certain extent, it's good to let kids fight their own battles; but part of the responsibility of a school administrator is to deal with stuations that have gone beyond the "boys will be boys" level. You can be sure that at least some of the teachers were quite aware of the general situation and did nothing about it. if anyone deserves to go to jail, it's the principal... "

That's very perceptive. Bear in mind that this kid wasn't JUST being teased, or having his nose bloodied in playground squabbles. He was being THROWN DOWN THE STAIRS. Throwing someone down the stairs isn't just roughhousing, it's attempted murder.

Debbie Notkin: "There's plenty of blame to go around, if we want to lay any at all, but I'm on the compassion and horror side of the ledger myself."

I agree.

Julia: "The mother was working two jobs to keep her kids indoors. After seeing what the system was doing for her child, perhaps that's all she thought she could do.

"A single mother working 60+ hours a week would have to be a hero to find a way to advocate for a child who the system was complicit in abusing. This mother wasn't that much of a hero. Probably she was also depressed and feeling helpless."

Perhaps the mother would have sought counseling for herself and her son, cleaned up the house, and taken other steps if she'd just had five minutes to sit down and think. But she was working those two crappy jobs, coming home to a squalid house and a broken son -- I can see where she might never have had those five minutes.

Perhaps this whole tragedy would have been averted if the mother could've just gone off to a retreat somewhere, spent two weeks in the woods in silent meditation, eating three squares a day, sleeping in a clean bed in a clean cabin that SOMEONE ELSE cleaned up. I'm not kidding about this -- I read that article and I see a woman who NEVER GOT AN OPPORTUNITY TO STOP AND THINK.

Sometimes when I need to think about life and stuff I just get in my car and drive for a couple of hours. Doesn't matter where. Sometimes I listen to the radio, sometimes I don't. Just being on the road helps me sort things out.

I can't imagine this woman ever had that opportunity.

S. Ann Ran: "They never will punish those kids. I know from experience. The only punishment any of the kids I was teased by got was from my own tears and words and hurt. I wrote a poem in high school, some ten quatrains long that I got permission to read to my English class, which wouldn't you know, held some of earliest teasers. It was me, in that narrative poem I read to them, about the pain, and I looked in their eyes as I read it. And I made sure they understood it was me and that the bullies were them. And by that time they were old enough to understand the shit they put me through. See, to me, the greatest punishment would be for those kids to understand exactly the extent of their crime against Daniel. As young as they are, it isn't going to happen now. And without Daniel, it may never happen. I barely got through to some of the boys who teased me; few people who haven't undergone this understand to what depths it hurts you."

If the people who bullied you understood how much you were hurt by it, many of them would be happy about it. Some people bully other people out of some variety of peer pressure, and they'd feel worse if they knew how much they hurt you -- although I don't think that would stop them. But there are some who simply cause other people pain because it feels good to them.

I'm not trying to be cynical here. As I said earlier, I was bullied in school, and I think now that people -- even children -- are much better than I realized when I was the target of bullying myself.

But some people, even children, are just plain BAD, and other people are weak and allow themselves to be led by the bad ones. Still others find it easier to ignore what's going on in the name of minding their own business.

I think one of the reasons I was bullied as a child is I wanted people to like me. I think if I had a child now who was different and odd and intellectual, I might well send the kid to karate class and tell him to beat the shit out of anybody who gave him a hard time at school. Ten years ago a friend told me that he gave his daughter the following advice: "I don't want you to ever be the first person to hit someone else ... if you do, I'll hit you when I'll get home ... but I don't want you to ever GET HIT without hitting back. If you do, you'll get TWO beatings, one at school, and one from me when you get home." At the time I thought that was a little bit appalling, now I am sympathetic. I was raised by parents who told me that fighting was simply WRONG, and I think things might have been different for me if I'd simply fought back some. Especially since so many of boys' fights aren't really fights, they're just little formal competitions where nobody really gets hurt.

I'm not trying to talk about anyone else's experience in the previous couple of paragraphs, just my own. And I realize that for many kids DO suffer serious injuries in childhood fights.

#42 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 08:48 PM:

I've deleted one potential post for excessive sprawl, and blown away another through careless; there are two points I still think worth mentioning.

Teresa's post suggests the school's neglect is something like a conscious choice. I think it's less than that; people tend to duck trouble automatically. A school bully can be a huge amount of trouble because bullies tend to run in families. Regardless of the circumstances, even good parents are rarely willing to believe their child is at fault; parental bullies can cause a huge amount of trouble for a school with their insistence that it's all(ways) the other children's fault. (Most people duck trouble without thinking about it....) And counseling a bully is not easy even without interference; there are two scenes of this in Etre et Avoir (documentary on a rural French one-room elementary school; now playing in Boston, who knows when it will be near anyone else), and they look like the most difficult task the teacher has.

Mitch comes closest to a point that is clear in comments in the the "Making no one more secure" thread (it drifted...); the worst thing about slow ]social[ drowning is that you don't realize you're drowning until you've lost all the energy you might use trying to get to shore. And you can bet that some of what little energy Judith Scruggs might have had left went to worrying about the prospect of having her child taken from her -- permanently, not just temporarily (yes, it's a Catch-22); if she didn't care enough for that to be a dire threat she wouldn't have been working two jobs.

There are no easy solutions. Perhaps she shouldn't have sued the school. (I'm not sure what she could have sued them for that would have made a real difference -- can a civil jury ]award[ counseling or discipline for teachers or students?) But, more clearly than the school's neglect, the counterattack looks like a conscious step to shift the blame to the person who was already most overloaded; I would love to think something disturbs the prosecuting attorney's sleep, but I wouldn't bet on it.

#43 ::: Isabeau ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 08:51 PM:

I think his school knew he was in trouble, and didn't care, and didn't act, because they thought he and his mother were powerless.

I think his school knew he was in trouble, and didn't care, and didn't act, because they thought he and his mother were white trash.

#44 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 09:16 PM:

CHip -

I think you're making bullshit excuses for the school when you say the neglect isn't concious choice. If the kid's crapping his pants, either there's a serious medical problem or he's really seriously psychologically fucked up. They have a responsibility to address either of those things as serious matters.

#45 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 03:16 AM:

Graydon: I think you're making bullshit excuses for the school when you say the neglect isn't concious choice. If the kid's crapping his pants, either there's a serious medical problem or he's really seriously psychologically fucked up. They have a responsibility to address either of those things as serious matters.

Right. And we have a responsibility to make sure that they have the personnel, the money, and the bandwidth to address serious matters. We're not meeting that responsibility. ("We" refers to U.S. citizens in this case; my memory tickles me with a message that you aren't one, but I am.) Anyway, I don't believe you can hold anyone to a "responsibility" if they don't have the tools to meet that responsibility.

#46 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 08:10 AM:

I was bullied from age 6 to age 10 -when I began to put on a bit of muscle. I bleed forthis kid

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 09:00 AM:

Isabeau, that's one species of total powerlessness. At any rate, they concluded she couldn't make trouble for them.

#48 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 09:54 AM:

Yes, I feel sorry for lots of working single mothers with few resources and a hard road. But my mother, who worked for very little money for years, would never have let me soil myself without doing SOMETHING besides nag me to take a shower.

Elizabeth, with all due respect, you just don't get it. It sounds like your mother was an exceptional, heroic parent, for which you were fortunate, and for which I am sure you are grateful. However, I suggest you go back and re-read the original post, the linked articles, and all the comments. Daniel Scruggs wasn't bullied because he defecated in his pants. He defecated in his pants in order to try to escape the bullying.

It's naive to think that clean clothes and perfect hygiene would have prevented the bullying. Bullies pick on kids who are perceived to be weak or different. It could be not being "properly socialized," but what do you mean by that? In the brutal world of junior high, being anything but a lockstep conformist is enough to make you a target.

Try having a little empathy for this woman and her son. Again, I suggest you re-read the original post and the comments here.

#49 ::: RICHARD B. OLDEHOFF ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 11:16 AM:

TO FURTHER PUNISH MRS. SCRUGGS IS INHUMANE AND CRUEL TREATMENT . IT'S NOT ENOUGH THAT THE WOMAN IS GRIEVING THE LOSS OF HER SON, NOW SHE IS TO BE SENTENCED TO A TERM IN PRISON? HERE IS A WOMAN WHO WORKED TWO JOBS AND MORE TO MAINTAIN A HOUSEHOLD RATHER THAN RELY ON WELFARE. CERTAINLY, WITHOUT ASSISTANCE SHE WOULD EXPERIENCE DIFFICULTIES MAINTAINING A CLEAN RESIDENCE. WHERE , WHEN AND HOW WAS SHE TO SEEK HELP FOR HER SON WHILE SHE WAS WORKING LONG HOURS TO "MAKE ENDS MEET". THIS WOMAN SHOULD BE COMMENDED FOR HER EFFORTS. SHE WAS DOING THE BEST THAT SHE COULD; A LOT MORE THAN ONE WOULD EXPECT FROM SOMEONE IN HER SAD LIFESTYLE. WHAT AN INJUSTICE TO FIND HER SOLELY RESPONSIBLE WHEN SO MANY OTHERS IGNORED THEIR RESPONIBILITIES TO COME TO THE AID OF HER SON. SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

#50 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:21 PM:

Richard, your caps lock key is stuck. However, you point out one thing: the woman was not on Welfare. I wonder if she could have been, or if this boy is another victim of Welfare "reform"?

#51 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:06 PM:

Wow, spacewaitress.

Actually, I did read the whole thread. And the comments. And my empathy is there for the kid. Wholeheartedly. I *get it*.

So, to address your points. Based on what you say, a *normal* single working mother would solve her child soiling his pants by suggesting he shower and taking no further action.

I beg to disagree--a LOT. Yes, my mom was heroic. But she wasn't abnormally heroic. If I soiled my pants at age 12, I would have been hauled to the doctor. I know many single moms, and some single dads--all of em would haul their kid to the doctor. I'm willing to call the moms I know heroic. But taking your child to the doctor (where the resources, for depression, etc, counselling, support, and so on often come from) is NORMAL, even for stressed and overworked moms. She did not do this. So, abnormal and neglectful.

I do not see, and cannot understand, why a parent who is having a hard time is exempt from basic parenting responsibilities. Adults have many more resources, choices, knowlege available to them than children. If she could not provide the *basics* to her child, she should have found someone (including the state) who could. If believing that makes me a callous freak, so be it.

To your next point, will having clean clothes stop the bullying? No.

But as you so correctly point out, anything outside "normal" makes you a potential target. One way to stop being a target is to become as "normal" as possible. Sorry if that's a tough concept (eye roll here).

One way parents protect their children is to provide them the resources to be normal. Maybe the world shouldn't work that way, but it does. And, bluntly, I read that he not only soiled himself but had terribly bad breath. (Maybe you need to read the whole article). That's a hygiene or health problem.

Should bullying be stopped? Yes!!! But it's hard to become well-liked or even accepted if you have extreme halitosis. (Talk about naive, spacewaitress). And a normal parent would try to cure that. To refuse to take action on that is, my opinion, neglectful. How many homeless people do not get jobs because they smell, or look funny, or whatever? A lot. It's why you see so many rehab programs offering soap. The homeless programs don't assume that potential employers will "get over" their dislike of bad breath and reeking skin.

I have a very dear freind who was bullied badly because her clothing always smelled like cat pee or feces. She could not have friends over because the house was so very appalling--animal feces everywhere.

There are actions that parents take--like neglect and poor hygiene---that make their children easy targets.

Yes, it says the boy soiled his pants to escape school. But he was chosen as a victim for some reason before that. One way to reduce being a victim, especially if you cannot control the abusers, is to make yourself a harder target. And I am not blaming any victims, here. I am blaming the parents who are making choices that put their kids at risk. Some abnormalities, like extreme smell, are almost impossible to overcome with other coping mechanisms (e.g., being "nice" or "fun").

My friend with the horrible house learned to do her own laundry. If she hadn't, she never would have had any friends. Please read that carefully, spacewaitress, and ask yourself how many reeking homeless people you are currently friends with.

That kid needed help and his parent chose not to provide it. I refuse to accept the idea that the parent was "unable" due to her work. Maybe due to mental illness, hard to say. But I know way too many other working parents who are able to cope enough to provide the basics to accept overwork as an excuse.

As to your question, "poorly socialized". Did his mother teach him normal human interactions? Model appropriate behavior? Did the kid, as many extremely neglected kids do, act in a way that freaked out other people? Did he know how to play, to talk with others, appropriate distance to stand from someone, yada yada yada. Did he even know how to brush his teeth?

Parents provide their kids with opportunities to socialize with others of their age group and most importantly, model normal human behavior in the home. Kids without that are at an extreme disadvantage, and their parents are to blame.

Finally. I wonder, spacewaitress, whether you have been in a garbage type house. It truly is difficult to create food there. Sometimes the stench is so extreme that it is difficult to eat food brought in (fast food, for example). I base this on personal experience. Do you have any response to my suggestion that the boy may have been malnourished? (This could also add in to the pants soiling, small size, halitosis, not to mention depression.) Do you think being unable to provide food is an act of neglect? I do.

I was surprised to see you ignored my observation about the weapons. If he felt so safe at home, if it was such a refuge, why did he hide in a closet with weapons? Why not hang out in the living room and watch TV?

If he only brought the weapons to school, I could see some reason to believe he only feared school. But he didn't. And, since we're on the subject of hidden and created weapons, owning them for defense at age 12 is a sign of extreme behavior. It's a warning sign that I think any normal parent would heed because of the potential for self injury, even if it only meant a call to a nurse hotline. This is why I understand the jury's decision. I think weapons are a huge enough sign (of something) for any normal parent and taking no action is clear neglect.

As for lack of resources or options. A basic newbie foster parent would at least have provided food, clothing, supervision, and medical care. For do it yourself, free clinics abound, so that would have been an option. So do low cost charity clinics. So does medicaid (covers many kid related things). And hotlines exist for all kinds of things--she was in the system, she'd know (many are posted on walls, break rooms, etc). A normal parent, I maintain, would at least have made a phone call (to 911 if nowhere else) when she spotted weapons. That would have led to some resources, as your average hotline is going to take them as an extreme sign.

You are welcome to consider me callous. But my empathy is all with the kid on this. And, yes, I think the school should have paid and paid dearly, as I believe I said in my first post. But the mother also bears responsibility.

-Elizabeth

#52 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:52 PM:

Elizabeth - You suggest that the mother in this story may have been mentally ill. I would say that she MUST be mentally ill -- her behavior shows it.

Still, let's say the mother is to blame. What do we do about it? Put her through a criminal trial and then throw her in prison? Who is helped there? Bear in mind that criminal trials and prisons are expensive; how many children could we save with that kind of money?

#53 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:54 PM:

Just a comment, from the experience of someone I know, several years ago, here in West Virginia.

When it was reported to child protective services that there was a child/children who was/were the victim of mental and emotional abuse, child services told the reporting individual(s) that they were terribly sorry but unless there was evidence of physical abuse, there was nothing they could do, for they (child protective services) had more cases of children suffering abuse than they could handle.

They simply did not have the people and resources to help children unless there was physical danger.

Perhaps things are different in other areas with greater resources, and perhaps things have changed here in the intervening time, but if things are similar to that experience, it may help to explain how a child slips through the cracks such as happened to J. Daniel Scruggs.

With that experience, knowing that it is possible that the school may have attempted to report the issue and many have been told that there was nothing that could be done, I would probably hold the parent to a far greater degree of responsibility than the school.

As far as bullying goes, I agree with the earlier poster's comments. Nothing will ever truly be done about it, becuase I'm not sure anything can be done. I was lucky enough in high school that the custodian felt sorry for me and let me hide out in his "office" in the boiler room. Every child needs a refuge, it's just too bad that for J. Daniel Scruggs his only refuge was his closet, and that he didn't have anyone who was willing to take steps to help him. (My parents never knew about the bullying I suffered, because I never told them, but they did know I had problems and did what they could to help me.)

#54 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 03:29 PM:

Elizabeth: given the current political climate, I think you're still missing the point. The present power ruling -- not the principles of parenting, but the dominant paradigm right now -- is that making parents work is more important than anything else: child care, training for anything better than the worst work, anything. I would agree with your points if Judith Scruggs were in a beautiful setup (like, say, Toby Maguire's mother in Pleasantville) and her son had suddenly started soiling himself. But she wasn't. She was trying to keep what was left of her family together after her husband was carted off to jail (which would have damaged any social support network she had). She had two crappy jobs, one of them at the bottom of a very hierarchical system and the other trying to wring more performance out of people paid even worse than she was. How long had she been in this fix?

Various moral systems talk about the difference between knowing what is right and doing what is right; not enough of them deal with being able to do what's right. (cf T's sidebar on reframing the tax debate by recognizing that this country should be nurturing rather than Darwinian.)

And Graydon: what Debbie said, with the added note that "To get along, go along" (e.g., don't make waves and above all don't try to push a problem upstairs) is less a cynical comment on Theory X organizations than a fact of life. There are times I think the only solution is to wipe out the mess (of U.S. public schools) and start over -- but that's not unlike what Shrub et al. thought they could do in Iraq. I don't know a solution; I just think that even charging her was reactionary scapegoating by people who should have been trying to work out how to make sure this didn't happen again.

#55 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 04:21 PM:

CHip, I get your point. I just don't agree. Living in a Pleasantville scenario is not required to take certain kinds of basic childcare actions imo. Hauling the kid to a free clinic doctor is free, for example. I am arguing that were resources available (however imperfect). And that she likely knew about them (being a teachers aide). And her son's illness (mental and maybe physical) was screamingly obvious. I see no evidence that she used them. Either due to lack of caring or to mental illness. I don't see her trying to keep her family together the way you do. Our definitions of trying are not the same.

Again, I know many poor people in similar or WORSE work-money circumstances. My family included. MOST choose differently than this woman. Political climate or no. I find the idea that anyone NOT living in a Pleasantville scenario isn't required to provide their children basic services chilling.

And, speaking of political climates, I think a parent who called the police, or CPS, or a teen hotline, or whoever, and claimed that their child had a spear and big knives would get some ball rolling, somewhere. Given the current attitude to preventing school weapon-related violence. Definitely absolutely positively? No. Would it have gotten a home check? Maybe, if only to remove the frickin' spear. And if she kept making calls, I think someone would have been able to help, even if it was only a doctor diagnosing expreme depression and helping the kid with meds or counselling.

The poverty ridden, working, prison-deprived people I know would have kept making calls or going to doctors if their kid exhibited these symptoms.

Mitch. As for the mental illness angle, I hesitate because she held down a job, and could call a lawyer and arrange to sue later. Some people really don't care about their kids. I can't tell if she was one of them from her actions. Maybe she just had disjointed ability to cope due to illness. I still think both are possible.

Either way, I don't think she's a capable parent. What if she has a baby? What if there were siblings? I don't think, if it was me, that I'd push for incarceration unless she had other kids. But then, sorry, but I would. Not to punish her, but to prevent her harming others.

-Elizabeth

#56 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 04:22 PM:

Sigh.

Elizabeth, points taken.

It's so hard. Sometimes I get angry when parents who don't have the resources to raise kids properly go ahead and have kids anyway. My own parents didn't really have the adequate emotional or financial resources to raise kids; when I was born, my mom was 19, and my dad was 16 (and already an alcoholic).

However, people who lack resources can and do have kids all the time.

That being the case, I think we need to do everything we can to help the kids, and the parents.

I think if this kid's mom had been capable of doing more, she would have. But she wasn't capable of doing more. She didn't have the emotional or physical resources to deal with her house and her son's problems. She was just trying to keep a roof over their heads, and, as Mitch Wagner said, probably didn't have "5 minutes to think."

Someone needed to reach out and help this mother and her son. Someone should have intervened a long time ago.

And as for why he was hiding in his closet with his knives and spears, who knows? It might have been because he was afraid of his mom, but I don't think that can necessarily be inferred. Maybe he just felt more secure sleeping in his closet. He was pretty messed up, after all. Maybe he had negative fantasies about the bullies breaking into his house, and felt like he had better be ready to defend himself.

The reason I didn't address it in my original post to you is because it seemed like too ridiculous a point to be worth addressing, and seemed of a piece with your eagerness to lay the lion's share of the blame on the mom.

#57 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 04:25 PM:

Hauling the kid to a free clinic doctor is free, for example.

What if she couldn't get the time off work?

#58 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 05:34 PM:

"That being the case, I think we need to do everything we can to help the kids, and the parents."

I agree.

And I'm sorry that your parents lacked resources and that you suffered for it.

But...at some point, parents must be willing to be helped. Or to ask for help. Or to hand over their children to others. And I think that point ought to come a LOT sooner than actual suicide. And the responsibility for asking for help falls on the parent, not the child.

As for not being able to get off work. I find this objection kind of uneblievable. This went on for a while, she could plan. The parents I know who make minimal efforts are able to cope with setting up and attending a doctor's appointment. And I know plenty who, in emergencies, skip work to go to the ER. It was just one example of many possibilities.

Do you seriously believe that just because she held down two jobs that there was nothing she could do and it was really up to CPS and the schools to figure it out?

Sure, the school is partly to blame. They didn't act to defend their student--they "did little" to quote the article. (Which implies something.)
The schools created the condition of bullying, but all of his depression? I don't think so. And they certainly didn't create his living conditions.

I think our most serious disagreement is about whether she was able to do something. I think there were plenty of things she could have done (should have done) and was able to do. But didn't. All of them within her means. That's why I hold her partly responsible.

And...I will just say this.

I don't think spears, knives, sleeping in closets, extreme body-odor, halitosis, and defecation require "5 minutes to think." I think they are breathtakingly obvious signs of serious crisis.

Again, I think our disagreement is mostly about what standard we hold people to as minimally able. I know way too many people who are poor or overworked and either able to cope (a lot more than she chose to) or who sought help to allow poverty or double jobs to take the blame for this tragedy. I am happy to see her as unwilling to get help (morally whacked), or mentally ill. But not morally normal and mentally normal and unable. If she could manage a Walmart, she could pick up a phone. And to think that this is somehow normal human behavior or an assessment of normal human capacities and priorities on the part of a single mom is (to me) insulting to moms, women--heck, humans everywhere.

As for the weapons, well obviously I don't think they're ridiculous. Some people seem so eager to lay praise on the woman for at least providing him physical shelter. I think, if he's hiding in his closet with a homemade spear, and a front area full of reeking garbage, dishes, and junk, then maybe that effort needs to be reassessed.

I just don't see that she provided him with any of the necessities. And I see it as her responsibility. And I don't see working two jobs as an excuse. And I see neglect as a serious crime.

I wish CPS or the school or a neighbor had intervened and taken the kid away and gotten him what he needed, and either tossed her in prison or gotten her psychiatric help, depending on what was wrong with her. Obviously not a popular opinion.

-Elizabeth

#59 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 05:47 PM:

Elizabeth, I don't have much first-hand knowledge of what would have happened if the mother had called the police to report that her 12 year old son had a stash of weapons, but my hunch is that it quite possibly could have made the situation worse. I can see three possible outcomes, I don't know their relative likelyhood:

1) the authorities intervene in a helpful way, the kid gets the help he needs, everyone's better off.

2) the authorities intervene in a negative way, and the kid ends up in the "juvenile justice" system, facing even nastier bullies, and the mother might also get in trouble.

3) the authorities do their best not to get involved.

Given that the school was already taking course #3, might the mother have thought that the odds of #2 outweighed the odds of #1?

The fact that the mother is being sentenced to prison suggests that some parts of the system are more punitive than helpful.

I'm not saying the mother shouldn't have asked for help, but sometimes when you're in a bad situation, asking for help can seem riskier than trying to cope with it yourself.

#60 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 06:07 PM:

I was checking out recent activity on the main Tufts University web pages this afternoon as part of the follow-up to having started replacing web servers here, and got a chuckle from this page in nielsenhayden.com being tagged as a leading "Interesting" referer in the log file summary reports.

It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to back it up.

#61 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 06:34 AM:

Elizabeth, you don't know jack.

My bidness partner did 20+ years in clinical practice with developmentally disabled children, and when anybody brings up, say, school vouchers, she says that people don't understand, that they assume that all parents have an equal ability to advocate for their children.

This woman had no resources, no support network.

Sure there are free clinics...in some places. Connecticut is maybe better than other places. But getting low-income parents to bring their children to doctor's appointments is an uphill battle. There are so many obstacles in their way: inflexible work schedules, transportation problems.

And for God's sake, hasn't the woman suffered enough? My sister died 35 years ago in a freak accident, and my mom hasn't been a bit right since. There's no greater pain than burying your child97what is left for the state to punish her for? What can they do to her that she won't do to herself?

#62 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 09:29 AM:

What has been bugging me about the peculiar brand of justice documented in this story finally landed in my brain, and (of course) it's another quote from the same fictional author, Lemuel Pratt:

"The only crime of legitimate interest to society is the one that may yet be prevented."

Whether that woman could've done better--or, at least, done differently--I don't know. I can't see how she is going to do any harm in the future, though. Locking her up is a futile gesture.

I guarantee you, though, that just last week, at least one child at that school suffered due to the same sort of (let me be generous) carelessness that contributed to J. Daniel Scruggs' death.

Focusing on punishing (or justifying) this woman, pro or con, is avoiding the real issue. That's my government and my tax money running those schools and that Child Protective Service. Had that government been doing what it should have been doing, there would have been better treatment at school and some form of intervention at the home.

We live in a world full of damaged souls, and goodness knows, I'd love to help each one--we should help them--but I'm even more avid to stop damaging them.

#63 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 11:27 AM:

Elizabeth: (a lot more than she chose to)

That's the point you missed in my post. "Mental illness" might or might not be stretchable to cover her case, but she was clearly heavily stressed; your faith that she chose not to cope is touching -- but not likely to be touching reality.

This is no insult, despite your claim, to all the people you know who coped. Have you tried plotting what each of them had for a support system? And how sustained that support system was when their personal gales hit?

Heinlein, in one of his rare humanist comments, had a character say -"People are all right, mostly, as long as you don't strain 'em more than they're built for."- How can you know and compare what stresses your examples and Judith Scruggs were "built for" -- and trained up to?

I tend to agree with your opinion that some people shouldn't have children, or shouldn't have children in some situations -- but we don't know what her situation was thirteen years ago when Daniel was conceived. (And with Bush Sr. in charge, her chances of choosing if she realized she should choose not to would have been seriously reduced.) And I don't think ultimate stress testing in advance is a good solution either; "The Education of Tigress McArdle" shows that, and its consequences(*). Most people acquire, from their social matrices and not consciously, some fragment of the sort of I-can-survive-this-stress training that groups like Outward Bound provide formally and stepwise, but absent testing you can't tell in advance how far they can be stressed without starting to flake or fracture.

hamletta's "Pratt" quote has the right of the matter. Blame solves nothing, and the formal blame of a trial can actually be counterproductive; it makes people feel like they've done something good and can now go about their ordinary business, like the fish St. Anthony preached to -- or worse, like the beings who briefly flagellated themselves, then went on beating their slaves in "Silent in Gehenna". (How many of the jurors who convicted Scruggs had voted against tax increases that might have staffed the school better or paid her enough that she didn't need to take a second job?)

I can hear you saying I'm blaming society. I'm not; the one finger I point is at individuals who may have made selfish choices when they had more slack than Scruggs did. (Yes, I'm entitled to say this; I voted in favor of a graduated income tax that would have raised what I paid.</smug>)

It's all very well to say, as Heinlein usually does, that the righteous person takes responsibility no matter what. But most people just aren't that righteous. What do you do then?

(*) I wonder if Kornbluth realized how this contrasted with "The Marching Morons", which said that dumb people were outbreeding smart people; in TEoTM reducing the overall birth rate is a Communist plot.))

#64 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 12:12 PM:

CHip,

If I could have one moment of artistic dictatorship:

I would decree that never again would The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress be printed, unless it were in an Ace Double with The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky, from whence Lemuel Pratt comes.

#65 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 01:53 PM:

[pedant]
And if I could have one moment of linguistic dictatorship:

I would decree that never again would the phrase "from whence" appear, as it is redundant. The correct usage is simply, "whence."
[/pedant]

:)

#66 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 02:29 PM:

Really? Damn. That's the second time I've used it today, too. And I read this yesterday--I shoulda known better, just because:

'The list also could be called, "10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR," because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.

'So here we go:

' 1. REPEATS

' Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a "crutch" word. Hillary Clinton's repeated word is "eager" (can you believe it? the committee that wrote "Living History" should be ashamed). Cosmopolitan magazine editor Kate White uses "quickly" over a dozen times in "A Body To Die For." Jack Kerouac's crutch word in "On the Road" is "sad," sometimes doubly so - "sad, sad." Ann Packer's in "The Dive from Clausen's Pier" is "weird." '

#67 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 12:43 AM:

Mother has 2 jobs.... she also has a kid in great need...she saw the signs....what is her job here?
a no-brainer....if she cannot help her child, she has to seek help. He was 13, a difficult age in any household. She should have seen his pain...she worked at his school, correct? Why did she work at a school? She had no control of her own life, why was she with other young people?I am so angry.....she should be put away.

#68 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 06:38 AM:

Connie, what about the boy's teachers? Should they also be put away?

#69 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 09:06 AM:

adamsj: I guess I'll have to dig up TMWPDtS, even if I'm not sure that John Barnes is a plausible counteragent to Heinlein. (NB: the source for my quasi-quote was I Will Fear No Evil, which probably just shouldn't be reprinted....)

You left out the most famous repeat in SF: "clench", by Stephen Donaldson. cf Langford's description of "clench racing": open any of D's book at random and see how long it takes to find the word -- I think he's being snarky when he says 30 seconds is a long game, but I've only read 1.5 of the 9 volumes of Covenant.

#70 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 12:06 PM:

So here is my question. I have a student, who is not teased at our school, because she is an amazing artist and our students value that skill, but will be when she goes to the highschool. She has less than tidy clothes and unwashed hair most days. Hopelessly out of date fashion wise. But, her parents are religious fundementalists of some type, she and her many siblings are responsible for the household in part because the parents and several siblings are asbergers / autistic. The family is truely loving, but also just missing certain basics, like the understanding that you have to do laundry... They are resistant to any help that I (an art teacher) could offer. They are not criminaly neglectful... what can we do? I think schools do have a responsibility to help kids like this, but how? I have contemplated bringing shampoo and soap and clean towels and pulling the girls out of my class and sending them to the gym locker room, but what if the parents find out and feel I have crossed a line. Is that crossing the line? Hard to say.

#71 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 12:35 PM:

Um.

Elizabeth, I think people have already said most of what I thought of when I read your posts, so I'd just like to point out that you've spent more free time discussing this than the kid's mother probably had in a month.

Has it occurred to you that if her child, who was

a) clearly disturbed
b) an established target for bullies

and

c) apparently had mastered the use of personal offensiveness in self-defense

had gone into the social service system, he would have been exposed to even tougher kids? Bet she thought of that.

Having worked sixty hours a week regularly with a toddler in the house and little help, I can tell you that this poor woman was not home enough to make a mess. She probably walked in the door and collapsed.

If you worked a sixty hour week and you walked through the door and there was all that housekeeping that didn't get done last week and today's added mess and you couldn't ask your kid to help because he was locked in the closet with knives because of all the brutality he underwent at school, but the clothes he shit on were waiting for you, how hard would you charge into the kitchen to do dishes? Or would your brain shut down and you'd go to sleep and make yourself able to do it again tomorrow and escape for a few hours?

What if you couldn't advocate for your child without losing your job?

What if social services probably would have felt an obligation to report to the school that one of their aides had a child removed because she was a danger to him?

That the school would have been able to get rid of an unpleasant situation and possibly liability by firing her because she was clearly unfit to be around children, and as a useful corollary assumption their teachers were clearly not responsible for the kid's condition?

Was there anyone official involved in this who had not proved that they didn't give a shit about her or her kids, and whose path of least resistance didn't pass through destroying their lives?

I'm afraid I disagree. I really don't think you get it.

#72 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 02:49 PM:

Hi, Rachael,

You've got a tough question there, and I don't have a definitive answer.

Let me ask a couple of questions:

  • Is this sort of help in your scope right now?
  • If not, is that because she's not getting bullied yet? Or because it's not in your scope as an art teacher?
  • If it's only because she's not getting bullied yet, would it be wrong to proactively intervene?
  • If it's because it's not in your scope as an art teacher, is there someone else--counselor, school nurse--in whose scope this problem clearly falls?
  • If there's no one in the school in whose scope this falls, is there any sort of social worker outside the school into whose scope the family falls?
  • If not, is there a church authority (fundamentalists, right?) who might intervene?

I hope that helps and that, if it doesn't, you can find some other way to intervene.

#73 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 04:12 PM:

It probably is in my scope because I appear to be the only one worried about it. I think I'm just going to talk with the oldest sister and see what she thinks, maybe teach her how to do laundry, talk about showering frequency, etc. As you say, why not be proactive. I asked as much to slant the discussion towards the issue of the school's culpability. Schools are clearly responsible for keeping kids from getting thrown down stairs, but so often schools get asked to deal with things... hygine for instance, and we simply don't know how, we may not have resources, knowledge, or even time. I am a mandatory reporter, if I know of abuse I have to report it, and Minnesota has really good child protective services. But how do you report: "this kid tends to have greasy hair."? It's a tricky issue for teachers, most of whom have no training in social-work.

#74 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 06:26 PM:

CHip - This is pretty trivial in context of the current discussion, but I think you're giving Heinlein a bum rap. Do not confuse the writer with his more gormless fans.

#75 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 06:29 PM:

On a more serious note: Julia is making the same point I was trying to make.

And I don't think anybody's answered my earlier question: What do we gain at this point by locking the mother up? And is it worthwhile to lock the mother up, given the very real and large costs that will impose on the criminal justice system? I believe I read somewhere that a criminal trial costs millions of dollars -- not surprising, considering the number of people involved and the fact that a serious trial is likely to take a week or so. And I believe I also read that incarceration costs a few tens of thousands of dollars a year.

#76 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 07:16 PM:

Rachael, your concern is wonderful. Although, if the girl isn't getting teased in junior high, which are the worst years for any kid to go through, she'll probably be OK in high school.

Hell, I had greasy hair half the time when I was a kid. You grow up, and learn that normal people take showers on a regular basis.

#77 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 08:35 PM:

Mitch,

I think you might be thinking of me, not CHip.

Warning: There are mild spoilers in here, but you'll have to work to experience them as such.

I started to write this earlier this week and didn't post it because I didn't want to get in the way of Rachael's important question, but now that we've got her back in sight, too, I'll send it:

I love Heinlein.

I also think The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress has had the most pernicious influence on political thought in America of any twentieth-century work of propagandistic fiction, with the possible exception of Atlas Shrugged. It's a bloodless, candy-ass vision of revolutionary war with exactly three paragraphs of genuine feeling. No sympathy, no empathy, morally blank.

There are other books which would do for the purpose--any good SF novel which gives a somewhat realistic description of war or revolution--but I've been a partisan of Barnes' writing ever since the woman who is now my wife loaned me Orbital Resonance, in no small part because I see so much of my own change over the years reflected in the changes in his writing.

I read The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky as a response to The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

I'm probably wrong about that (and about Kaleidoscope Century being a response to Friday) but those are still novels I believe should be paired.

TMIAHM posits a libertarian revolution against a distant world government exploiting the honest farmers of Luna to feed the teeming masses of India.

TMWPDTS posits a communitarian revolution against a free-market society exploiting the poor inhabitants of Earth in order to to keep down and eventually defeat the leftish Condfederation.

Heinlein couldn't write human evil (two stories in Assignment in Eternity excepted), so his villains are either misguided or unbelievably stupid.

Barnes is very, very good with evil, and his villains know just what they're doing. I can see them, right now, in the dock at Nuremburg or The Hague, explaining, justifying.

It's a perfect match:

In TMIAHM, the welfare state is killing Luna through unbelievable (I speak here as a reader) ignorance. They were just too stupid know what they were doing.

In TMWPDTS, Solar Electric and the Orbital Republics have knowingly destroyed the ozone layer and are slowly killing Earth's people on free-market principle, as Mendenhall explains:

"There's a lesson in systemic evil for you, Saul. There was always more than enough power to do it [replace the ozone layer], just in the reserve capacity of the Republics. Solar Electric, though, wasn't going to give it away free, and the Republics weren't going to get involved in anything as 'socialist' as buying the power and using it for a public good like that."

That's a balance to the Libertarian Luddism (for what is government if not a machine?) of Heinlein.

At his best--think "Logic of Empire"--Heinlein had enough empathy to feel for all sides in a struggle. At his worst, he produced heroes--and ideas--that beg to be shoved out an airlock.

(One bonus observation, perhaps not really relevant:

(Heinlein's narrators are mostly reliable--when they aren't, they're self-deluded. With the notable exception of TMWPDTS, Barnes' narrators are generally a bunch of damn liars.)

There's more to The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky--with the possible exception of Finity (and note that is Barnes' weakest book), Barnes' great, overarching theme is trust and betrayal; TMWPDTS has betrayals, in spades--and this book is no more representative of the ideas in Barnes' body of work than Beyond This Horizon is of Heinlein's.

In Heinlein's case, that's a damn shame.

Barnes? Hard to say. The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky may be a bit too idealistic to live comfortably next to Earth Made of Glass. Lemuel Pratt, however, seems to disagree:

"You're part of my game now, you know."

#78 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 01:56 AM:

adamsj - Nope, I addressed my post to CHip, and I meant CHip; he refers to Heinlein as having a "rare humanist moment," and made a couple of remarks which led me to believe that CHip, like many sf fans, thinks Heinlein was a hardhearted social Darwinist. As a matter of fact, I don't see where you mentioned Heinlein at all prior to your most recent post, but I'm tired now and perhaps I missed something.

I'm a fan of both Heinlein and Barnes. What makes you say that "Kaleidoscope Century" was a response to "Friday"?

(I sometimes think the creators of the TV show "Alias" were strongly influenced by "Friday.")

And I never read "The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky." Is that Barnes? If there's a major Barnes novel I missed, well, then I'm pleased about that.

I've never been a huge fan of "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress," myself. My favorites of Heinlein's are probably a couple of the juveniles: "The Star Beast" and "Citizen of the Galaxy."

#79 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 07:24 AM:

You could ask John Barnes.

#80 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 08:29 AM:

Having just read this thread all at one go, I'm struck by the fact that an obstinate minority seems to think the MOST! IMPORTANT! POINT! that must be established is that the mother was at fault and doesn't deserve our sympathy. Since, after all, other people have successfully triumphed over similar obstacles.

I have to question whether these folks really want to live in a world in which the only people who deserve compassion and sympathy are those who are free of fault. Call me kooky, but this seems like a bad bet.

#81 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 10:56 AM:

Hey folks,

I do have some compassion for her, that doesn't mean I think she should be let off the hook. The true victim here is Daniel.

#82 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 11:40 AM:

Time to go to work, so I'll whip through this.

Mitch: I really like Friday, but its portrayal of a hard-core, do-anything free-lance spy agency is pretty weak coffee, especially next to Kaleidoscope Century's version. Also, the opening chapters of Friday--oh, well, raped and tortured, but it's all in good fun, so let's get married years later--well, I think it'll be hard to write that after KC.

The last time I looked, Barnes' first two novels, The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky and Sin of Origin, were out of print. I've seen hardcovers of the first for under $10 online. They're very good books and, while you can tell they have the same author as Barnes' later work, they're different from them, more idealistic, more open to happy endings.

I'm with you on the Heinlein juvies--throw Starman Jones in there, like Kevin Drum suggests--and I'm rethinking a lot of his other work just now. Farnham's Freehold is rising in my estimation as TMIAHM is falling, and there ought to be a volume of his very best short work (The Fantasies is a good try).

Teresa: If I ever meet him, I probably will ask some of these questions. But I've heard he's trying to make it with writing as a full-time gig right now, and the last thing someone doing that needs is a smart, thoughtful fan asking complex questions about old work. That's a good way to waste--no, ruin--the writer's time. (I owe him a simple fan letter, though.)

I also was taught in a tradition that held the writer does his part by producing the work and the reader then has his own share to do. If the work is well-written, the reader should be able to answer the important questions for himself, with sufficient effort. Whether Barnes' intended to critique Heinlein is interesting; that a reader can read the work to do so is important.

Patrick: There are many explanations for "kill the mother"; these two are mine.

Some of those people have unresolved hurts of their own, and they're projecting those hurts onto this poor woman. They're wrong to do so, but their own pain drives them, and I can't condemn them.

The others really want to escape the possibility they have any responsibility for other people's suffering. They'll use any dishonest mental trick to get there. One of the best is to oversimplify the situation into a single point of blame. Another is a variation on "the poor you shall always have with you", but without the compassion. There are other excuses. Piss on 'em all.

Rachael: There was a girl in my junior high/high school classes--her first name a cliche from a C&W song, and her last name began with an unfortunate word. She seemed a little slow, she smelled a bit, she always wore baggy dresses. I don't know that anything bad happened to her in the long run. I do know that people teased her--at least talked about her; she must've known--see how I remember her?

Sure, the girl you have as a student might be okay without intervention, but you must go on your judgement of the situation, and you've judged it to be bad. I know you must balance what you can do and what you can't; your responsibilities to all the students and those to this one girl; what won't limit your career and what might; but given all that, I believe there is a way to help.

Hang in there--keep punching--sing "Boom Boom Mancini", if you know the song, or whatever works for you (that one and "Redemption Song" have saved me more than once)--and don't lose that big heart.

#83 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 12:53 PM:

Several of us have come forward and admitted to having been bullied as children, but how many of us also were bullies? I know I was, and I suspect most of the people here were as well. It seems to me to be a part of human nature -- part of our original sin, to use a phrase being thrown about in another thread. That doesn't make it okay, and it doesn't mean we should accept it, but we should acknowledge it.

I didn't bully others very often, it wasn't ingrained in my nature. But once a year, or every couple of years, I'd be present when all the kids were bullying another kid lower on the food chain than I was and I just went right along. Then I went back to my former good-natured self. Often I'd be perfectly cordial with the same kids I'd been bullying previously.

Looking back on my own bad childhood memories, it all seems very distant to me now, like it happened to another person, one I quite frankly don't care all that much about. The memories and hurts are still vivid for S. Ann Ran. She writes about wanting to make the bullies feel her pain so they would understand what they did to her.

Thing is, I don't think they would stop. Like I said earlier, I think the ringleaders would get off on it. The other kids, well, they wouldn't connect her pain with their behavior. They'd feel sad for a while, and resolve that bullying was a terrible thing. Then they'd go back to doing the same thing themselves at the next opportunity.

Stephen King wrote about that in "The Body." The child protagonist of that story is a natural-born storyteller, he's entertaining some other kids with the story of a very fat boy who was picked on by everyone, and how the fat boy conceives of the idea to get his revenge at a pie-eating contest. (The revenge involves a great deal of vomiting.) The child telling the story notes to himself that all the other boys are REALLY GETTING INTO IT, really rooting for the fat kid to get his revenge -- but if the situation were real life, those boys would be right in there bullying the fat kid with the rest of them.

What I find extraordinary is that some kids have a highly developed moral sense, some kids even at an early age will not bully other kids and will not permit it to happen in their presence. I remember at least one kid like that in my own childhood. Later, I was a camp counselor for six-year-olds and I remember another kid who was in my group. When he saw another kid being picked on, he just waded on in with both fists and his small but fierce will, and made it all stop.

Teresa - Yeah, we could ask John Barnes but that would be less fun than trying to figure it out from reading the work.

I suspect that, as with "Starship Troopers" and "The Forever War," the question of influence will be unclear and even a question to the author won't elicit a definitive answer.

Also, similar to what adamsj said, I think novels go out there and live life on their own once their created. What the author says about the work is just another opinion.

Patrick - That's exactly what I've been thinking every time I return to this thread.

adamsj - "Starman Jones" is a good one.

I see echoes of Heinlein all over the place, not just in his ideology but also in styles and themes. We were watching the movie "Secondhand Lions" (recommended) a couple of weeks ago, and some of the situations reminded me quite a bit of "Starman Jones." The protagonist is a smart 14-year-old boy being raised -- or, to be more accurate, being neglected -- by a single mother. The mother is getting older, but still pretty; she wears lots of makeup and tight dresses and likes to have a good time and has a succession of bad boyfriends. One day, after a long disappearance, she shows up with a cheap hustler in a suit, says that the hustler is going to be the boy's new father.

Those are pretty much the only similarities between "Secondhand Lions" and "Starman Jones," but they're there. It's quite possible the creators of "Secondhand Lions" never heard of "Starman Jones," the situation is a commonplace one in literature, especially YA literature, but "Starman Jones" is where it made its deepest impression on me.

"Farnham's Freehold" has been one of my favorite Heinlein novels since I re-read it about 12 years ago. You can't read it like other Heinlein novels. Other Heinlein novels are linear, the protagonists are (as you say) trustworthy. Everybody who appears to be a bad guy IS a bad guy, and vice-versa. (Of course, in "Farmer in the Sky," the obnoxious little kid turns out to be a standup guy, but that's an exception.)

In "Farnham's Freehold," the protagonist is, at the beginning, a loudmouth and a jerk. All he's got to show for life is a tyrranical nature, a Navy pension, a drunken wife and a lap-dog of a son. In the far future settings, Farnham's master is a villain and evil, because he's a slaveowner -- Heinlein is pretty clear about that -- but he's also a pretty decent guy, who treats his slaves kindly and takes his responsibilities seriously. And Farnham faces a very real choice; if he stays in the far future, he'll be a slave almost in name only, it'll really be more like he's a CEO of an up-and-coming company and the master will be more like the money man, Farnham will have all the luxury and respect he was denied in his 20th Century life. Except, of course, he'll actually BE a slave, and he'll have the scars around his pants inseam to prove it.

I do agree with you that Barnes is better at portraying villains than Heinlein is -- but Heinlein was no slouch either. Heinlein portrayed the banality of evil, the way bad guys are mostly just people doing a job.

I went on Amazon.com last night and bought a secondhand copy of "The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky."

P.S. Now that I think of it, "Beyond This Horizon" is another non-linear Heinlein novel, with untrustworthy characters. The line, "An armed society is a polite society" comes from that novel, and it's taken out of context; I think Heinlein intended it to mean the opposite of what it really means. I remember speaking to someone about this many years ago who had spent time at an oilfield, where all the workers were men -- not just men, but MANLY men -- they all wore arms, knives and guys and other weapons and (he said) they were a bunch of rude assholes.

#84 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 01:10 PM:

Just for the record, I have considerable compassion for the mother. That's not the same as believing she should be let off the hook completely. I do think her punishment was harsh; probably this occurred because all the guilt of the entire community was focused down on her.

If I had had better sense, I'd have refrained from commenting in this thread at all. The subject of a kid being driven to suicide by his peers and/or home circumstances, especially in such a long and noticeable process, rings ugly, ugly bells for me. I'm not really capable of being fully rational on the topic, though I think I've made a good stab at it.

Consequently, I will shut up now.

#85 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 01:24 PM:

I've avoided commenting here because I don't think I really have the energy for a protracted argument, but, hey, I can share my 2 cents without stealing someone else's.

A whole lot of people are uber-focussed on what the mother did and did not do, but few of them seem to care much about what the people at school did or did not do ("Oh, yeah, the school should have known, but lets get back to griping about the mother" strikes me as 'not caring much', and yes, that's how I've read a number of comments.)

If the mother was working 2 jobs, she probably saw her kid less often than the school teachers did. I'm not forgetting she worked at the school when I say this; she probably had very little contact with her child there. The teachers got to see Daniel 7-8 hours a day. Bets on what fraction of that the mom got to see him?

If the kid was specifically defecating on himself to get out of school, that's a problem in the school and therefore a problem the school should have been involved in dealing with. "Send him home and let the (absent) mother deal with it" is negligent after it starts happening routinely. So why aren't school officials and teachers getting the same "throw her in jail!" cry? Maybe the mother didn't even know, maybe the kid was hiding it from her. (Probably not, but the point is, it wasn't happening at home or in front of the mother, it was happening at school, in front of the teachers.)

So much is made of his little hiding spot meaning he didn't feel safe at home. I disagree. He wanted an extra-safe place to hide away from school. All his actions pointed to someone who didn't want to be in the school. He didn't run away from home, he didn't try to make a safe spot away from it. He dug in deeper into his home and made his safe spot there, through several levels of away from the world.

The fact is, I think it's highly hypocritical to toss the mother in jail while letting school officials get not even so much as a public tongue-lashing. I don't think the mother should go to jail. I'm sympathetic to her; I understand that sometimes one feels one has no recourse. I agree that there were other things she could have done, but maybe she didn't realize that. Or maybe she genuinely screwed up. And it cost her her kid. What other punishment does she really need? And why punish her when so many other things factored into this?

#86 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 02:23 PM:

Xopher, I suspect quite a few people in this thread were severely bullied as kids. I was frequently. Like Mitch, I also remember going along with the bullying of others. It's very probably a nexus of gnarly issues for many of us.

I would encourage you not to "shut up."

#87 ::: Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 05:38 PM:

I rread about this in people magazine earlier today and then found it here when i was searching for something. I'am 12, in seventh Grade. in a horrible State called masssachusetts. When I read this, I cried for a long time, He reminds me a lot of myself, only, sicne I'am a girl, I'am not Tormented as badly.....I've almost killed myself quite a few times.....But I don't have the courage to actually Do it.....I Feel really bad about what happenned to him though.....i told my grandmother about it and she asks me if it was the right thing to do. You can say it was right and you can't say it was wrong. From his point of view, its all he could do. The school didn't help, his mother didn't help, no one did. but ont he other hand, He could have just Stood up to the adults involved, like his mother, and the princiapl, and tried a bit harder to make them understand. But it's a pretty hard thing to do. Much Experience, I know.

~Tracy

#88 ::: Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 05:38 PM:

I rread about this in people magazine earlier today and then found it here when i was searching for something. I'am 12, in seventh Grade. in a horrible State called masssachusetts. When I read this, I cried for a long time, He reminds me a lot of myself, only, sicne I'am a girl, I'am not Tormented as badly.....I've almost killed myself quite a few times.....But I don't have the courage to actually Do it.....I Feel really bad about what happenned to him though.....i told my grandmother about it and she asks me if it was the right thing to do. You can say it was right and you can't say it was wrong. From his point of view, its all he could do. The school didn't help, his mother didn't help, no one did. but ont he other hand, He could have just Stood up to the adults involved, like his mother, and the princiapl, and tried a bit harder to make them understand. But it's a pretty hard thing to do. Much Experience, I know.

~Tracy

#89 ::: Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 05:39 PM:

I rread about this in people magazine earlier today and then found it here when i was searching for something. I'am 12, in seventh Grade. in a horrible State called masssachusetts. When I read this, I cried for a long time, He reminds me a lot of myself, only, sicne I'am a girl, I'am not Tormented as badly.....I've almost killed myself quite a few times.....But I don't have the courage to actually Do it.....I Feel really bad about what happenned to him though.....i told my grandmother about it and she asks me if it was the right thing to do. You can say it was right and you can't say it was wrong. From his point of view, its all he could do. The school didn't help, his mother didn't help, no one did. but ont he other hand, He could have just Stood up to the adults involved, like his mother, and the princiapl, and tried a bit harder to make them understand. But it's a pretty hard thing to do. Much Experience, I know.

~Tracy

#90 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 09:45 PM:

Hang in there, Tracy.

Find someone you trust. Talk with that person.

Please don't hurt yourself.

-- Jim

#91 ::: cathy ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 10:29 PM:

All of you people are like the rest of the blind public. You have know idea what this case was about, who it was about or why it happened, yet you all jump on this band wagon chanting what you would have done. If you realy care who failed who, check this out on Joseph Daniel S.

http://www.oca.state.ct.us/TheChildFac.htm

None of you know what it was like to be a juror on this case...
Nor do I think you care as long as you can mouth off about what you would have done!

#92 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 10:57 PM:

Actually, I know quite a bit about being a juror in a serious criminal case, based on very recent experience.

But don't let me get in the way of you proving Teresa's point about drive-by weblog commenters who start out by hectoring "you people." So far Teresa is roughly 12-0 on that, and you're just adding to the string...

#93 ::: cathy ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 11:32 PM:

I said THIS case and I'm not a drive by commentor. I was on this case and I am still very emotional about the whole thing. Read the report, its only about 45 pages long, and we didn't get to see it or all the evidence as jurors that the public did so now that I can, I am looking at what's out there and I don"t like what i'm reading. Just a drive by opinion though...

#94 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 11:51 PM:

cathy, from your wording I wondered if you were a juror on the case. It must have been intensely painful for you, to have to experience secondhand what he must have gone through, and to have to pick through all the facts and judge.

But you did paint everyone with an awfully broad brush, there. When I look back at the posts, all I see is a lot of people horrified at the needless death of a boy, and trying to make sense of it somehow. No, we don't know how it was in your shoes. Why don't you tell us? I'm sincerely interested.

I've been pondering my reaction over the past several days. As a mother I am all too aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by life. But the thing about being a parent is that you don't get off the hook, when it comes to your kids. Ever. When you screw up, they suffer.

So it seems to me that even if the mother was experiencing a mental breakdown or depression, or if she was overwhelmed by the demands of life, clearly she knew her son was distressed, and she did have a responsibility to help him.

But in my view, that doesn't exonerate the school and justice system, not by any stretch.

It's not a boolean equation - IF A THEN NOT B, IF B THEN NOT A. When it comes to our obligations to our children, all adults who come in contact with them bear some responsibility for their wellbeing -- especially parents, and especially professionals.


-l.

#95 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 12:04 AM:

PS- Tracy, what JimM said. Hang in there, and see if you can find a teacher or other adult you trust to help you. Bullying is very wrong, and you shouldn't have to suffer.


-l.

#96 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 01:18 AM:

Cathy,

No, forty-five pages isn't that long. I'm on page three:

"Eventually, J. Daniel92s mother was arrested. DCF personnel were cited for poor documentation and lack of resource use. The juvenile court did not review their handling of the case, and the school system was 93satisfied94 they had done all they could for the boy. No one took responsibility for the child92s death. Everyone was responsible."

It's sobering reading so far--I'll do my best to finish it.

It looks like something happened when Daniel went from grade school to middle school.

And now I'm on page 15:

"On April 12, 2001, an administrative note written by an assistant principal indicated that J. Daniel had a 'verbal argument w/2 other students. Got involved with a third who he pushed. Student than pushed back & fight ensued. Spoke w/ J. Daniel. Will continue to counsel J. Daniel regarding social behaviors.' J. Daniel received a two-day out-of-school suspension. The note indicated that other students had reported that J. Daniel was choked, put up against the wall, stomped on, kicked, and punched across the face. School health records documented that a nurse saw J. Daniel after a fight and no injuries were noted."

And now page 17:

"On October 18th J. Daniel received student discipline for pushing another student. It was reported to OCA during investigative interviews that the student that J. Daniel allegedly pushed was a bully to him as well as other children, but he especially targeted J. Daniel."

The record is silent on the question of what happened to the child said to be a bully, as it is silent on the what happened to the other children in the incident above.

And now page 17:

"Meeting minutes from the October 25th team leaders meeting reflected a discussion that a Department of Children and Families (DCF) referral could be made for hygiene neglect. J. Daniel was considered to be 'malodorous.' The minutes further indicated that the team had 'asked mom to get psych help, and that supportive services are doing their best.' The reference in the record to supportive services in place is unclear. OCA was unable to determine what, if any, services were in place. There was no evidence that the boy had been referred to or seen by the middle school nurse for his incontinence at any time during the 6th or 7th grade. The review of J. Daniel92s school records indicated that counseling appeared to occur only in response to specific incidents. It did not appear to be a formal process with goals, objectives or scheduled meetings. Additionally, preferential seating was reported to be in place but that was somewhat irrelevant since both teachers and students alike reported to OCA that no other children would sit near J. Daniel because of his body odor, peculiar mannerisms and other behaviors."

I'm becoming more convinced something is wrong with this middle school.

Page 18:

"Around October 24th, 2001 records reflect that J. Daniel was transferred to a program for socially and emotionally disturbed children within his school. The change did not involve a PPT and there was no evaluation conducted of J. Daniel92s needs. He was transferred to the program that was housed in a trailer behind the school. It was designed to accommodate children with disruptive behaviors who might otherwise have been suspended or expelled from mainstream classes. It was in the trailer program that someone allegedly stole J. Daniel92s Gameboy toy. The teacher described the incident to OCA saying that in response, J. Daniel stood on his desk and screamed out of control. The investigative social worker noted in her report that J. Daniel92s mother reported the boy was angry at the program change. The social worker documented that J. Daniel92s mother told her that 'she let him [J. Daniel] know that he brought all of this on himself and he is responsible for whatever has happened.' "

Here I lose some sympathy for the mother, assuming she's being quoted correctly and in context.

Now page 20:

"Meanwhile, on November 5th, an office referral form was completed indicating that J. Daniel was involved in an altercation with a student who had taken his book. J. Daniel chased the other child. Apparently a third student hit J. Daniel and he in return pushed the other boy back. J. Daniel received a two-day detention for his actions. J. Daniel92s school attendance continued to be poor and on November 8, 2001, the school sent J. Daniel92s mother another letter. That letter once again addressed the boy92s excessive absences and requested the mother contact school authorities. At that point J. Daniel had accrued 14 unexcused absences, 4 excused absences and was tardy 27 days."

I keep wondering what's happening to the other children in these incidents. They seem to be more to blame than Daniel--what's happening to them?

The next paragraph, though, boggles me:

"Superior Court for Juvenile Matters: Family with Service Needs Petition in the 7th Grade
The judicial record indicated that the juvenile court received the FWSN referral on November 1, 2001, approximately four weeks after the seventh grade cluster team leaders made the recommendation to file a FWSN. On November 6, 2001 the Juvenile court sent notice to the school that the referral had been accepted and assigned a Probation Officer. On the next day, November 7, the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters sent J. Daniel92s mother a notice that a referral had been received alleging that her son had violated C.G.S. Section 46b-100 - Truancy. In the summons the probation officer noted that 'The staff of this court is trained to help you identify the services or agency most appropriate to assist you and your child to resolve the problem(s) listed in the above complaint.' 94

Truancy? Truancy? Is this about funding?

And this is what Daniel's probation officer has to say:

"During that initial meeting on November 30th, the probation officer conducted an Assessment of Juvenile Risk and Needs Survey on J. Daniel. That is a 93formalized tool utilized to assist the officer in defining appropriate levels of supervision, and identifying areas of intervention.9422 The assessment was primarily a self-reporting instrument that surveyed youth on items associated with the likelihood that a child would be involved in the behavior he was referred to the court for (risk). It also surveyed the support systems and coping skills of the youth to deal with the risk (need). The instrument assessed nine items for risk: prior record, age at 1st referral, parental control/influence, out of home placement, drug/chemical abuse, alcohol abuse, peer relationships, runaway, and school. The items assessed for need included family relationships, problems and parental control; emotional stability of the youth; substance use, learning barriers and educational adjustment; peer relationships, non-school activities and health and hygiene.

"On both risk and need, J. Daniel scored quite low, indicating he was at very low risk and had few needs. Contrary to what the school and J. Daniel92s mother had reported, the boy indicated that parental control and influence was 'generally effective' in influencing his behaviors. J. Daniel indicated that he had no health or hygiene problems, no learning barriers, and good support and influence from his peers.

"The probation officer also made a note of the school92s plan to hold a Planning and Placement Team meeting (PPT). He wrote, 'P.O. will wait for results of PPT85' presumably before developing any kind of plan for J. Daniel. He made no referrals for counseling or other services. There was no indication that, as the summons had promised, the trained staff of the court had made an effort to identify services most appropriate to assist J. Daniel in solving his problem of truancy. The PO had no further contact with the school and there is no evidence that he had further contact with J. Daniel or his mother. There is also no evidence that the PO communicated with DCF. The FWSN petition was written on October 15th charging the boy with 11 absences. By the time the PO met with J. Daniel had accrued 29 absences and 20 days tardy. The PO was not aware of the continued truancy and did not make an attempt to get an update from the school."

Why on earth does a troubled, non-criminal child have a probation officer? I'm seeing a systemic problem here, but I'm also seeing an ineffective individual, possibly due to simple overwork. It's also possible that the probation officer understands the absurdity of this child being treated as a criminal and is trying not to give him a record. That's just a guess.

Now to page 21:

"School Response to Increasing Problems in the 7th Grade

"On December 4, 2001 the school conducted a PPT meeting called to address concerns of J. Daniel92s school attendance, hygiene and other behaviors. The PPT minutes indicated that J. Daniel92s mother expressed her concern about his treatment by peers and that he was frequently assaulted at school. Specifically, minutes reflected that she said J. Daniel had been

93 'frequently assaulted in the classrooms and hallway. He92s been punched, kicked, and has had desks slammed into him. His hair has been pulled so violently that his head has snapped back. Referrals on the above have been sent to the office. Mom feels that this physical and verbal intimidation is the main cause of his poor attendance.'

"The December 4th minutes further described that the school administration investigation of

93 'many of the physical attacks reported by Ms. S resulted in the information that Dan had initiated many of the incidents by passive-aggressive behavior85The team discussed the many instances in which Dan would defecate in his clothing when conflict arose in Cluster 5. Dan would come to the office and report that people were picking on him because of his clothes or body odor, yet he would do nothing to rectify the situation.' "

I'm just aghast at this point. "Passive-aggressive behavior".

And we've got cause and effect from conflict->soiling clothes->bullying which makes me wonder whether the 'conflict' was weasel-wording for Daniel being bullied.

Here is where the mother pulled Daniel out of school. I'm sympathetic to this decision. It should be noted that the child didn't go back to school after November 28th, but that the meeting in which all sorts of evaluations were scheduled and in which the mother agreed to them was on December 4th. That's several days between the two--what was said about this at the meeting?

And now the DCF report, and the suicide.

This is increasingly difficult reading. It appears to me that absolutely no one did anything right.

I don't think I can read any further than this tonight. Page 26:

"The interviews with school personnel left a troubling picture of the school92s response to J. Daniel92s situation. The teasing and name-calling and refusal by children to be near him was considered by some to be justified. Many of the professionals interviewed by OCA intimated a level of acceptance for the way J. Daniel was treated. Their statements implied that it became understandable that other children would not want to be near J. Daniel, that they would make comments about his odor, because after all, he was bringing it on himself through his own antisocial actions. Teachers described their discomfort caused by the boy92s odor. One demonstrated how she would hold her hand over her nose and mouth whenever she passed him in the hall. J. Daniel was small for his age. He was smart but learning disabled. He wore dirty, mismatching clothes. He smelled badly and often acted out. J. Daniel made people at school uncomfortable."

Who are these people? Who lets them take care of children?

#97 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 01:43 AM:

I thought I was going to quit reading, but here's the conclusion, after all the horrid detail:

"With the exception of J. Daniel92s mother, no one person has been held accountable for a scenario in which, as one professional stated, 'We all failed that child.' "

#98 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 01:54 AM:

There are a couple of things that no one has mentioned that I think are fascinating holes in the story. Dad's in prison; he's not dead, as far as I can tell, he's not even divorced from Mom. How does he feel about it? Did she and her son ever visit?

Dad is in prison. This suggests to me that one of the things we're looking at is a class issue. Mostly, middle class people don't do time. It's a special program we have for warehousing the poor. I have no idea whether he is a bad person or not, no idea what he was convicted of. What I do know is that the sudden loss of a father tears a huge hole in the social network that people rely upon.

How long has Dad been gone? What was life like with him. Was Daniel hoarding knives against his father's eventual release? Maybe his dad was the one, supportive person in his life. I don't know, but there seems to be an important piece that's missing. If they visited Daddy, what did Dad know about Daniel, and did he try to tell anyone?

CPS is not a resource for this. Hell, CPS won't pull children from homes where their daddies break their jaws because they don't have any place to put them. Daniel is feeling incredibly isolated, tearing him away from his mother, who is probably his only source of stability, doesn't sound necessarilyy constructive. If you were pulling the kid to put him in an in-house treatment center, where they have experience working with depressed 12 year olds, and can maintain a suicide watch without whips and chains, that might have been worthwhile. But foster care? Shudder.

For the two or more people who said that they felt compassion for the mother, but didn't think she should be left entirely off the hook: What on earth can that mean? What happened happened, she did and didn't do what she did and didn't do. Can there be any outside indictment of her behavior which will matter? She needs a social worker to help her get her house clean, learn some housekeeping skills, and probably help her get effective treatment for depression or OCD or some other brain disease. I honestly don't see any sensibile punishment available for the state to inflict.

There are several people posting here who either don't believe in mental disorders, or just don't understand them. It's unlikely that I have any words to offer that will make it clearer. Lemme try. A large part of who you are is what you know, what you can see, feel, and touch. Who you are hinges on the function of your brain -- but in ways far more complex than we'd previously thought. We've learned huge amounts from the new psychiatric drugs.

I've been depressed since I was 16, at least. Very probably longer. I have also been diagnosed with Dissociative disorder, and most recently, manic depressive. My daily drug regimen is pretty solid. I'm on the max dose of two antidepressants, max dose of a mood leveler, minimum dose of a sleeping pill, minimum dose of a wakey wake drug, and The Pill. Keeps me busy.

I'm not really that fucked up, though. I've been on my own since I was 18. I've never been homeless, the cats have never gone hungry. I only went hungry once, and that was partly due to a complete collapse into depression. I'm 41, and while I couldn't say that I've always paid my way, I've done well enough. That's the good news.

The bad news are the days when I lie in my bed after the alarm has gone off, feeling this red, heavy rage and terror pressing me into the mattress, my fists curled under my chin and my body pulled up tight, desperately trying to figure out a reason why I don't have to go to work today. The days where I get to work, but can't seem to do anything but answer the phone and shuffle paper about my desk as if I were doing something. There's the day when I tried to go to work, but was prevented by the mirror. I was living in an apartment, and the door to the hallway had a full-length mirror on it. I walked towards it, and veered away, into the tiny galley kitchen. I couldn't get too close to that person in the mirror. I came at her from a different angle, coming out of the kitchen and turning right -- and froze, staring at someone in the mirror that my brain told me was a reflection of me, but which my mind insisted was a disconnected, separate self. I wasn't even sure if it was a self of mine, or of someone elses. I went to the bathroom, and found myself transfixed by the mirror. I was sobbing, by now.

All I'd wanted to do was go to work. It was getting later and later. I locked eyes with the woman in the mirror, trying to take her secrets from her by force of will. She had something that was mine. She stared back, mockingly, taking from me what I was trying to take from her. And none of this made sense, and my braid was saying, "Lydia, you have to go to work now. Those are just reflections in a mirror. You know what those are, you see them ever day. Just go up to the door, unlock it, and you'll be past them. Go To Work!"

After about a half hour of attempting to leave the apartment, trying to go at the door from different angles, or with my eyes closed, after getting caught like a fly in a spider's silk web over and over again, staring at the stranger who looked exactly like me, I went back to living room, collapsed on the day bed, and called in sick. I couldn't win. I couldn't fight my way through this.

I'm telling you this story because I hope that you will maybe see how real it can be, even under circumstances where you are also aware that you are suffering from nonsense and delusions. There are days when getting out of bed is the only triumph of the day.

His mother was in worse shape than I was. She probably empathized with Daniel's trouble too much. If you can't find your own way out, it is often impossible to show someone else the escape route.

#99 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 08:19 AM:

But it's a pretty hard thing to do. Much Experience, I know.

I know. It is. Hang in there, Tracy. Being bullied makes school hell: but it is a hell with a terminus. You can survive and get out of there. Don't be afraid or ashamed to tell people about what's happening to you at school - remember that it's the bullies, not you, who should be ashamed. Nobody deserves to be bullied, and anyone who tells you that you deserve it, either directly or by implication, is wrong, wrong, wrong. Please remember that, and take care of yourself.

#100 ::: Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 08:33 AM:

Tracy--Yes, it's bad. But there are people who will help you, if you ask them. Talk to your teachers, or a neighbor. Your grandmother is there: tell her that it isn't about whether it was right, but that you need some other solution to your pain.

You've had the courage to tell us about your pain. You are strong enough and brave enough to make it through, and life will get better. (Anyone who tells you that being 12 is the best part of life is a fool or a liar. Probably both.)

#101 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 09:20 AM:

There are several people posting here who either don't believe in mental disorders, or just don't understand them.

I was listening to Car Talk last weekend, and was gobsmacked when a lady mentioned in passing, just offhandedly, "I've never really believed in allergies." Later comments made it clear she thought everyone in the history of the world who ever claimed to be allergic to something was just being unreasonably picky.

There is a parallel here.

#102 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:20 AM:

Wow, a lot happens here in a few days -- this thread strikes me as one very important reason to keep blogging happening. I really love what appears to me as honesty here.

Some quick comments --

cathy, I'll add to the chorus of asking you to share your experience. Thank you for posting here. Given the variety of posts, I don't think _any_ statement of intention or background reasoning applies to everyone here. I look forward to hearing more about your experience -- people here seem to care on many different levels.

tracy -- reply sent offline. Do what you need to. Remember that there are some irrevocable decisions. Make sure you are sure. That's where talking to others can help. It's a reality check.

Lydia -- wow. This is the kind of post I'd love to think I'd made. Have I told you I think you're an impressive person? You've caught bits of my depression, pushed them forward, and not left me behind. Thank you.

Good wishes to all here.

Tom

#103 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:43 AM:

Tracy, know that it gets better.

It's so, so hard being in junior high, being 12-14 years old. My junior high years were absolutely the worst years of my life. But listen to everyone else here when they say it does get better. If you can make it through junior high, high school is much easier, socially. College is even better, and best of all is being an adult and having the freedom to choose who you spend your time with.

Kids are horrible when they're in junior high. I don't know if this is any consolation, but know that you're not the only one who has gone through this. Also, there is nothing wrong with you. The kids who are bullying you, they're doing it because there is something wrong with them.

The good news is, people grow out of it and become less horrible as they grow up. And, when you grow up, you're not forced to deal with them the way you are in school.

Please, please hang in there, get whatever help you can, and don't be afraid to reach out for help. I know it's hard now, but things are going to get better. Everyone who has lived through the hell of being bullied as a kid can attest to that. You're probably in the worst of it now, but things really really will get better soon.

#104 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:45 AM:

Regarding the father, I think I read in the writeup cathy provided that the parents had split up long before the incident, due to his abusive behavior (toward the mother...?).

Lydia, what TomW said. Thanks for sharing that.


-l.

#105 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 12:37 PM:

Tracy, what James and others have said. There are more options, and ones that leave you able to try other things if they don't work. I've been there, please believe me. I went to my 10-year HS reunion, and all those people who tormented me endlessly all through junior and senior high -- all those people had become perfectly reasonable adults. Not people I'd be friends with, mind you, but far from the monsters they were (or I thought they were) when we were teenagers.

It DOES get better. It WILL get better. Please give it a chance. Being adolescent can be fun sometimes (I'm told), but it generally stinks (I know). Do reach out for help; it's more and more available. Tell some adult you have suicidal thoughts. Don't let them talk you into saying you were kidding.

Make a commitment to get through it. Decide you're going to go to your ten-year reunion and snap your fingers at them! You have those many years to make them wish they were as successful a person as you.

Eloise - I heard that woman too. I couldn't believe they didn't tell her to stick her nose in the gas tank and take as many deep breaths as possible. I suppose wishing swarms of hornets to attack her would be Just Plain Wrong, wouldn't it? Yes, better not do that.

#106 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 03:18 PM:

Lydia, getting out of bed wasn't your only triumph that day. Getting through it able to tell us about it so eloquently today also counts as a triumph.

#107 ::: Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 03:35 PM:

Hm...All that would help, If I weren't Who I'am, in the town that i'am in, with the grandmother I have. My grandmother doesn't listen. And she's one of those people who'd jsut say something like "You must have done something". and This town.....its horrible...they're all rich, spoiled, bossy, ....assholes. Cept me and a few kids, who get teased and pushed around, I get the worst, though. And Besides, I kinda do deserve to be hated by virually everyone, I have major anger problems, Someone bothers me in the slightest bit and I could either not care, or Go off on them and want to kill them. I cry after,a dn everyone thinks its cause it made me upset. but its not that at all. Its that I want to fucking bash their heads in and I can't. I have too many Things wrong with me. and my family. I love my dad and my gramma....but they're so fucked up. So am I....ehh...I have many emotional and personality problems, I'm not mentally messed though, I get called a sped, and I'm not.

My friend nicole and I had been talking about this kid she used to like, and she called him a sped, And so I started refferrign to him as that, but she started it (he calls me a sped atleast 4 times a day) and then she got really upset about it and told the guidance counsellor and They brought mr.farrantii (vice principal, who i loathe) down too and they talked to me, talked DOWN to me. and told me that i shouldn't call people that and its wrong.

No one would beleive me if I told them it was NIcole who was doing it, so I didn't bother.

That explains one of my problems - I can't stand being talked DOWN to by adults who are complete morons (And most likely complete assholes) or even being talked to by them and having them tell me that i'm wrong. I can't stand being wrong, Just another reason for kids to bother me.

When i was yougner, my grandmother never accepted my appologies, so now I have trouble appologizing to people, and everyone tells me that I can't go through life like that, that I have to appologize if i do something wrong. I shouldn't ahve to do that if I don't want to.

thats another problem.

And Last (for now)
My mother has never been there for me. shes a drug addict, and has never taken care of me at all, I grew up without a mother, so since i was 2 years old, no mother, and even before that she was barely ever there. and when I turned 10 well nto really. but on christmas when I was ten, a few days before actually, well she called and told me that she was pregnant.....i have a half brother. and I hate her for that. thats when all the serious problems started.
well, when they got worse....I haven't been truly happy about anything in 4 years.....I'm fuck up.

~Tracy

#108 ::: Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 03:36 PM:

Hm...All that would help, If I weren't Who I'am, in the town that i'am in, with the grandmother I have. My grandmother doesn't listen. And she's one of those people who'd jsut say something like "You must have done something". and This town.....its horrible...they're all rich, spoiled, bossy, ....assholes. Cept me and a few kids, who get teased and pushed around, I get the worst, though. And Besides, I kinda do deserve to be hated by virually everyone, I have major anger problems, Someone bothers me in the slightest bit and I could either not care, or Go off on them and want to kill them. I cry after,a dn everyone thinks its cause it made me upset. but its not that at all. Its that I want to fucking bash their heads in and I can't. I have too many Things wrong with me. and my family. I love my dad and my gramma....but they're so fucked up. So am I....ehh...I have many emotional and personality problems, I'm not mentally messed though, I get called a sped, and I'm not.

My friend nicole and I had been talking about this kid she used to like, and she called him a sped, And so I started refferrign to him as that, but she started it (he calls me a sped atleast 4 times a day) and then she got really upset about it and told the guidance counsellor and They brought mr.farrantii (vice principal, who i loathe) down too and they talked to me, talked DOWN to me. and told me that i shouldn't call people that and its wrong.

No one would beleive me if I told them it was NIcole who was doing it, so I didn't bother.

That explains one of my problems - I can't stand being talked DOWN to by adults who are complete morons (And most likely complete assholes) or even being talked to by them and having them tell me that i'm wrong. I can't stand being wrong, Just another reason for kids to bother me.

When i was yougner, my grandmother never accepted my appologies, so now I have trouble appologizing to people, and everyone tells me that I can't go through life like that, that I have to appologize if i do something wrong. I shouldn't ahve to do that if I don't want to.

thats another problem.

And Last (for now)
My mother has never been there for me. shes a drug addict, and has never taken care of me at all, I grew up without a mother, so since i was 2 years old, no mother, and even before that she was barely ever there. and when I turned 10 well nto really. but on christmas when I was ten, a few days before actually, well she called and told me that she was pregnant.....i have a half brother. and I hate her for that. thats when all the serious problems started.
well, when they got worse....I haven't been truly happy about anything in 4 years.....I'm fuck up.

~Tracy

#109 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 03:40 PM:

Thought you would all be curious to know that I decided to speak with the older sister I posted about earlier and this very day the younger sister turned up with clean hair. Turns out that I wasn't the only one who had noticed that family and someone else brought shampoo and towels and explicitly taught the younger sister the steps of bathing. I spoke with a counselor and since I am somewhat of a mentor to the older sister who does not qualify for "service" I am going to work with her and teach her how to do laundry, etc.

I can't speak to all schools but there are really only a few per hundred students who are struggling. I think even one adult who can step in and care about a kid can make a difference. We have a poster board at our school with names of all of the kids and any adult who feels a special tie with one kid writes their initials next to that kids name. That adult is saying: "I will act as a resource for all others in concerns with this child." It helps us to see who might otherwise slip through the cracks.

Because I am a teacher the issue of the school's responsibility in this case have interested me. On the one hand I feel that schools are asked to be all things to all people, that we are supposed to be social workers and counselors and teach too. Yet, that the school couldn't prevent that child from severe violence, that they couldn't get over their own feelings of disgust to help him and protect him... I will say that I would feel terribly responsible if I were his teacher.

I wonder if all of the concerned and personally motivated adults on this board would consider donating some time to a school? If you call any school counseling office they can direct you to a volunteer coordinator. We have student advocates who volunteer once a week or once a month who are paired with a needy student. They meet to help that kid out in whatever way they can. They generally follow the child through the years to help give them consistancy. It's a small commitment of time with a big pay off. Think about it.

#110 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 07:44 PM:

Tracy --

I hate being wrong, too. One of the things I've learned is that sometimes I am wrong, and sometimes I'm right. If someone tells me I'm wrong, I get to choose whether to believe them or not.

Most of us here went through a period very similar to what you're going through now. Since you're taking the time to write to us, I think you think we're sorta kinda okay and might listen to you and maybe maybe maybe understand a little bit. I hope we do -- that doesn't always mean we'll agree with you. Know that in this forum you'll find a bunch of folks who will read what you say. If I disagree with something you say, that doesn't mean that you're wrong -- it means I have a different perspective. And you have the right (and judging by the quality of your posts, you have the ability!) to try to change my perspective. I promise to listen to your attempts.

Hang out here when you can. You'll find a buncha weirdos here, of which I'm proud to be one.

Sincerely,
Tom

#111 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 08:04 PM:

Tracy, thanks for sharing that! I agree with Tom; it's nice to have you here and I hope you'll keep posting.

Rachael, great advice about donating time to a school. Instant payoff. When kids get the adult face-time they need, they just blossom.


-l.

#112 ::: cathy ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 10:55 PM:

Daniels father left home when he was 3 months old. He was abusive to his wife. Mom moved from Virginia to CT (around same time?) with daniel and his older 1/2 sister, to be near her parents. No mention of any other contact from him. he was quoted in one of the news stories (still in Virginia) that he should have been there for Daniel or something to that affect.
Mom had 2 older children from another husband, a boy and a girl, that already were living with her parents in CT.
the photos you show of a garbage house in no way represent the clutter and mess in her home. The photos the police had showed a home that had gotten away from her in the turmoil of her sons issues and the added issue of her 17 year old daughter being pregnant and then having a miscarage at 5mths, nov 19 2001.
the charges against the mom were 1.risk of injury to a minor for an unhealthy and unsafe home between aug 1 2001 and jan 2 2002 2.risk of injury to a minor for not providing proper medical or pshycological care between Aug 1 2001 and Jan 2, 2002 and 3. cruelity to persons for not providing proper physical care between Aug 1 2001 and Jan 2, 2002.


the jury did not convict her because she had a messy home the guilty verdict for the first charge was because she allowed Daniel to "sleep with kitchen knives because they made him feel safe due to recent break-ins in their area." As much as I argued with the 5 men on the jury, I had to admit that if I found my kitchen knives in my kids rooms I would take them away and we found them to be both unsafe and unhealthy to him. I made them replay the testimony on the knives so I was sure she did this knowing they were in his bed or sleeping area with him while he slept. We as jurors didn't take any of these charges lightly and it made for a very emotionally draining 3 days of deliberations.
the second count was also argued out intensely, and the final verdict was there was not any medical experts testimony on Daniels mental state and the lack of evidence in general that she did nothing to help this kid. The only testimony we had in her defense was that DCF had been to the home at some earlier point yet closed the case on daniel 6 days before his death with no findings of neglect. shame on them!
The third count was unanimously agreed on as he had food in the home, clothes, a place to bathe, sleep and a roof over his head.
I hope this sheds some light...

#113 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:41 PM:

Thanks, cathy, for an in insider's view. How heartbreaking.


-l.

#114 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:57 PM:

Seconding Laura's thanks. How pitiful that we have a legal system that makes people like you choose to assign this kind of guilt when so many others are at least as guilty. I know you had very difficult choices to face in this trial. It sounds as if you did as well as you could, and overall quite well. Too bad you didn't get to adjudicate guilt on a whole lot of other people....

Sincerely,
Tom

#115 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 12:01 AM:

It does indeed, and thank you. That's very illuminating. If I or anyone else here has seemed to impugn you, your motives, or your work on that jury, I apologize. I'm primarily angry at social services and the school getting off scot free. That family was seriously in need of help.

By the way, and not to argue with your conclusions: I've slept with knives, accidentally, and taken no harm. The blade lies flat, and if you happen to roll onto it, your weight presses the point and edge harmlessly into the mattress. If I'd been sleeping on a harder surface, it might have proved more of a hazard. I don't know. I've never felt like testing the hypothesis.

Finding out I'd slept on top of a carving knife all night did make me wonder about all those old stories where people supposedly demonstrate their chastity by sleeping with a naked sword blade laid between them. Not all that efficacious, in my opinion.

#116 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 01:49 PM:

Yes, thanks Cathy.

Teresa, I had similar doubts about swords, but if it's a real medieval sword it's a little easier to believe. They're as sharp as an iceskate (with a flat edge), and get thick in the middle. There's usually a groove down the center on both sides, to a) lighten the blade and b) use less metal. It's a bashing weapon, not a slicing weapon like a katana.

Rolling over on one would probably wake you up. They're nothing like flat, and an old one would be all pitted and nicked (even if recently sharpened). Not effective against deliberate action, but probably sufficient to prevent accidental body contact.

#117 ::: India Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 03:21 PM:

Hi, my name is India Tracy. I hate this.. I am a girl who was picked in so bad when I was in school.. Because I was not Christian. I cant explain the whole case here because I do not have enough time. I am at school now. But just look up India Tracy. Also. I knew Tempest Smith.. The same problem as us. She did succeed in killing herself. I did not. I wanted to so bad...but it never succeeded. I am so sorry. I know how it feels. We are still on with the law suit. I would like to talk to you. I swear to all the kids and parents who care and who this happened to I will stop this mess! I will!!!
India Tracy. aka Rain.
P.S.. My sn is Gaelic for 'Crimson Clover' which means "once the pain is over, I'm still standing."

#118 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 04:26 PM:

I'm of about 4 minds about all this. Certainly, the mother was there to convict because she was the least powerful person in the matrix that had failed her son. But also, because

However, the degree of clutter was evidence that there were no clean clothes available to be worn and no clean sheets for the boy to sleep on. The mess in the bathroom and tubful of clothing and toys were clear evidence that there were no bathing facilities for the boy to use. (p. 45 of 54)

It appears to me that both mother and son were severely depressed and that neither was helped. Also, the mother appears to have been browbeaten by the school into regarding his failings as behaviors amenable to behavioral modification techniques and the responses of his persecutors as a natural reaction to the son's behavior.

When children aren't a good fit for institutions, institutions put immense pressure upon parents to use Skinnerian techniques to get them with the program. But there are many incompatibilities between children and institutions that are not amenable to behavior modification techniques.

One point the report makes is that the soiling should not have been assumed to be a behavior. It should first have been evaluated as a medical condition.

Also, while in death the kid is clearly a victim of bullies, his suspensions for fighting indicate that school officials treated anyone who raised a hand in anger as a bully. One has to be careful about prescribing what schools should do about bullies because the reality is more complex than that.

In my experience, there is also institutional bullying in which institutions react more severely than appropriate to children with impulse control issues. These are often the same children who are victims of a bully. The indication that your child is being bullied may be a reprot from school that another child came home with your child's footprint on his face. (True story.)

I kept thinking as I read through the report how glad I am to be living in a moch more intelligently run school district than J. Daniel Scruggs did.

Also, as someone with a cluttered house full of clutter mostly not my own, I am aware of how many different ways a situation could be read. Someone looking for reasons that this house is a wonderful place to grow up would find them. But also someone looking for problems would find them too.

#119 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 04:29 PM:

India:

I read about you, I think on CNN. What you endured sounds just ghastly.

#120 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 05:00 PM:

Kathryn Cramer said One point the report makes is that the soiling should not have been assumed to be a behavior. It should first have been evaluated as a medical condition.

When I was in second grade, I used to ask to go to the bathroom with a frequency that my teacher felt was excessive, that I couldn't possibly need to go that often. She denied, I squirmed, squirmed more, and finally bepissed myself. She yelled at me and made me clean it up, though I sat in wet tights the rest of the day. The next day, the second or third time I asked to go to the bathroom, she told me effectively that I couldn't keep using 'I have to pee' as a way to get out of five minutes of class whenever I wanted. But I did really have to pee, and she pretty much made me pee myself *in class* for more than a week running, sometimes twice a day, because she didn't believe my biology.

It's a good thing my mother's default assumption was that my school was full of shit, and another good thing that she's *very* good at getting her own way with institutions. The problem was solved by an eggtimer being instituted for *all* bathroom breaks, not just mine, so that a bathroom break was defined as a certain maximum amount of time.

I also tried to be a little more careful about not drinking so much water.

#121 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 05:44 PM:

India, I read your story and it was shocking. I am so thankful you made it through and are still with us.

Kathryn, I think you're right that the mother was depressed and needed help. The school system failed the mother as well as the boy. I can really see over the fence on this one.

The awful thing about depression is that the more depressed you are, the more help you need AND the less able you are to get it for yourself.

But I keep coming back to the idea that, at least for me, I feel like I'm my child's last resort and no matter what's happening with me, I have to suck it up and deal with their needs.

I was in a bad situation for the past two and a half years, and grew very depressed -- it was all I could do much of the time to function. I felt like I was in hell. But I felt that my kids really depended on me, and I had to keep them and their needs in mind no matter what. Make sure their homework was done; make sure they were clean and had clothes and shoes that fit and healthy meals; make sure I was communicating with the school; make sure they knew I loved them and cared what was going on in their lives.

It doesn't mean I never screwed up or had days when I simply couldn't deal with their problems. There were times I felt like the only way to end the pain was to end my own life (not that I would have -- if not for myself, I couldn't do that to my kids), which would have fucked them up as badly as anything can, in this world.

I had Steve helping me. That in itself was a huge blessing, an advantage she didn't have. I do believe I would have found a way to get through somehow -- my girls really are my oxygen. But we never know how we'll react to situations that have never happened to us. It sounded as if J Daniel's mom was in a really bad place. I have no great amount of wiggle room in criticizing her.

But all this aside, I wouldn't ever feel like I could let myself off the hook as a mom. In her shoes, I wouldn't expect them to let me off the hook, either.

A boy died. Did she have no culpability? There were plenty of signs he was in trouble, and repeated recommendations to get counselling for him. If she couldn't afford to pay for it, many counsellors do pro bono work, and if they belonged to a church, many preachers counsel their church members for free.

To me, quite frankly, it sounds as if she'd given up on him.

I know women who have fought their kids literally tooth and nail, to keep them from killing themselves or throwing their lives away in other ways. It ain't pretty, but it beats the alternative. I hope and pray I would have the courage to fight for their lives, if it ever came to that with my girls.

I also hope and pray that when it comes time for sentencing, though, the court is lenient. His deterioration sounds as if it happened so gradually, she may not really have realized how bad a shape he was in, at the end. We humans are good at normalizing our circumstances. It would be an injustice for the mom to get stuck with all the blame, when clearly the school system screwed up, big time.

Really, it's a tragedy that that family could spiral so far down and not get any help from outside. That "it takes a village" business isn't a cliche. It's a reality.

Long, very personal post. Sorry for going on, all. But this one touches close to home, to me.


-l.

#122 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 05:56 PM:

It is assumed by those judging her that she wasn't working hard on being a parent. But given the general context, she could have been working on the wrong things and too depressed to keep up with the rest.

#123 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 06:22 PM:

I don't want to draw too sharp a line in the sand, Kathryn, between your views and mine. I do have empathy for her and can see how she might have gotten to where she was. I don't know what I would have done, if I'd been on that jury with cathy and the rest. And I do agree that the justice system seems to be picking on the least powerful person in the equation, in order to exonerate a larger abusive system. That's a fair cop.

Where do we draw the line? Clearly a parent who murders their child is culpable, and a parent who pours every ounce of spare energy into doing what they can to help their child, and the child commits suicide anyway, can't be held responsible.

Now, I read evidence she was trying to deal with the school to find solutions to his problems, and I do give her credit for that. She wasn't a child development specialist, and couldn't be expected to understand that at the heart of his difficulties was a learning disability that he wasn't receiving any help with.

But there were things she clearly knew about yet didn't do anything about. She knew he was getting hammered because of being "stinky" and soiling himself, for instance, but didn't provide a place for him to bathe, and didn't have him checked by a doctor regarding his incontinence, etc. That's why I said it seemed to me as if she'd given up.

I'm uncomfortable with arguing that she should have been prosecuted. But I can see why the jury, presented with the facts pertaining to his home situation, felt they had to make the call they did.

We may end up having to agree to disagree on this one.


-l.

#124 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 06:30 PM:

Despite my various misgivings, if I were on her jury, I probably would have voted to convict.

But I also find the feedback loop of misperception between school and mother quite striking.

Our house may be cluttered, but I suspect our insurance company wishes that I had a parenting style closer to that woman's.

#125 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 06:44 PM:

"But I also find the feedback loop of misperception between school and mother quite striking."

Yes. And chilling. Another chord that resonates; we have a bright daughter with a learning disability. A lesson is in here, for me, about always advocating for my daughter, and not accepting what harried overworked schoolfolk have to say.


"Our house may be cluttered, but I suspect our insurance company wishes that I had a parenting style closer to that woman's."

Heh.


-l.

#126 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 06:45 PM:

Eloise Mason: "I was listening to Car Talk last weekend, and was gobsmacked when a lady mentioned in passing, just offhandedly, 'I've never really believed in allergies.' Later comments made it clear she thought everyone in the history of the world who ever claimed to be allergic to something was just being unreasonably picky."

About every 10 years or so, I accidently eat a few ounces of fish. A couple of mouthfuls of fish isn't bad for me, I almost always taste it by then and stop eating, and recover after a few hours of only mild discomfort. But every 10 year or so, I eat a few ounces of fish, generally because I'm hungry, and distracted, and the fish flavor is overpowered by other flavors.

I hope that woman is around on one of those occasions, and she will see evidence that allergies are real. She will see LOTS of evidence. I hope she brings a mop and bucket for all the evidence. On second thought, just one mop and bucket usually isn't sufficient -- it's pretty spectacular. Think Monty Python, Mr. Creosote.

#127 ::: Tracy ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 06:58 PM:

Squeez0r. I typo too much. o.o; mhn..I only have three reasons to not kill myself

1) To make my art better, a lot better
2) Eu/Aron (Online person who I love much)
3) I don't want to prove that all the assholes were right.

#128 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 01:57 AM:

Tracy -- good that you have three. Backup is important. If it gets down to only one, get concerned....

Proving the assholes were wrong is always a good one to hang on to.

Best wishes on your continuing to move forward.

Tom (suicidal thoughts common as a teenager, still here with such thoughts at 50 -- you can do it too!)

#129 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 07:01 AM:

Tracy:

While we can help to a certain extent online, you need to comminucate your suicidal feelings to responsible grownups in person. If the obvious people -- your parents, your teachers, the school psychologist -- don't strike you as responsible grownups, just walk into the emergency room, or try your local police station, or just plain call 911. Contemplating suicide is an emergency.

Accept that depression has distorted your perceptions. There are many more reasons not to kill yourself, first and foremost of which is that it's fatal.

The most important thing you can do now is to give people who can help the chance to intervene.

I am willing to continue to provide supportive words, but this is no substitute for seeking help in person.

#130 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 07:30 AM:

Tracy,

What Kathryn said is exactly right.

If you need some advice on where to look for a trustworthy adult, we can help point you in good local directions. But that adult can help you, in person, in ways that we can't.

Folks,

I keep going back to this passage from the state report:

"Teachers described their discomfort caused by the boy92s odor. One demonstrated how she would hold her hand over her nose and mouth whenever she passed him in the hall."

That particular teacher wasn't just being directly cruel to that child. That teacher was teaching the other children, by example, how to think about and act toward him.

That's deeply wrong, wrong on a level that's hard to think about.

It's also troubling that the teacher felt comfortable telling the investigators that. It suggests to me that the environment at the school is bad, and that points upward into management.

P.S. I look backward at the language in this thread, particularly mine: scope, proactive, accountable. It sounds like I'm at work--bad way to think about schools.

#131 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 08:40 AM:

I totally agree. Teachers have a duty of care and schools should be concerned with the overall well being (academic, emotional and mental), of all their students.

Poor young Daniel was a victim of the loopholes and the broken down social fabric of the society in which we live.I am so sad and sorry, as a mother, a social worker, and as a human being to hear of these things happening to children and their families. Daniel was drowning in his own sea of oppression, trying so hard to stay afloat the best way he thought he could. Poor young boy, he even adapted his own survival mechanisms, soiling, sleeping with knives, finding ways to escape his torture.

Daniel's mother is a victim. Many of you have posted thoughts about the effects of depression, and i have some past experience myself of the energy that is robbed of a person when in the midst of depression. A victim of domestic violence and other abusive taunts herself, Daniel's mother had given up a fight too, for she was broken. She was drowning in her own life. Not only was she punished in earlier life, but now she is punished even more. The poor woman should be comforted, her miserable life had just became more miserable. Instead of comforting the woman, she is locked up. It is time the social institutions, those that influence our lives, take responsibility for the wrong doings in this world. It is so typical of mankind. Lock up the problem instead of naming it and claim it as something all of us are responsible for.

Naturally, we will jump in and blame mum because she had duty of care. What about society's duty of care to her and to Daniel? Society failed her, the school failed Daniel, the teachers failed Daniel. Child protection failed Daniel. It was easier to hold your nose closed as he walked by than to sit and talk with the boy and establish some repore or find a way to support this child.

If Daniel's mum was struggling to keep house, then surely these were signs that she needed support and that something had gone drastically wrong in her life for her to lose sight of the fact that her son was sleeping in a closet, or at least to make the rightful judgement that this was not right for the poor child.

This is not an issue about school yard bullying; this is about society bully's anyone who doesn't fit the plastic prototype human being that we in the western world expect as being "normal". This is about marginalised people being kept on the fringe, falling through the system loopholes.

I pray for empowerment for mother of Daniel Scruggs. I pray for children like Daniel. May we as a society not let their suffering go ignored, may we have the judgement and maturity to think and feel in a way that preserves human life and dignity, not just public policy.

Rest in Peace Daniel Scruggs. May you find your light young man, in a world more beautiful than this one.

Elvira Andreoli.
Melbourne Australia

#132 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 09:34 AM:

Elvira,

I'm on my way to work, so I won't blather on, as is my usual practice.

Yes, the mother is a victim. I'm reading Mischa Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia lately. It's a grim reminder that not all victims are innocent. Not the same thing, I know. It never is.

The jury has spoken. Now the court should show this woman mercy in sentencing. Failing that, the governor of Connecticut should exercise clemency in some fashion.

Why? Partly because she is a victim, but mostly to focus on the public good, not vengeance.

Attention must be paid, to the school and to the social service agencies which failed this child.

This poor woman--I think her life is over, too, no matter how long she walks the earth. In any case, it is certain she will never again be able to fail a child. The agencies can and, if not fixed, will.

They probably are failing some other unfortunate family, right now. That's the issue.

#133 ::: Marge ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 10:22 AM:

The blame for the sucide of Daniel Scruggs should not be placed soley on one person, his mother. As a single parent I know first hand how hard it is to raise children without no support, escpecially working two jobs and if you miss one day of work, could put your family in a financial hardship and playing catch up on the bills can stress anyone out.
You have a young boy who lives with two females, no real father figure, his mother works two jobs, and is bullied at school. This sets the scene for trouble. From everything that I have read about this young boy his mother is not to blame, society is.
The ADCF worker that visited the house said she found no signs of neglect. I am sure that she has seen worse and the Scruggs home was not unusual to her. Although she told Scruggs that she should keep the boy out of school was not the right thing to do. Alternative care should been arranged to keep an eye on the boy until another school could be found. Or better yet why did they not make arrangement to have a teacher come to the house for the remander of the school year. Also a visiting psychologist could have come for therapy to help ease the boys fears about school, and the possibility of finding a root to his troubles.
To the prosecuters Mrs. Scruggs was an easy target. She worked all the time and the house may have been a little messy so Mrs. Scruggs was the culprit. The ones that said the house was discusting probably dont work all the time, or have someone who lives with them to help out with chores and children. And others stated that the house was NOT that messy.
The prosecutors comment about a "real life pigpen" should have been kept to himself. Where does he get off publically placing a name on a 12 year old child who is not here to defend himself? Name calling is another form of bullying.
As far as the rest of the family, why did they not step in and help with Daniel? Where was thier support. I feel that they are just as much to blame in this situation.
I hope that Mrs. Scruggs appeals the decision to the courts. If we prosecute single mothers for working hard and trying to do their best, we are setting areselves up for a society of children who have been forced to foster care by the very states that are suppose to be there to help keep families together.
Margie Upchurch
La Plata, MD

#134 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 10:22 AM:

Tracy:

Am I correct in understanding that you are asking us for help?

#135 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 10:39 AM:

Some touching and thoughtful posts about the mom and society.


-l.

#136 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 10:47 AM:

Hi friends. Can anyone please direct me to a link that will show me a picture of J. Daniel. I have been trying to find his picture on line for days.
Thankyou.

Elvira Andreoli.
Melbourne Australia.

#137 ::: Deanna ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 11:27 AM:

Who was home minding this child? Who was there to ask question such as How was your day? Who was there for emotional support? Where do priorities begin and then end? I wonder about the shape of things when we begin to justify negligence of a child left alone to his own defenses. Yes, I have children and yes they have been bullied. Did I ignore it for weeks at a time? No. I immediately did something and please don't tell me that a parent doesn't have time to do something like protecting thier children, in which children expect us to protect them. Hello!!! This child was ignored and left to his own defenses.

#138 ::: Connie Hirsch ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 12:51 PM:

Deanna, the mom was working two jobs, neither of which sounds like it paid well.

Kathryn, thank you for bringing up the medical issue, which occured to me last night thinking back on the facts I've seen presented here -- I couldn't remember if there'd been any mention of J. Daniel being checked for issues like bladder infections or irritable bowel syndrome, which could present as loss of control in stressful situations -- and face it, his life was nothing but stressful.

#139 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 04:59 PM:

You know, sometimes parents fail. The whole point of having mandatory reporting, Child Protective Services, and so on, is to mitigate the results of the failure of parenting. It seems to me that the only person who made any concerted effort to help J. Daniel _was_ his mother. The social safety net failed utterly.

The social worker canceled appointments, and there were long gaps in between appeals for help and anybody in the system actually doing anything. A mandatory reporter, the social worker, failed to report the fact that J. Daniel was living in an unsafe environment. Information about alternative schools was promised but never provided. Information about supportive services was promised, but never provided. Repeated complaints about J. Daniel being subject to bullying were ignored or treated as J. Daniel's fault. Daniel had a significant _medical_ problem, soiling his pants, and it doesn't look like anyone explained this to his mother, or made any effort to address the problem medically. (Regardless of the cause of soiling, decubitis ulcers are darn nasty.) Special ed was cancelled not because J. Daniel didn't need it, but because the school said he failed to use it productively. Ye gods. The kid had a serious LD, and they just gave up on him.

I'm good at bullying bureacracies. I have a talent for being rude without ever crossing the line and letting the bureacrat feel justified in hanging up on me. When I'm pissed, I'm tenacious. Ms. Scruggs almost certainly didn't have the time to bully the various institutions into helping. We're talking hanging onto the phone for a half-hour or an hour, putting up with being on hold for long lengths of time, not yelling even when you're so mad you're seeing red, and always making sure that they have a face-saving way out -- by doing what you want. Taking names. Keeping records. Being more organized than they are. Just that phone time was probably prohibitive.

After reading (skimming) the state report, I think I'm most appalled at the school. The LD program in a trailer behind the school sets off all sorts of alarm bells. I assume the school had space issues; all schools have space issues. However, putting problem kids in a separate and what would look like substandard location isn't going to help those children with being ostracized any.

The school apparently did nothing when J. Daniel's gameboy was stolen. How much does a gameboy cost, anyway? Given his family's income, how likely was it that he would be able to replace it? The school's reactions to the complaints from J. Daniel and his mother about him being bullied were somewhere between inadequate and appalling. No matter how true it is, telling a kid that has clear problems that his ostracization is his own fault is stupid and possibly catastrophic. This is not a child with high self-esteem. As for the bit about J. Daniel initiating the bullying by "passive aggressive" behavior -- all I can say is that there are days when the term passive aggressive had never been invented. There was also a denial, insisting that he was making it up, or that it wasn't that bad. The report didn't say, were any of the kids that he fought with also disciplined? I know where I'd lay my money. The rank injustice of this will eat away at a kid in a way that no adult can feel. When you're 30, you've already encountered so much injustice that you no longer expect fairness all the time. You may fight for it, try to give it, believe in it, but when you encounter injustice, it doesn't blow your world away. It's one more instance. The world shouldn't be like that, but by the time we grow up, we know that it is.

How many of us remember getting a lower grade on a test or paper where we had done better work? ?rotesting, and being told that the teacher had expected more of us, because we were so smart? How many of us older children were told that fighting with a sibling was our fault because we were the older child, even if it started by your younger sibling whaling on you until you finally hit back? How often were any of you told that if you'd just stop flaunting your differences, things would be easier? Recently, a friend of mine was told that he'd be better liked if he didn't talk so smart. Generously, his friends allowed as how he could be smart, as long as he didn't show it.

It seems to me that the school decided that his odor and behavior were things he was doing to "get out of school," that most hideous of sins. His temper tantrums were probably seen as attempts to get attention. His low grades were a direct affront, given his IQ. Oh, how well I remember all of this. There is nothing in my past as extreme as J. Daniel's, but over and over again, the school system treated me with suspicion and restrictions, not because I was ill-behaved, but because I was _well behaved_, not because I was slow, but because I was smart. I deviated from the plan, and had to be squashed flat. Some grades were better than others, but I always felt that the administration was waiting, watching. I wasn't a paranoid child, either. It's just that the rules were so arbitrary, so out of touch with their stated goals, that I felt insecure. If I can get a bad grade on a paper because I wrote a not-good-enough paper, even though it's better than everyone else's, what else can they do? Anything, actually. Or, in J. Daniel's case, usually nothing at all.

#140 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 05:05 PM:

For Elvira....http://www.agpcabinc.org/.

#141 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 06:15 PM:

Deanna, the school where Daniel was getting bullied was also his mother's employer. She was a Teacher's Aide -- way far down on the totem pole, not a protected species. That job was Mrs. Scruggs' full-time position; i.e., it was the source of her family's medical coverage and other benefits. There may have been other constraints; for instance, I've known teachers whose home mortgages were financed through their local teachers' credit unions.

Daniel's mother's position significantly lessened her ability to fight the school on her son's behalf, and increased the hazards she would face if she did so.

I know smart, committed, personally forceful parents who've tried for years to get their local school to protect their kids from being bullied. It's probably helped reduce the bullying but it hasn't stopped. We have no evidence that Mrs. Scruggs ignored Daniel's pleas. We have plenty of evidence that she did what she could to get help for him. Neither she nor Daniel got any serious help. From everything I've seen, his school made it clear that his wellbeing wasn't even on their list of priorities.

If the school was so sure Daniel's problems were his mother's fault, why did they continue to employ her to work with children?

Teachers and other educational employees are "required reporters" -- they have to report evidence of abuse or neglect. Why didn't they report on Daniel?

Why did the school system only swing into vigorous action when Mrs. Scruggs accused them of negligence in the death of her son?

#142 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 06:29 PM:

For Teresa...

The school did report Mrs Scruggs to both DCF and the court. Now as for what they did....well, you've probably read, not a heck of a lot.

BTW, a Gameboy costs about $100 dollars.

#143 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 09:25 AM:

I have blogged a separate ethical issue raised by some aspects of this discussion.

#144 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 11:56 AM:

Thanks for the link Pandora.
What a beautiful face little Daniel had.

#145 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 12:11 PM:

Elvira,

It is possible Daniel didn't look so great when he was unwashed. But he was still a cute kid. I

#146 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 09:39 PM:

It must be hard to be on a jury. This is about another case altogether:

Jurors' sound legal decision breaks their hearts | csmonitor.com

#147 ::: Adn ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 11:48 AM:

Im not a professional person or anything. I read about this little boy in a magazine. It caught my attention because i grew up with a friend that lived with a hoarding family and all of their children were mentally messed up. They had four kids in that house, oldest at 24 and youngest at 5.
My friend and I hung out with the one that was in Jr. High. We were all in Jr. High and yes it was hell! The teachers were racist and I had gotten threatned everyday that i would get jumped by these 5 certain black girls. That part didnt happen but there were lots of encounters with the black kids that came from the high school after school. I was actually more scared in the school than outside. I knew it was all bs!
A friend had talked me into joining the girls basketball team and after only attending a few practices, we knew what was going on and realized that the ball wasnt getting passed to us was because we were white. Yeah it may sound funny but the teacher was black and he didnt say shit!
So onto track! that wasnt that bad, I just couldnt stand the two black teachers walking over and spitting in my face while they talked. Seeing to be a game played by the two of them as they smiled at each other i said screw it again.
Thats when cutting school came and smoking weed. I was in a west side school where half of the kids where black because the mayor said the school over there is better than the east side schools. But the reason the white kids are being sent to the east side schools is because they need a mixture of minorities.
IM not very good with typing so i hope you all are keeping up with this.
Anyways enough trying to prove things! The school was and still is messed up! The whole city is!! GOD! The whole country is fucked!
But im saying is that this bully thing is more than you all think it is! Its society! One person gets messed with, they mess with someone else. Some of us have more reasons than others but we all do! As sweet as your kid is, hes probably a bully and may have learned it from you! or maybe his brother and you sure as hell dont no. Cause if they dont want youto know, you wont!
Im not saying you have to pry into your childs life but maybe your own. What if that boy was timid by nature because his mom was.
I dont know exactly where im getting at. I have lots to say about everything so i jump. There are reasons for everything, so just look around, outside of your own self absorbed world.
I really feel bad about this liitle boy taking his own life. It actually pisses me off more than anything. Just thinking about all those kids doing those things, everyday, allday! And the teachers! they watch and they arnt stupid! they no whats going on! they just want the students to like them because she helps too and who in this world doesnt have ego boosting issues?!!
That kid was smart and seemed well rounded in who we was and they held that little boy down from his full potential! and for what?!! because someone else was popular and they needed someone to spit on, literally! That boy killed himself because those piecses of shit did what ever they could to make themselves feel better and they did it so bad and sooo much a life was taken!
He obviously had no problem with his messy ass room. It was school! remember, he used to where ties to class. He had respect for himself and turned himself into that just to get outta school and stop trying to impress them.
Alotta kids have boyscout knives too! who knows maybe something bigger! I had a stolen butcher knife under my bed. He lived in a bad neighborhood and his life was threatned everyday... AND AT SCHOOL!! WTF!
Didnt his mom try? cause it said she did. and maybe shes not as strong as some of you moms but she did ask for the help! she was messed up too and not in a way we should hate her for beacuse then well be like the students and teachers at that school!!
LOOk at her background! the whole family pleaded for help its just everyone was too busy with their own bs to noticed someone else needed more attention than they did. So go on and make it easy for yourselves when you sleep at night. Ill remember how much i hate living in a world full of people like you!

#148 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 03:21 PM:

Sounds like you don't have it so easy at school, either, Adn.


-l.

#149 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 03:33 PM:

I wonder who 'you' refers to at the end of Adn's post...if it's us, she clearly didn't read this thread.

#150 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 09:22 PM:

I read it as anger at those of us adults who agreed with, or at least condoned, the verdict the jurors at J Daniel's mom's trial reached.

I must say, this whole thread has given me a lot of cause for thought. My conclusions certainly weren't something I was comfortable with. I'm still not. It was ugly and a tragedy and a waste. I grieve for his mother as well as for him.


-l.

#151 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 09:31 PM:

I just think about the next poor kid that school is going to fail.

#152 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 08:50 AM:

There have been some very sensitive and touching contributions made in this forum. Adn, you said some very wise things - don't worry about the academics of it. What you said is real - and I understood you loud and clear. I think you'd find most people in this forum would share in your sentiments.
I wish you and others here well.
Elvira.

#153 ::: LoRita Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 06:24 AM:

The mother, the school system and those particular bullies and the students who did not report or step in all contributed in some way to the death of Daniel Scruggs. Children's welfare should be the first priority in parents'lives. There was an obvious problem. If the mother did not feel she had any control over the matters, she should have taken Daniel to someone who could. I think that charges should have been filed to those bullies (that is assault!) and those teachers who turned a blind eye.

#154 ::: Chris Hamre ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 05:32 PM:

I find this to be despicable! Judith was charged with putting her kid at risk and could get ten years. If the authorities were aware of this, though they didn't any action, why wasn't she charged before then? Is it just because they want someone accountable for the suicide?
Though they are not actually charging her in the death of her son, because doing that would mean that they should charge the bullies and teachers who contributed to his demise as well.
Is keeping an unkept home worth ten years? I find that hard to believe.
He was bullied and pushed because he was small.
He may have been laughed at and mocked if he was bigger and had bad hygiene but not thrown around the school and shoved down the stairs!
If only he had been gay, he would be getting justice because the gay rights activists would want it! But he was small, so who cares?

#155 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 07:18 PM:

LoRita Johnson: "If the mother did not feel she had any control over the matters, she should have taken Daniel to someone who could."

Who? We've been through this already. We don't know if she had any family or friends who could take care of the kid. The government child welfare system had already told her to take a hike. Who should she have taken them to?

Chris Hamre: "If only he had been gay, he would be getting justice because the gay rights activists would want it! But he was small, so who cares?" Yep, them homos sure do have a great life. You never hear about them getting beaten to death by heterosexuals, then having their funerals picketed by crazy people, or anything like that?

I fail to understand the mentality that sees civil-rights as a zero-sum game, as if protecting the rights of one group somehow diminishes the rights of another.

#156 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 08:18 AM:

Dear Mitch and Chris,

I respect alot of what you say, but I think we should concentrate on social justice accross the board. Let's face it, being taunted because you're big or small or gay is horrible, which ever way you see it.

I don't think protecting the rights of one group diminishes the rights of another at all. If anything it raises awareness about how bad violence is, however it chooses to rear its ungly head, and for whatever reason.

I am concerned when i see you talk about "homos" and the gay rights groups being vocal. Any group should be vocal when it comes to speaking out about bullying. To me it isn't important why a child is tormented - the fact is poor Daniel was tormented to the point where he had no choice but to take his own life. We as human beings and social advocates should be appauled at any bullying that goes on, regardless of why it goes on.

Whether you are large, small, gay or ungay, you deserve to be safe at school - period.

#157 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 06:14 PM:

Elvira - When I used the word "homos," etc., I was being ironic - I was belittling homophobes. Sorry if that didn't come across.

#158 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 09:08 PM:

I thought people who were still interested in the issues raised by this thread might like to know of one positive step being taken against school bullying:

New Film Kicks Off National School Violence Campaign

#159 ::: Katie ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2003, 06:43 PM:

When are people finally going to realize that "teasing" is not something to be taken lighty? You never forget about it, you always have doubts about yourself, you never really forgive those who did it to you. You carry around a lot of anger. It shouldn't be just some "rite of passage". No kid deserves to go through that horror and dread school every day. Teachers, DO something about those little brats who bully around the small, weak, or just different (usually more intelligent, is what it boils down too), kids.

#160 ::: Amy ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2003, 07:11 PM:

ok, I'm still reading all the posts...but just wanted to add something. While I do feel compassion for the mom because she didn't directly cause her son to kill himself, I agree with all those that have said her primary concern should have been his welfare.
My mom has worked 2 or 3 jobs since I was in junior high, and while it was myself and my brother who is 3 years younger at home by ourselves until 11:00 at night, even when my brother got in to drugs, my mom took the time to get him help. And all the other times he got in trouble. My mom raised 6 kids by herself, I find it very hard to believe this mother couldn't raise one kid and make sure to meet all his needs.
I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but did the she think to apply for State services, food stamps, low income housing, etc? Did she not have family that could help with him? Friends she could turn to?
Maybe I don't understand because of how I was raised, but now that I have a daughter of my own, no matter what is going on at work she is my first priority.

#161 ::: judy ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2003, 07:26 AM:

I feel really bad for J.Daniel Scruggs mom.She was probabley clueless like I was at one time about a troubled boy I didn't work two jobs like her god bless her for that and not being lazy'like there trying to make lookout to be.I had intervention.When I heard her story my son also had large knives.I honestly did not know why 'Iwould find them under his bed hidden in his closet'under the couch in the livingroom,I know he felt safe in my bed because he told me many times but I also found k

nives there even under my pillow. His room always was a pigsty,I would clean and organize it and he would get very upset with me and accuse me of not letting him have any type of control over his own stuff,this is a delecate line because you know there hurting they have no friends ,there bullied and the one thing they do have control over is there room and you want to rob them of that!I hope someone helps this woman win her lawsuit and get her charges dropped.I am hurting for her because it could have been me and I'm sure lots of familys in her shoes.I did not lose my son like her that would have killed me.My son went on to stealing a brand new laptop from the same school he was bullied at to being invovled in a fire at our apartment building ,it got us evicted,and left us homeless.That was four years ago .It has been a long hard stuggle he's 16 now,on meds.and gos to a theripudict day school year round and I think he's fitting in fine to his level of comfort.He still has very poor hygeine.We are still working on things,one thing at a time,baby steps.HIs grades are all A's.Judith Scruggs never even had a chance,those people at that school could have called in DCFS for intervention and in home counceling,and if DCFS was already invovled then they owe that mother something for not doing something immediately for her child.J.Daniel may have felt some type of betrayal from his mom for working at a place that would not except him,he should have been given that opportunity to go to another school instead of being allowed to just stay home.My son felt at twelve that people just viewed him as invisible,and I'm so lucky I did not lose him ,the social worker at the school mentored him. Please someone help Judith Scruggs I would gladly rally this country into helping mothers like us trying to make it alone get the help thats out there instead of telling her shes the reason her childs dead! Thankyou Judy L.

#162 ::: judy ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2003, 07:26 AM:

I feel really bad for J.Daniel Scruggs mom.She was probabley clueless like I was at one time about a troubled boy I didn't work two jobs like her god bless her for that and not being lazy'like there trying to make lookout to be.I had intervention.When I heard her story my son also had large knives.I honestly did not know why 'Iwould find them under his bed hidden in his closet'under the couch in the livingroom,I know he felt safe in my bed because he told me many times but I also found k

nives there even under my pillow. His room always was a pigsty,I would clean and organize it and he would get very upset with me and accuse me of not letting him have any type of control over his own stuff,this is a delecate line because you know there hurting they have no friends ,there bullied and the one thing they do have control over is there room and you want to rob them of that!I hope someone helps this woman win her lawsuit and get her charges dropped.I am hurting for her because it could have been me and I'm sure lots of familys in her shoes.I did not lose my son like her that would have killed me.My son went on to stealing a brand new laptop from the same school he was bullied at to being invovled in a fire at our apartment building ,it got us evicted,and left us homeless.That was four years ago .It has been a long hard stuggle he's 16 now,on meds.and gos to a theripudict day school year round and I think he's fitting in fine to his level of comfort.He still has very poor hygeine.We are still working on things,one thing at a time,baby steps.HIs grades are all A's.Judith Scruggs never even had a chance,those people at that school could have called in DCFS for intervention and in home counceling,and if DCFS was already invovled then they owe that mother something for not doing something immediately for her child.J.Daniel may have felt some type of betrayal from his mom for working at a place that would not except him,he should have been given that opportunity to go to another school instead of being allowed to just stay home.My son felt at twelve that people just viewed him as invisible,and I'm so lucky I did not lose him ,the social worker at the school mentored him. Please someone help Judith Scruggs I would gladly rally this country into helping mothers like us trying to make it alone get the help thats out there instead of telling her shes the reason her childs dead! Thankyou Judy L.

#163 ::: greg ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2003, 07:55 AM:

Saw Oprah Friday. This mother is guilty of neglect. How can you not insist a child bathe and have clean clothing. Why did her adult sons not intervene. The school is responsible as well.

#164 ::: AJ ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2003, 10:47 AM:

I question alot of this whole thing. Did the police check prints on the knives? did they check prints on the boy's body?who were the kids who punched and kicked,threathened his life?, what was the father in prison for?,and did the police assume from the beginning without questioning that it was a suicide. As a former teacher, from the looks of the knife and homemade spear, this boy was wanting to protect his life not kill it. It wouldn't be the first time that a murder was made to look like a suicide. And surely, there would be enough time and motive for others to do this with the mother gone and sister asleep in that big house . Just a few questions that I haven't seen addressed. As sometimes, the police go with a theory from the beginning and never open it up to other possibilities. I think there are others who know more about this family and the schoolmates than are being told.Easy to just close this whole thing with a sentence for the mother who unfortunately also played a role by neglect, or perhaps something more. Who knows what went on in this house. I once made a home visit and found a teenage boy living in the families extra car, eating in the car, sleeping in the car, because the house was so unbearable. From the outside, it was the perfect tri-level with nice little yard. Father went to work everyday in suit and tie and briefcase and mother went to work, but there was more to story that the front porch scene. Just raising a few questions that have me puzzled in this terribly puzzling case where some many professionals and non-professionals are to blame for whatever occured leading up to this awful event that took the life of such a sweet little boy .

#165 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2003, 05:08 PM:

Judy, thanks for sharing your story. It's easy to forget just how bad things can get for moms on their own with troubled kids, who might not know what resources they have access to.


-l.

#166 ::: Sabrina Finberg ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2003, 05:19 PM:

I found out about this boy when I watched Oprah last Friday. The story bothered me from the moment I heard it and hasn't stopped. That is how I came across this website. I am in college pursuing a teaching degree and I don't understand how anyone who is supposedly dedicated to the lives of children could watch this bullying go on and do absolutely nothing about it. There should definitely be consequences for the mother, she did not seem to care enough about her son, but I don't understand why the school isn't facing consequences also. How can people get away with something like this? You can lose your teaching certificate if you don't report a child who you suspect may be abused but it's perfecty okay to sit back and watch a child be tormented to the point of being pulled out of school. That doesn't make any sense to me at all.

#167 ::: Cami Wedman ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 08:31 PM:

Being a kid myself i know how hard it is for kids being in the heart of school. You couldn't even try to imagine how hard it is to be there and see how cruel people really are. I was once a bully, you know the once in a while, haveing a laugh with the friends. After hearing this horible story, you better beleave i stratend up.

#168 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 09:48 PM:

Well, if this motivated you to change your behavior, I'm glad. Any chance you could influence your friends?

#169 ::: Jim Morrison ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 05:31 PM:

Horrible. Tragic. Maybe those are the words to describe ol' Danny's case. His mother didn't give a shit about him. Maybe it's his fault that he didn't shower. Maybe it's common sense to take a bath/shower every day (I do it twice a day), brush your teeth (or tooth) 2 x a day. Maybe he wasn't raised that way (with a father in jail and all) His mother was way too busy to give 2 shits about how he smells. Yes, you're all right, bullying is hard to avoid and deal with. But that's whats part of life. Suck it up. Be a man. Maybe it got to the point in Daniels mind he just heard something go *snap*. Schools today have no control and the parents of bullies (those assholes) can't control how their children act everyday. But come on.... a kid who shits and pisses himself to get out of school.... don't you see something fucked up? Something definiely shoulda been done in time....but instead he took fate by the horns and made a decision to end it all. Alone. In a closet. Most bullied kids not only take fate by the horns, but take semi-automatic weapons to school to teach dem bullies a lesson. Most of us have been teased and razzed and all, but it wasnt so bad to the point that we walked into school and plugged our fellow classmates in the noggin or took our own life.

#170 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 08:30 PM:

Jim, when you say "Most bullied kids [...] take semi-automatic weapons to school..." [instead of committing solo suicide], do you have any statistics to back that up? My impression is that suicide during childhood is way more common than shooting sprees; it's just that suicides don't make the national news for weeks afterwards.

#171 ::: Brian Keith O'Hara ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 07:59 AM:

Daniel went to his teachers, he went to his counselors, he went to the administration of Washington Middle School and complained about that taunting, the bullying and the torment that was inflicted upon him. The educators did nothing, because the didn't care. They didn't give a damn about him, and they worked very hard to make sure he knew it. He knew. No twelve year old boy soils himself, except out of desperation and hopelessness.
It doesn't surprise me that the DA and Police would prosecute Daniel's mother, they never cared about Daniel while he was alive: he didn't count. He still doesn't. They have been embarrassed by Daniel's death. They blame Daniel's mother for their embarrassment.
Persecute her, like the kids and teachers persecuted Daniel.
First of all, bullying is torture. It is evil. Daniel was different. He was smaller than the other kids and probably too sensitive. That is fertile ground for bullies, they love to torture the wounded. Eventually it becomes a feeding frenzy. Bullying leads to bullying, torture leads to torture, and eventually a child dies. And nobody cares...

I would like to put forth the supposition that the bullying started first, Daniel went to his teachers and school administrators and begged for their help. They did nothing. Daniel lived a life of torment, alone, miserable with no one to turn to. His Mom found out, she went to school officials who again did nothing. Daniel just gave up. That is when he stopped taking showers, that is when he started playing hookey. The kids who tortured him are guilty of murder, as are his teachers, as are school administrators, as are the police and the DA. The scary thing is that they have already started torturing the next kid. But at least Daniel won't be alone...and he will have a friend...


All Washington Middle School, its teachers, administrators, the police and the DA have proven is that they didn't care about Daniel then, they don't care about him now. If this is how the people who knew him treat his memory, he is better off. The kids who tortured him, his teachers, school administrators, the police and the DA were glad to be rid of him. I know God wants him and he is finally with people who love him. But I warn these people, The Wrath of God awaits them. The DA may brag about another notch on his belt, but God is preparing his case for the DA's prosecution.

#172 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2003, 01:25 AM:

Brian, your words send chills all over me....

*nodding*.

*****************************************

Can anyone please shed some light on the progress of this trial and sentence. Last i read, the sentence was to be handed down on November 20th - I am in Australia - i can't find anything in the papers here or anywhere online as to whether there has been an appeal. Is J. Daniel's mother still in prison?
Thankyou.

#173 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2003, 10:58 AM:

Elvira, I don't know how this stands right now. If I find anything, I'll post it here.

#174 ::: Elvira Andreoli ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2003, 08:06 AM:

Dear Teresa,
Thankyou very much.
Kind Regards,
Elvira.

#175 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2003, 02:11 PM:

With regards to sentencing....the sentencing date had been moved to December, due to the fact that November the 20th would have been Daniel Scrugg's 14th birthday...the court decided it wouldn't be cool to sentence her that day. Now there are several motions in front of the judge to get a mistrial declared. Until this matter is settled, I don't think there will be a sentencing.

#176 ::: 1 who cares ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 01:00 AM:

TRACY - TRACY - TRACY:

Didn't anybody tell you yet, that what your mother does isn't your fault? Well, it isn't your fault, and you also have no control over it. Those drugs turn parents into nonparents - they are selfish and only want to get high and make stupid choices, like having babies while they're addicted. Just one example. You can't reason with them. They don't act or react like normal people. They will buy their drugs and not take any care of their kids. ***And their kids can't change that.***

I'm sure you wish that your mom would stop using, so that you could have a good relationship with her.

Tracy, the pull of those drugs is (most likely) stronger than anything you could say to your mom. If people could stop others from being drug addicts and alcoholics, or make them quit using, believe me, they would do it. But usually it's like trying to make the sun rise in the west - it won't happen.

Please, please, please try not to take it personally. Your mother doesn't do anything to be mean to you on purpose, exactly - she's an addict, and addicts are very, very selfish. They don't care about others, unless those others can help them get their drugs. They don't have emotions the same way that non-drug-using people do.

Maybe it would help you to think of your mom as someone who is injured and can't heal. The drugs make her injured *in her mind and thoughts.* And in such a way that it's impossible, or nearly so, for her to stop using. And that's addiction.

YOU need to do just a couple simple things. First, find somebody decent to talk to about your feelings about your mom - I recommend starting with your school counselor. I'm certain that you've overheard your relatives say awful things about your mom, and it angers and confuses you. Talk to the counselor, please.

Second, be careful of online friends - it's impossible to tell who they really are.

Third, get involved in a group for friends and family of addicts, or children of addicts (call the local Alcoholics Anonymous to find a meeting, and take a grownup with you; don't go alone).

Fourth, don't let your mother's problems destroy you. Don't let that addiction take two people down; it got your mother, but you can rise above it. Her actions are not under your control, and they are not your fault.

Best wishes, and hang in there.

1 who cares.

#177 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 09:50 PM:

Just for an update....there has been no decision regarding the motion for mistrial in this case. However, Judith Scrugg's attorney did file suit against the school district, claiming they failed to protect Daniel.

#178 ::: Curious in Montana ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 03:38 PM:

I was teased alot in school. My grandparents ended up pulling me out of school and home-schooled me for the next 7 1/2 years. This woman says she tried to get help, counseling for her son. I'm sorry, I don't believe her. I saw her on John Walsh. There were no tears, no remorse, no nothing from her. I feel she does deserve to spend the 10 years in prison. As far as I can see there was no real need for her to work 2 jobs. She only had one child still living at home. JMO. I'm proud of her family for testifying against her. I have two small children (3 and 5) and they are my life. I know if there is a problem with them, and I do work alot of hours myself. This woman should have known there was a problem because he was sleeping in his closet with a bunch of knives.

#179 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 10:57 PM:

Curious, she had several children, two of them livng at home at the time, and two jobs that both paid sh*t, and no money to spare. Home schooling was not an option. She'd married the wrong man -- a mistake no bigger than many the rest of us make, and don't pay nearly as much for making -- and after J. Daniel's father went to prison, she lived in hard-working poverty.

Sure, she could have stayed home with her kids, by going on welfare. Is that what you had in mind? She didn't do that. She worked. And if she didn't cry on TV, more power to her. If there's some greater purpose to her sorrows -- and I'm not prepared to accept that there is -- it's not to entertain us, or to gratify our curiosity or our sense of how the story should come out. She's certainly not some kind of unfeeling sociopath. We'd have noticed that by now. The prosecution would certainly have noticed that.

If you'll read back up the thread, you'll find it was far more complicated than you imagine. You may or may not agree that she was guilty as charged, but you'll find it was more than a simple morality play about a negligent mother. You might find yourself having to consider the fairly horrifying possibility that she was, in fact, doing the best she could.

Another thing you'll find, if you read back up the thread, is that sleeping on knives isn't as dangerous as it sounds. I've done it, though not on purpose. It's a nice, gaudy-sounding charge to throw at J. Daniel's mother, in the course of legal proceedings that were only initiated after she started talking about suing the school system for so manifestly failed to help him, but no one ever testified that he was ever injured by doing it.

There was plenty of testimony about him getting injured at school. And if his home was such a bad, dangerous place, why was he so desperately doing everything in his power to stay there?

His mother let him sleep in the closet because he felt safer there. Maybe she judged that what he needed more than anything else in the world was to feel safer.

I'm glad you have two children, and that they're your life. You've been blessed. It does not behoove you to wish ill on Mrs. Scruggs. We have no reason to believe her children weren't her life too. And if, God forbid, you should ever lose one of yours, under any circumstances, I can only hope you meet with kindness and mercy from those around you.

#180 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 02:08 PM:

To curious....

First, let me say hooray for your grandparents.....if more people would do what they did my guess is school bullying would be great ly diminished. I happen to agree with the conviction of Judith Scruggs, although I have doubts that actually imprisoning her will solve much. A couple of things....at the time of Daniel's suicide, Judith Scruggs had 2 children under age 18 still at home. Her daughter, Kara Morris, was a high school dropout, recently pregnant but had a miscarriage the November prior to Daniel's suicide. I have begun to have some doubts about Judith Scrugg's need to work as much as she did...recently she was in court facing eviction proceedings...turns out she was recieving rent assistance while she had kids under age 18
When daughter turned 18 she was no longer eligible. The defense has been very good at portaying Judith Scruggs as this hard-working mother in the grips of poverty....had to wonder about some of it as I'm reading about the computers, TVs, VCRs and Gameboys in her house.

#181 ::: frank ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2004, 04:45 AM:

i too was bullied to the point of suicide by 22 rifle...i only flatlined for 6 mins before they brought me back, at age 13 i am now 43. mrs. scruggs is completely innocent of the death of her son...the only warning my mother got from me was at 6 yrs old...from then on i kept my feelings to myself, i also let my hygine go, because i did not respect my bullies or the teachers who lied to cover thier job's....this makes me wonder how many children have committed suicide because of bullies, until now i'd thought i was the only one....of coarse i do not dwell on it...but my scars and nerve damage is my constant reminder...i am terribly sorry for the ordeal that mrs scruggs went thru at the hands of those entrusted w/ the well being of her son...yes i still remember some of my teachers blaming my loveing mother for the abuse they allowed to happen to me....i now realize that she was not the only victim of teachers blame shifting to avoid thier responsabilities...mrs scruggs pls do not blame yourself....blame the ones that would ruin your life to protect thier measly job's....also feel free to contact me...i would be honored to hear from you....

#182 ::: Mr. G. ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 11:45 AM:

I happen to work with kids like Daniel. A lot of the time, they are shoved in a corner by society because we don't want to deal with them. Psychologically, they often revert to infantile behaviors to attempt to gain the nurturing attention they want (without realizing it). In my experience, these kids can do well, but it takes a specialized type of plan to get them coming forward.

#183 ::: Old Soul Flame ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2004, 05:07 PM:

I believe Daniel's bullies and irresponsible teachers, counselors and principal contributed to Daniel's demise, not his Messy House nor his very Mother. I don't see a shred of proof that Daniel complained about his messy house or his Mother. In fact, he considered his home, especially his own closet, to be a haven away from the "hell" called school. So what about the knives near his closet? Daniel could have put those knives in his room for a reason (maybe he forgot to put them into sink after using them for eating something.) but it wasn't certainly his Mother who put those there. Sure, she should had told him or other kids to help out with the housekeeping while she is busy working. Maybe she should have done more with her kids. Is lack of housekeeping or working all day to support a family a crime? By the way, children welfare office said their house passed approval. Daniel was really leaning towards his more serious problems in school: being bullied by his own peers and not receiving immediate and adequate assistance from his own teachers, counselors and principal. The school employees failed to stop the bullies from harming his well-being and failed to provide him a counseling and assistance. I am sure he had a very bad experience with his bullies and perhaps his teachers that could have scared him into committing suicide. However, the investigating detective and prosecutors chose to ignore this important information and place the blame on his Mother which tried her best to help her own son. The way I see it, the school administrators used Daniel and his Mother as scapegoats in order to save their jobs, if not their faces. The police investigator may have done a shoddy and faulty job investigating Daniel's suicide and the Prosecutors could have been looking out for their own interests. Daniel's teachers, counselors and principal are still performing in the same capacity and being paid thousands of taxpayers' dollars. They could be causing the same fate as Daniel's to thier students right now. It's time to call accountability to those who had a hand in this tragedy. This is a true embarrassment to the American Education System, if not the Justice and Child Welfare Systems. You do have a power to change that and help create a bully-free, safer and better enviroment for students to be educated in.

I suggest you to email your opinions to the State's Chief Attorney Christopher Morano, which handles Connecticut's criminal cases. Perhaps this will help them to clarify their blurred vision. Also, you can contact your state legistators to develop anti-bullying laws. The information is down below. Thank you.

Email address: conndcj@po.state.ct.us

Website: http://www.csao.state.ct.us/

#184 ::: Joanne Greene ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 11:54 AM:

I am a production assistant for R&R MEDIA PRODUCTIONS. I came across this conversation and thought I would offer a resource which I know contains mention of J. Daniel's case as well as others.

Relational Aggression among girls is investigated in the two-hour documentary feature by R&R MEDIA PRODUCTIONS. R&R MEDIA PRODUCTIONS brings true life stories and dramatic events to the public eye. Their current project is a feature-length documentary titled "RATS & BULLIES. It tells the story of 14-year-old Dawn-Marie Wesley who committed suicide after being bullied by three 'Mean Girls' from her school. Bullying and Female Relational Aggression is explored through interviews with Dawn-Marie's mother, Cindy Wesley and brother, D.J. Wesley along with one of the bullies, friends, legal professionals, media and others including Rosalind Wiseman - author of the NY Times best-seller "Queen Bees and Wannabes". Elements of Dawn-Marie's story have been featured on TV in episodes of "The John Walsh Show", "The Vicki Gabereau Show" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show". Learn the whole story including the role of Aboriginal Justice in the form of a Sentencing Circle, the legal precedents set forth in Canada’s Provincial Courts, and the emotional aftermath that suicide has on the family and community that survives it, in "RATS & BULLIES", directed and produced by Roberta McMillan & Ray Buffer.

Look for it at film festivals worldwide beginning in Spring, 2004. Check the official website below - frequently, for updates on places and dates in which it will be exhibited.


http://ratsandbullies.com - official website
http://preview.2ya.com - trailer
http://pressrelease.2ya.com - recent press release with downloadable photo stills
http://r-and-r.2ya.com - R&R MEDIA PRODUCTIONS Website
http://raybuffer.com - Ray Buffer Online
http://roberta.cc - Roberta McMillan Online

#185 ::: difduf56 ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2004, 01:58 AM:

I have to comment on this I found this board after reading an article in Good Housekeeping Magazine. I was bullied and teased ALL THRU Elementary school Kindergarden-8th grade. My mother was a stay at home mom and I didn't have many good friends. I had 2 really good friends in school. My first boyfriend wasn't till I was in 10th grade. None of the boys wasnted anything to do with me. My mom kept our house very clean and I was still teased so i say don't blame the mother. At 12 I contemplated suicide also, but I lived thru it. I feel for this boy and his family, I faked sick MANY times to get out of school. I hated school. My elementary was in one town in our county and all of the kids from all over the county went to the high school. When i got to 9th grade I made new friends that knew nothing about the teasing and never spoke to anyone from elementary school again.

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