Remember middle school?
Maybe not. Maybe all those years in therapy have happily hidden
the memory. Remember the backstabbing? The name-calling? The
fights? The bullying? Being mercilessly picked on for the shallow
amusement of others? You’re too fat. You’re too thin. You’re a
nerd. You have split ends. You smell. You dress funny. You’re a
True, not everyone had a nightmare experience in middle school.
But most have no fond memories of that time period. Kids can be
cruel. Especially when everyone else is doing it and to not
participate is to be a victim.
If you were the victim of bullying that went as far as punching,
kicking and spitting while teachers failed to come to your aid, you
would probably do anything to get out of that situation. Daniel
Scruggs did. The 12-year-old missed 44 days of school and was late
29 other times. He was so scared that he took to defecating and
urinating in his pants to get out of school. He finally hanged
himself in his Connecticut home on Jan. 2, 2002.
And last week, Daniel’s mother, Judith Scruggs, was convicted of
a felony count of risk of injury to a minor for creating a filthy
home. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the home failed to provide an environment that
would allow Daniel to improve his hygiene. Judith Scruggs said she
frequently told Daniel to take showers -but sometimes he did not
and she could not force him to bathe. He was 12, after all. What
if, in a physical struggle to make him shower he had hit his head
on the tile – would she then be charged with child abuse?
But it wasn’t just that, for the prosecutors. It was that it was
Ms. Scruggs’ duty as a mother to provide a decent home environment.
Their evidence against this grieving mother showed a house
cluttered with boxes and papers, a kitchen full of dirty dishes and
the bathroom full of dirty clothes and a dirty sink and tub.
Ms. Scruggs’ 19-year-old daughter -who also lived in the house-
said that the police depiction was an exaggeration and most of the
mess was clutter from the holidays.
Oh, and it should be noted that Judith Scruggs was a single
mother who worked over 60 hours a week at two jobs. I wonder how
many of the jury members (five men, one woman) could personally
relate to that, or did they still expect her to be Martha
Although I have to wonder exactly for what she was convicted.
Having a messy house? Ms. Scruggs’ lawyer thinks so. It was said
that the prosecution did not present evidence that the condition of
the house led Daniel to kill himself -although the implication was
obvious. What the jury foreman said what they were concerned with
was the unhealthy environment -whether it lead to suicide or
Okay then. What constitutes an unhealthy environment? Who draws
that line? Just how many items of clothes have to be on the floor
for it to cross into that danger zone? Will a single sock tip the
lever, or will the Department of Justice be more forgiving than
that? How many unwashed dishes in the sink constitute too many? How
long does a house have to remain in said state of messiness before
constituting an unhealthy environment? And who establishes that
So kids, the next time your mother tells you to clean your room,
remember that it’s not just the right thing to do.
It’s the law.
Shannon is a senior studying journalism. Her column runs every