Oct 132003
Authors: Shannon Baldwin

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


Apparently so.

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

psychological damage.

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

Tuesday.e w




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