I’ll just say this once and be done with it. Phoebe Prince’s father gets it right; it seems like he’s the only one who does. Here’s an article on an interview he gave not long ago (Herald.ie, 11/20/10).
Phoebe Prince of course is the Irish girl, newly arrived in the U.S. who committed suicide earlier this year. Countless articles and blog postings have been written on her case, much of them inconsistent. What’s true is that Prince was the target of hostile behavior by her classmates, and at least some of that was because she was friendly – perhaps too friendly – with the boyfriend of one of her tormenters.
She also was on medication for depression and her parents had just split up. She and her mother had moved to the Boston area while her father remained behind in Ireland’s County Clare.
Now, all of that adds up to a troubled young girl who was ill-equipped to handle the kind of status-driven adolescent behavior that exists in every high school in the country.
But unlike almost all the others, Prince took her own life and the District Attorney filed criminal charges against six of her high school classmates because of it. That DA has since retired, leaving her successor to go after the kids.
I want to be clear; the type of behavior (now universally referred to as “bullying”) those young people engaged in was wrong and hurtful. Phoebe Prince’s suicide was a terrible tragedy that will haunt her parents and many others for years to come.
But trying to deal with adolescent taunting and denigration by resort to criminal law is crazy. In this country we rely far too much on the police and criminal courts to solve problems that should be solved by other people in other ways. Phoebe Prince’s case is a perfect example.
And remarkably, her father Jeremy Prince seems to be one of the only ones who know it. Read the article. What appears is a portrait of a deeply injured man, a man who’s lost his dearly beloved daughter, a man who was with her not long before she died, but who didn’t see the peril.
“What I didn’t see was Phoebe in school,” he acknowledges. “Perhaps if I had, that would have made a big difference. It is the great tragedy of my life that I was not there.”
He’s a man who, if he possibly could, would go back in time and walk the halls of the South Hadley High School with Phoebe so that he could witness for himself just what went on. And then he would have demanded that the school administrators do what they should have done all along – intervene to stop the bullying.
As Jeremy Prince sees it, and he’s almost certainly right, school officials acted like administrators, not educators. They perceived their interest to be the appearance of calm in the school and, like so many bureaucrats, they pretended not to see what any kid could have told them.
Jeremy Prince nails it: an educator would have stepped in, but administrators didn’t want their school’s records to look bad. And teachers and principals at South Hadly High behaved like administrators, to their everlasting disgrace.
But Prince is no avenging angel; he’s a forgiving one. All he wants is to see contrition from the kids who badgered his daughter. Ironically, it’s the criminal justice system that prevents that. No lawyer is going to allow a client to say “I’m sorry for what I did to Phoebe Prince” while criminal charges hang over his/her head.
This father has lost the most precious thing to him in the world, and yet, out of all the players in this sorry drama, his is the largest, most benevolent, most forgiving spirit. Next to him, the prosecutors, the countless bloggers and others who will be satisfied with nothing short of their full pound of flesh sound like barking dogs.
So I’d like to lift a glass to Jeremy Prince, the father who, in the depths of his despair rises to heights of decency and understanding most of us can only imagine. Anyone, prosecutors included, who has a word to say about Phoebe Prince, should keep his mouth shut and his keyboard silent and read what Jeremy Prince has to say.
“I’d dearly like to see admission and contrition, so that I could forgive,” said Mr Prince.
“If they confessed to the court and said they were sorry, I’d appeal to the court for total leniency.
“You can go two ways. You can look to the court for revenge or you can look for leniency. The latter path is mine.”
We could all learn a lot from Jeremy Prince, if we only would.