SieffstarEven now, I don't particularly enjoy walking into high schools. Especially during passing periods when the hallways fill up.

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Jessica Sieff: Hoping for justice for Phoebe Prince

Published 10:40am Thursday, April 8, 2010

I can’t help it. It takes a special kind of adult to withstand a teenage world. I used to be a teenager – I know.

High schools are supposed to be filled with promise, prom nights and big play productions and everything that could be. But to me, they’re not. They’re filled with an immature arrogance and an overwhelming lack of work ethic.

I’m being cynical, of course. I felt entirely different back when I was in one.

When I think back, high school was actually not all that bad after the first couple of years. I went to three different schools, so I never started in a building with the same kids. Always new, always trying to re-establish something.

Though I would never say I’ve experienced what it’s like to be bullied, I can say I was taunted enough in some cases that I now easily catch the look in the eye of the kid who just doesn’t fit in. It’s like a club.

It hurt and it wasn’t fun but I guess, when I look at it now, I was lucky because I got by. I’d throw out a quick retort or simply stand up for myself or even better, make a joke.
Eventually everyone saw I was super smart and super funny.

It’s true.

I’ll even say right here in print – senior year, I was prom queen.

But when I see those kids who have yet to find their footing, my heart breaks a little for them because it’s not easy being that kid. At a time in life when it’s all about being accepted, being rejected takes a test of will. It takes knowing the secret that we’re all just trying to be bigger than what we are. And eventually we’ll fit in our own shoes and that’ll be all that matters.

I always see those kids, the ones who are walking home alone or not easily invited into a group to play and I think, hopefully they get it. Because I always thought the kids who got it will make it out alive.

But now, taunting has metamorphosed into an absolute monstrosity. The proof of that being the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, bullied so viciously, so relentlessly, so vehemently that she chose to take her own life back in January.

She was found hanging from a scarf in the stairway.

She never got a chance to see the glow of a senior prom.

She’d started school coming straight from her native Ireland, where the accents are so melodious they hide the truth of the troubles most of the time.

And she went to a place where the trouble was spit about like venom.

Now her bullies, a star football player (who reportedly briefly dated Prince), his girlfriend and another young man face federal criminal charges.

I don’t understand maliciousness. I don’t get how someone wakes up one day and purposefully hurts another human being for no other reason than they get some kind of kick out of it.

Teenagers are a breed of their own, sure, but something shorts out when bullying gets to the point that considering death is a reprieve. And making anyone feel that way is worth the punishment.

Now the nation debates: a.) Whether or not Prince’s accused bullies should even be facing charges and b.) Whether or not school officials were active enough in trying to address the issue.

Yes, they should and no, they obviously did not.

And while Massachusetts is at it, they should personally escort the parents of these bullies to a few charges as well.

What happened to Prince was not bullying but a serious societal malfunction.

Where on earth did those kids get the idea that harassing a young girl, calling her names relentlessly, giving her a horrible reputation and maintaining that reputation to no end was okay?

What does it say about us that we breed these kinds of people?

There are horrible individuals in the world, obviously. There are larger atrocities than this.

But making someone feel utterly hated, utterly worthless and picking at their vulnerabilities as if they have some sort of afforded right – when did we start turning a blind eye to that?

All debates aside, when it’s all over, the Princes will still be robbed a daughter because of a couple of kids who felt they had a right to make someone else feel as she must have.

May they learn the true meaning of bullying from the fine professors at the state penitentiary.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at
jessica.sieff@leaderpub.com.

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  • Antika

    Jessica, your article is one of the best about this topic I’ve come across in the net. I follow this story because I was, and still am, appalled. Appalled because I was fortunate enough to not have known this kind of school environment. Where I grew up and where I went to school, what’s now called bullying, was unheard of. Certainly, there were cliques (usually the most academically gifted girls and boys), there was snapping, odd looks, rejection, but nothing remotely resembling this kind of aggressiveness.

    I was appalled at the totally callous cruelty the gang had shown after Phoebe’s death. It’s said that they posted “accomplished” on her facebook account. Criminal intent? I can’t see it in another way.

    What did they accomplish now? Glory? World wide notoriety (on the negative kind?) Was that lady-man boy worth a lost life? He hasn’t proved anything worthy beyond the athletic field and … the mattress.

    They are old enough to know wrong from right. No doubt they have driving licenses — the state trust them behind the wheel, with life and death decision-making on the highway. They knew they were hurting a human being, and knowing this, kept doing it for the “high” of bullying.

    They did accomplish to screw up their lives, even without jail time. I don’t think they will serve jail time, but even so, there will be a criminal indictment in their records. Later on in life, an employer might want to check them out and it suffices a click — and the whole sordid story will show up. Or a potential husband. One never knows.

    Thank you for writing this article.

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