Last year, parenting magazine Brain, Child ran the first-person account of Bridget Kevane, a Bozeman, Mont., mother who was arrested and charged with child neglect.
Her crime, in a nutshell, was bad parenting. But more specifically, local officials didn’t like that she dropped her 12-year-old daughter, the daughter’s 12-year-old friend, and the tweens’ charges, an 8-year-old sibling, a 7-year-old friend and a 3-year-old sibling in a stroller.
Kevane’s punishment for “bad parenting” was nearly as absurd as the case itself, described here at Spike Online. Kevane neither pleaded guilty nor was exonerated by a jury, since a mock-jury organized by Kevane’s lawyer showed how her community in Bozeman would not have been sympathetic to what, at worst, was a lapse of judgment. (You know, being a parent.)
A recap of what happened to Kevane: The plan was for the kids, who had grown up together and were like family, to get some lunch and hang out for a bit, while Bridget Kevane went back home to rest. The girls were not to leave the younger ones unsupervised. But they misjudged and went to try on shirts while the little ones waited in the purse section.
Some employees called mall security. Mall security called the police. The children were herded into a mall office, given candy but not the opportunity to call their mother (right? She was a perpetrator — they were now victims!). Kevane was charged with “violating duty of care,” despite the fact that there are no laws in Montana against dropping one’s children off at the mall. And a long and drawn out attempt to fight the charges began.
There’s so much more to her story, especially about the county prosecutor who seemed to begrudge Kevane her education and her profession as a Latin American Studies professor at the local university. The prosecutor’s statements about Kevane’s “major education,” and the fact that professors weren’t big-picture people because “their heads were always in books.”
So instead of pleading guilty or going to trial, Kevane took a third option, a “deferred prosecution” — no guilt but still a punishment. For Kevane, this meant a year’s probation and meeting with a bail supervisor and going to parenting classes. If she missed or was late one single time, the sentence could be extended. She was required to call her supervisor every Monday precisely at 8 a.m. and leave a message saying these exact words [Spiked online]:
“This is Bridget Kevane, I have committed no new crimes and I am still living in Bozeman.”
She met every other week with her supervisor, whom she describes as hostile. She answered questions about whether she had I left her children alone. Then there were the parenting classes, attended mostly by upper-middle-class, educated new parents who were interested in the details of timeouts. Kevane, a parent for 13 years by then, contributed little for fear it could be used against her.
Not everyone agrees with Kevane’s decision that day in 2007, but, really, does that punishment fit the crime? She spent thousands of dollars to at least get that delayed prosecution. It could have been far worse, jail time and a permanent record. Which, come on, for going with her gut, making a choice informed by her own upbringing and the relative safety of her hometown, was anything more than a warning really warranted?
The bad parent cops are everywhere and are usually limited to anonymous commenting or brazen public scoldings. How could the parents of Bozeman stand for one of their own — a parent just like themselves — to be chewed up in a power-hungry prosecutor’s office. Didn’t they know that someday it could be them? Or maybe even you or me?