I am a 16-year-old junior at Massabesic High school and was honored recently to have the opportunity to testify before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety about a bill that would ban the indiscriminate shackling of young people in court.

This is a personal issue for me, and one I wanted to share with legislators so they could understand why I think this bill is so important. My first court appearance, on a disorderly conduct charge, was when I was 12 years old. This was also the first time I was handcuffed and shackled. My mother had misread the court summons, and I missed my original court date. When we realized the mistake, we went to the next assigned court date. When I arrived in the courtroom, the court marshals immediately put me in handcuffs and shackles and directed me to stand near a door at the front of the courtroom. The courtroom was filled with other juveniles and their families who stared at me for what seemed like hours.

The second time I was handcuffed and shackled was when I was 14, on a charge of violating my probation by skipping school. I was taken to Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, and then later taken to court. After waiting hours to been seen by the judge, the whole time handcuffed to another girl, I was taken into the courtroom with a tight piece of metal wrapped around both my wrists and my ankles.

What remains in my memory, however, is not the physical pain that was caused by the handcuffs and shackles. What I still think about today, nearly five years later, is the humiliation and shame I felt being in public view, weighed down by loud, metal shackles. I felt as if everyone looked at me as if I were some crazed criminal or an animal, not what I really was, a 12-year-old child. The dehumanizing experience shaped not only how others saw me, but how I saw myself for many years.

The feeling of helplessness was one of the worst parts. Being in those cuffs made me want to go crazy and just rip them off and tell everyone that I didn’t need them because I’m a good person, but I couldn’t. I felt as though everyone was seeing me as a criminal, and that I would be nothing to them but a lifelong offender.

Those experiences also made me think of myself as a criminal, and my expectation was that it would happen again because if they could do it to me once, they would do it again. I figured that this was who I was, not just something I did. I didn’t care anymore what I did, for a while at least.

Recently, I have had various adults in my life, including my grandmother, Mimi, who are teaching me that I don’t need to be defined by my shackling experience. I know now that what I have done in the past is not who I am, but simply things I did. Since that time, I have gotten my driver’s license, and I have plans to go to college and eventually become a dentist.

It has taken me a long time to get over how I thought people viewed me and to change how I viewed myself. I also know that I have been fortunate in having the support needed to overcome this negative self-image; many other children do not have this support. Teenagers and children are very vulnerable when it comes to their emotions. One mistake they make could make them or break them. Every time a kid is shackled in court it breaks them down a little bit, giving them little hope to become a better person.

I strongly believe a law that says the handcuffing and shackling of juveniles in the courtroom is a bad idea unless it is absolutely necessary.

Skye Gosselin is a 16-year-old from Waterboro and recently testified in support of L.D. 1029 to stop the shackling of juveniles in courtrooms.


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