Savannah Shannon has good days and bad days.
On good days, she can crack a great joke, go on and on about Harry Potter and quote Shrek with such deadpan delivery that she’ll have the whole room in stitches. Her bad days can be terrifying. May 31, 2012, wasn’t a good day.
On that day, Shannon’s name was on the schedule at the New Brunswick provincial court in Saint John next to three letters: NCR. Not criminally responsible.
Shannon sat in the prisoner’s dock; her heavyset body hunched and her short blonde hair sticking up on one side, as if she’d slept on it. With her eyebrows knit together in a scowl, she looked older than her twenty-one years. Early that morning, someone had driven her to court from the Restigouche Hospital Centre, a psychiatric centre five hours away in Campbellton. She’d been waiting at the courthouse all morning and she didn’t know where she would sleep that night.
A prosecutor, court-appointed defence lawyer and representative from the Department of Social Development were supposed to meet in front of a judge to decide on a place where Shannon could live without posing a risk to others. Since she turned nineteen, Shannon has been charged with a long list of offences. She’s pushed, she’s bitten; she’s struck someone who was trying to wash her hair. Every time, it’s been determined that she was NCR. Her autism, intellectual disability and mental health issues were to blame for the violence. By late 2010, Shannon had been kicked out of nearly every community home she’d lived in. She was sent to Restigouche and, at the time of this court date, had been there for a year and a half.