Other Patients: Perky Penny
I don’t know
why Penny’s* here in the first place ꟷ she’s been here over a year ꟷ and she
keeps flip-flopping between Wards 2 and 4 ꟷ maybe it’s because she’s mouthy and
sassy and takes no lip from the staff. I call her Perky Penny. She’s small and
has a cute round face and short black hair styled in a flip, which makes her
look a little like The Flying Nun. But she has a loud, gravelly voice, swears
like a sailor, and smokes Kools, one after another. Only 17, she has a
five-year-old kid by her married boyfriend, who’s raising the kid with his
wife. How screwed up is that? Penny and this man ran off to Puerto Rico when
she was 11, he 24, and that’s when she got knocked up. I can’t even imagine
what kind of sexual appeal an adult male would see in a kid ꟷ he must be some
kind of weirdo. But she seems so together, has never done drugs, just alcohol,
and not very much, at least from what she says.
“Why are you here?” I asked her.
“I’ve got nowhere else to go,” she said, and left it at that. Her parents
live in Sioux City, in Morningside. Maybe they think she’s incorrigible too, so
they stuck her here ꟷ evidently, that’s what happens to incorrigible kids who
don’t behave according to Establishment rules.
Later, Penny told me how mad her mother got when she returned from Puerto
Rico, pregnant. Wanted to disown her. Excuse me, but shouldn’t her mother’s
anger be directed at the father, a grown man? Penny’s just a kid; how could she
be held responsible for having sex?
Probably didn’t even know what it was.
understand why she’s in here. She’s just a kid who got a tough break, and the
system didn’t know what to do, so they committed her. I’ll never understand
Iowa laws, and why the father of her baby wasn’t thrown in the slammer after he
took her and ran off to Puerto Rico ꟷ especially when she came back pregnant.
Yeah, it was the 11-year-old girl’s fault.
And I was under the distinct impression that it’s against the law to
cross state lines with minors without parental consent. I certainly couldn’t
escape Iowa, and I’m not a minor.
Even after all the shit she has endured, Penny remains cheerful and
optimistic about her life, although there’s a wistfulness about her when she
talks about her child, always showing his picture around. “He was taken away
from me,” she sighs from time to time. “They didn’t even ask me what I wanted.
They just gave him away. But when I go home, I get to visit him.”
“Other Patients: Perky Penny,” © copyright
2013 - present, by Jennifer Semple Siegel, may not be reprinted or reposted
without the express permission of the author. Published in Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment
identifying characteristics of Cherokee inmates have been changed to protect