Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Other Patients: Perky Penny

(Cherokee, Iowa)

February 1969

I don’t know why Penny’s* here in the first place--she’s been here over a year--and she keeps flip-flopping between Wards 2 and 4--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--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--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.


I’ll never 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--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.”



*Names and identifying details of other patients have been changed.

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Memoir Madness Excerpts: Table of Contents


Before the Institution

Prologue: Caged

Chapter One: The Crystal Ship

Chapter One: Blue Moons

Chapter Two: Dark Side

Chapter Two: Flying Solo

Chapter Two: Weed and Seeds

Chapter Two: Funny Little Naked Clowns

Chapter Two: Decision Time

Chapter Two: Thirteen Tabs

Chapter Three: Wallich's Music City and Eleanor's Radio

Chapters Four and Six: New Year's Eve, 1968--Fire

Chapter Eight: Rudy

Chapter Ten: Cops

Chapter Eleven: The Luckiest Hand

Chapter Twelve: Downers

Chapter Twenty Three: Sioux City Blues

Chapter Twenty Four: ..."While I Kiss the Sky"

Chapter Twenty six: The Miracle of Google

Chapter Thirty: There Must be Some Way Outta Here

Chapter Thirty Eight: What to Do With My Life?

Chapter Forty One: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

Chapter Fifty One: Nabbed at the Bus Station

Chapter Fifty Three: "Let's See What the Police Have to Say"

Chapter Fifty Four: A Possible Scenario at the Police Station

Chapter Fifty Six: Driven

Chapter Fifty Eight: Driven 2

Memoir Madness Excerpts: The Institution

The First Five Days

The Other Patients: Perky Penny

The Other Patients: Carrie the Cutter

The Other Patients: Joyce

The Other Patients: D.J., The Mighty Sage

The Other Patients: Anna on the Lam

Proving My Sanity

Memoir Madness Excerpts: After the Institution

Denise's Tips

Leaving Sioux City: Dee Dee

Epilogue: A Short History of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute

Memoir Madness Excerpts: Flashbacks (Fall 1968)

October 1968: Rev. Arthur Blessitt and His Place

October 12, 1968: A Mother's Warning

October 12, 1968: The Birthday Party

October 1968: Wild Man Fischer's Merry-go-round

A media-rich version of these excerpts (with photos, artwork, videos, out takes, essays, etc.,) can be accessed here.


About Memoir Madness...

Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment (Amazon)

About Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment...

Christmas Eve, 1968: history is made as Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message from orbit around the moon.

On earth, at The Crystal Ship, a rock and head shop near Hollywood, California, Jennifer Semple listens to the iconic broadcast and, through the fog of drugs, ponders the future.

In the ensuing days, the 18-year-old girl experiments with LSD and other drugs; juggles a crumbling relationship with a notorious drug dealer; and tries to make sense of life at 2001 Ivar Street, a Hollywood, California, apartment complex where hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Then her grandfather finds the girl and coaxes her into returning to her Iowa hometown, where, unknown to her, she is still considered a minor.

After a series of events and blowups with her grandparents, she is dragged into the Iowa court system and involuntarily committed to the Cherokee Mental Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with Jeff, a new boyfriend, and also interacts with other patients: Wolfie, a psychopath who preys on other patients; Penny, a 17-year-old unwed mother; Carrie, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats; Joyce, a young married mother enthralled with “10 ways of suicide”; Drew, a young man facing a stiff prison sentence for possession of marijuana; and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25-year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released from the institution, Jennifer flees Iowa and settles in Pennsylvania, where she still lives today.

As young Jennifer narrates her late 1960’s memoir, how will the older and wiser Jennifer, now voluntarily returning to Cherokee as a visitor, reconcile that painful time in her history with her current ordinary life as a wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher?