Playing Horse

Ruby Myhre was 14 when she had her first baby, and 17 when she first used heroin. Now, at 23, she wants a chance to mix sobriety and motherhood.

Ruby Myhre and Marvin Waldahl have neglected the children's needs. Penny, Jane, and Michael are without proper parental care due to the parents' chemical dependency, immaturity or other.

Petitioner requests an Order for Immediate Custody. Petitioner alleges that there are reasonable grounds to believe children are in surroundings or conditions which endanger the children's health, safety and welfare and require that the children's custody must be immediately assumed by the Court based on allegations above and pursuant Minn. Stat. 260B.175 and 260C.151, subd. 5 and Minn R. Juv. P. 51. Active efforts were not possible to prevent out-of-home placement because an emergency existed.

 

--Order for immediate custody, from the juvenile division of the Hennepin County District Court, signed by county
social worker Valerie Forsch,
February 1, 2000

 

Ruby Myhre arrived at her grandmother's house in Minneapolis's Harrison neighborhood early on the evening of February 5, 2000, hoping to find a safe haven from a cold winter night. She was 21 and had three children in tow. She planned to give Michael*, then six months old, a bath and then settle in to watch some television with her family. Ruby's aunt entertained Penny, then six, and Jane, three, before they all sat down for a spaghetti dinner. After dinner, Ruby bathed her baby boy.

Sandra Myhre was relieved to see her granddaughter, hoping that her arrival meant that Ruby had finally decided to come home to straighten out her life. A week earlier, Ruby had been involved in a domestic assault at her boyfriend's mother's house in northeast Minneapolis. She told police that Marvin Waldahl, the father of her three children, had thrown a telephone at her, causing bleeding from the top of her head. Ruby, police noted, refused any medical attention.

But Ruby knew that the incident had put her in a corner, and she was determined to get out. A heroin addict, Ruby was aware that county social workers had been tracking her for nearly two months, ever since staff members at a shelter where she and her kids were living had found drug paraphernalia in their room. Soon after, a Hennepin County social worker visited Ruby and told her she was opening an investigation. The social worker had been monitoring the results of the urine tests that were part of Ruby's methadone treatment program and had flagged a couple of dirty samples. Ruby was afraid that with one more misstep, she might lose her kids. The fight she had had with Marvin, Ruby suspected, would get back to the social worker.

She decided the best thing for her and the kids was to get out of her boyfriend's mother's house, so she took her family to visit her grandmother. At around 7:00 p.m., as Ruby was diapering the baby, Waldahl's mother called to say someone had come by her house with a warrant to remove the children. Sandra Myhre thought the story was a put-on, but Ruby was spooked and started to gather the children's clothes in preparation for leaving. Her aunt looked out the window and saw three patrol cars in front of the house. Three Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies pushed through the front door of the blue two-story house while three more came through the back.

Before Ruby could even register what was happening, Penny was already in custody and out the door. Jane, clad in pajamas, wailed in the entryway, and then she, too, was gone. Ruby was hysterical that the deputies were going to take the infant out into the Minnesota winter. "Please let me get Michael dressed," she begged. "What's wrong with you people?" The officers chastised her for keeping a child in nothing but a diaper on such a cold night. Ruby trailed the officers out into the subzero weather in her bare feet, and as the patrol cars pulled away, she stood in the middle of the street, shouting "I love you" into the wind.

Of the roughly 650 child-protection cases that passed through the juvenile division of Hennepin County District Court last year, Ruby's tale is hardly the worst example of a broken family. Nor is it a clear example of bureaucracy blindly wronging an individual. Ruby's past is an exasperating and heart-breaking cycle of drug abuse and shiftlessness, punctuated by fits of sobriety and hope. It is peppered with wrong decisions, but also with countless attempts by social workers, prosecutors, judges, and Ruby herself, to do the right thing.

For those who think drug addicts and bad parents cannot be rehabilitated, or those who believe that a mother should have an absolute right to raise her children, Ruby Myhre's tale raises uncomfortable ambiguities. There is no single right or wrong, but rather several rights and several wrongs.

 

Hennepin County Children and Family Services Department received a report alleging the following:

That the family is continually chronically homeless. That Ruby Myhre and Marvin Waldahl continue to use chemicals despite being on the methadone program. That while in shelter, staff at the shelter have found liquor bottles and syringes in their room. That there have been domestic assaults with the children present.

That Ruby Myhre and Marvin Waldahl are restricted from most of the shelters due to their uncooperative behavior and disregard for the rules. Their last shelter placement was at the Francis Drake, the last shelter available to them. While at the Francis Drake Shelter, a mattress was burned in their room. It was reported to a Hennepin County child protection worker that Ruby Myhre and Marvin Waldahl fall asleep while smoking cigarettes.

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