Playing Horse

Jon Krause

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.

Ruby Myhre uses chemicals despite repeated chemical dependency treatments. In June 1999, Ruby Myhre completed Eden Day Program and began their methadone program. On or around October 19, 1999, Ruby Myhre completed Park Avenue and began a six-month methadone program. In conjunction with the program, she submits to regular urinalysis (UA). On December 21, 1999, the UA was positive for cocaine and opiates. On December 28, 1999, the UA was positive for opiates.

In December, 1999, Marvin Waldahl failed to complete outpatient treatment at Park Avenue. He attended 19 out of 21 days, missing the last two weeks [sic]. On October 19, 1999 Marvin Wahldahl began a methadone treatment program. In conjunction ... he submits to urinalysis. On 10/26/99, 11/3/99, 11/16/99, 11/23/99 and 12/3/99, Marvin Waldahl's UA tested positive for marijuana. On 12/21/99, 12/28/99, 1/5/00 and 1/14/00, Marvin Waldahl's UA tested positive for opiates and marijuana. On 1/21/00, Marvin Waldahl's UA tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.


--From a May 26, 2000 court document compiling Ruby and Waldahl's offenses


An addict's past can be full of complicated, unfair things, but it's nothing compared with the pain of a mother's regret. Such is Ruby's remorse that she seems simultaneously determined to get her children back and quietly accepting that she may have lost them forever.

It's a rainy day in May, and Ruby is sitting at a table in the kitchen of the two-story house on Knox Avenue North where she lives with her 62-year-old grandmother and her 25-year-old aunt Amber Myhre. "I was never bad to my kids," Ruby says emphatically. "I never beat 'em, I always fed 'em. But I was a drug addict." She continues, distilling her story without asking for sympathy. Ruby never takes pity on herself.

Her long brown hair is pulled back into a bun, and her loose, green "Lugz Sports" T-shirt and gray shorts reveal a heavy, rolling figure, an indication, she says, that she's off heroin (addicts tend to be razor-thin). She has a broad nose, dark eyes, olive skin, and the flat cadence of someone who has seen the darkest depths of heroin addiction and is no longer spooked by the harsh realities of life.

A few feet from the kitchen, down a small hallway, is Ruby's room. There's a neatly made twin bed with a plaid bedspread pulled taut around the corners, and a copy of the Serenity Prayer is taped to the mirror above an oak dresser. She has struggled with drugs for nearly half her life.

Ruby never knew her father, an Ojibwe man who worked various janitorial jobs in Nebraska and Kansas. And to hear Ruby's version of events, her mother did her more harm than good. She says she was a high school student when her mother Danna Myhre introduced her to heroin. It was a case, Ruby says, of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Danna was in and out of jail on various drug charges, but whenever she would come home, there would be heroin in the house.

"Mom always knew where to get it," Ruby recalls. "It was always around." Ruby found herself shooting up on weekend nights to hide her newly acquired taste for heroin from her brother and sister. Soon she had dropped out of high school.

One day Ruby and her mother went to visit friends of Danna's, a family by the name of Waldahl, to buy a puppy, a chow named Rico, for Ruby. Ruby met the Waldahls' son Marvin, and quickly the two became inseparable.

"Ruby would see her mom doing [heroin] the whole time she was growing up," recalls Waldahl. "Mostly what I remember is the grown-ups would drink and play cards together. It was always party time. I ended up turning into a junkie over the whole thing." He didn't finish high school either. (Ruby and Waldahl are no longer in contact with each other; City Pages used public records to locate Waldahl, who agreed to be interviewed for this article.)  

In February 1993, the couple's oldest child was born. Four years later another baby girl followed. Despite becoming parents, Ruby and Waldahl kept using heroin. They shot up at night, after they put the kids to bed in the duplex they shared with Ruby's mother on Washington Avenue North. To make money, they would shoplift from one Home Depot during the day, only to return the merchandise for cash at another at night. "Home Depot will give you cash without even blinking," Ruby says with no hint of irony. "All the drug dealers and users go to Home Depot to feed their habits." (Ruby has a felony on her record, the result of using a stolen credit card at Brookdale Mall in 1998; she's on probation until November.)

Even then she battled feelings of guilt and remorse. "Every day I'd wake up and ask how I could expect to ever get my kids through this and have them not be affected," she recalls. "What the hell was I thinking?"

In 1998, when Ruby turned 20, she and Waldahl decided to clean up. Both enrolled in a methadone treatment program at 1800 Chicago Ave. S. in Minneapolis. It helped, but only temporarily. "Many times you wake up and say you're never going to do it again," Waldahl says, adding that some setback would always arise, such as the deaths of his father and uncle. "Then you're using all over again."

What happened over the course of the next few years is a series of failed treatment programs, bad timing, and painful relapses. The two--and their kids--became nomads, moving between various relatives' houses and enrolling in different rehab programs, only to see their addiction become more powerful with each failure. "There's nothing like heroin, because the addiction gets worse every time," Ruby says. "At first, I would think, 'What the hell am I doing with myself?' But then eventually I didn't care....After a while you're just using heroin to get well, to keep from getting sick [on withdrawal]."

Nonetheless, Ruby continues, she made her best effort to care for her kids. "I always provided for them first, making sure Penny had clothes for school and that they had food to eat," she insists, adding that Penny was a good student with perfect attendance under her care. She and Waldahl were on public assistance, had a food-stamp grant, and made visits to a food shelf twice a month. "I was always coherent and functional in the day-to-day, as hard as that might be to believe," she says.

In March 1999, the couple went into treatment again, Ruby at Eden House in south Minneapolis and Waldahl in Willmar. This time, they had a powerful incentive: Ruby was pregnant again. She had used heroin during the first five months of her pregnancy, but with the help of the program managed to clean up. But in May Marvin called to tell Ruby that his rehab stint wasn't working. Ruby was just three weeks shy of completing her program, but she left and soon the two were running around their same circles in the city.

"It was summertime, and we didn't want to follow the rules of treatment programs anymore," Ruby says. Nonetheless, she maintains, she was clean for the remainder of her pregnancy. In June, she gave birth to a boy she named Michael.

After the baby was born, they moved in with Marvin's grandfather at a trailer park in Mounds View, cared for their children during the day, and shot $75 worth of heroin each night. "We were right back into the same shithole we were in before," Ruby says. Worse, in fact: Ruby says she had begun supplementing her habit with crack during the day. Waldahl notes that sometimes the couple paid as much as $200 to score. Eventually, Waldahl's grandfather told them they had to clean up and move out.

Sandra Myhre recalls being particularly frustrated. She felt that Ruby made herself vulnerable by continuing to return to Waldahl. "I knew that they were doing drugs, but they weren't living in my house," she recalls. "I tried to talk to her, but she told me I could mind my own business."

Both Ruby and Waldahl were in and out of several different treatment programs that year. (One, Eden House, allows parents to bring their children; Ruby attended the others as an outpatient.) By the time Christmas rolled around, they and their kids were staying at the Drake Hotel and later the 410, two adjoined shelters in downtown Minneapolis. As a part of their stringent rehabilitation plans, both were submitting to regular urine tests. "We stayed in that hotel and went to treatment every day," she recalls. "But we were also very close as a family, and the lady at the treatment program would send a cab if it was raining and cold or snowing."  

Both tested positive for opiates at the end of December. At about the same time, a shelter worker had inspected their room and noted, among other things, old syringes and empty liquor bottles. The staffer, they say, informed Hennepin County's Department of Children and Family Services.

The family had left the shelter and moved into Waldahl's mother's house when county social worker Valerie Forsch visited Ruby and told her that there had been a report of possible abuse or neglect within her family. According to Ruby, Forsch asked her to give the county permission to look at her urinalysis reports. If she didn't, Ruby says she was told, she'd most likely end up in court. Ruby grudgingly cooperated, but she knew that her recent history wouldn't look good to the social worker.

She became even more convinced that fate was working against her the night of January 29, 2000. Waldahl came home from a night of drinking and had a blowout with Ruby, hitting her over the head with a telephone. When the police arrested him and charged him with misdemeanor assault, Ruby figured that would trigger the county to intervene. She knew she had to get away from Waldahl and end the cycle they had known since they were teenagers.

That was when Ruby decided to seek shelter at her grandmother's house on February 5, 2000--the visit that was cut short by the sheriff's deputies' raid.



Respondent did complete chemical dependency treatment at Meadow Creek on July 20, 2000. Her prognosis upon discharge was "guarded due to lengthy chemical use and inability to adhere to all continuing case recommendations, but would be upgraded should Ruby successfully complete all continuing care recommendations." The recommendation was for Respondent Myhre to enter Ascension Place and follow all the continuing care recommendations, as well as to obtain two female AA/NA sponsors and attend a minimum of two AA/NA/WFS support group meetings per week.

Respondent Myhre refused to return to Ascension Place and did not enter another sober house. She provided no documentation to demonstrate that she had complied with any of the recommendations made by Meadow Creek staff. On August 2, 2000, Respondent Myhre submitted to urinalysis and the results were positive for opiates. A subsequent urinalysis on August 23, 2000 showed the evidence of diluted urine.


--From a petition to terminate Ruby Myhre's parental rights, signed by

Valerie Forsch and Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Rebecca Morrissette, April 26, 2001


After the authorities took her children away, Ruby redoubled her efforts to straighten out. For the first few weeks, she was living at Recovering Women's Services in downtown Minneapolis. She stayed sober and enjoyed weekly visits with her children, who had been placed with foster parents.

Though Ruby admits she was under court order to get clean, she says she was finally realizing that the cycle of drug abuse and recovery were inextricably linked. "The followup programs I was involved with were always with people I knew from doing drugs," she says. "I always thought that the last place I should be was around these people if I wanted to stay sober."

Three weeks into her program at the Recovering Women's Services, Ruby met Waldahl's mother at Sully's Pub in northeast Minneapolis for dinner. One of the residents of the halfway house saw her and told the director she had seen Ruby out drinking. She protests that she was merely having a Sprite: "Drinking has never been my thing. I don't like it." County records allege, however, that both Ruby and Waldahl have a history of alcohol abuse as well. In any case, she was kicked out of the program and back onto the streets again, staying wherever she could. By the end of March 2000, she had relapsed once more.

Waldahl, too, had skipped out on treatment, and soon they were living with Ruby's mother in northeast Minneapolis, using heavily again. When they both missed a court date in April, they were denied visits with their children. The ruling, says Ruby, had a chilling effect. "I knew this couldn't last forever, and I was sick of all the shit," she says. "Marvin was gonna do whatever he wanted to do. He wasn't listening anymore. I had to get away."

On May 22 Ruby checked into Meadow Creek treatment center in Pine City for a 60-day lockdown. Though she was not allowed to leave, there were a couple of occasions when her children were allowed to visit her for a weekend picnic. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me," she says. "There are personalized treatment plans. They worked on everything from my feelings of abandonment to my history of domestic abuse with Marvin. It was the first time anyone had addressed what got me to use in the first place, like always being around it with my mother." By the time she left Pine City, Ruby looked like a different person. She had put on 40 pounds and gained a fresh outlook on tackling her problems.  

But temptation reappeared the second she was released. She was sent to Ascension Place, a women's shelter near Broadway and Lyndale Avenue North. "People there were always high or drunk," she claims, adding that some residents called one nearby block "Crack Alley." "It was not a safe place for me to be. I felt threatened there, and I didn't think I could stay straight either."

Within a month, Ruby had another dirty urine sample. This time, she insists, it was the system that was at fault and not her. She had undergone dental surgery and was taking Vicodin by prescription. The staff at Ascension Place was administering her doses, but they failed to tell the county about the prescription, Ruby claims. It was, she says, one more indication that the aftercare program was not helping.

So she left the treatment program and moved in with her grandmother and aunt. "It felt safe to me because they don't use," she recalls. "Leaving here is what always sent me into a spiral in the first place."

By that time, Ruby was dealing with her fifth county caseworker, Marcia Riopelle. Ruby says Riopelle had misgivings, but told her to go ahead and leave Ascension. She wanted Ruby, who was under court order to follow a county treatment plan, to get services from Chrysalis--A Center for Women and Hennepin County Medical Center.

Ruby chose the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, however. She says the center offered all of the services listed in her case plan. Plus it was the only place where she had found a sense of comfort and trust, "a place where I could be around my own people, and women like me, who knew that I was Indian and knew what I had gone through."

In October, when Ruby went to court to get her post-treatment plan approved, the judge decreed that the Indian Center's program was not sufficient. Since she had refused to follow the county's recommendations, she was considered in violation of the treatment plan.

"Everything they wanted me to do elsewhere, I was doing at the Indian Center," Ruby protests. Most important to her, she was staying clean. So she kept going.

By all accounts, Ruby has been a model client at the center, eager to learn life skills and stay sober. "Ruby is completely involved and doesn't need any pressure to be in our programs," confirms Rachel Kupcho, one of her caseworkers there. "Ruby's good qualities have been forgotten. Sometimes the nicest people do bad things.

"The problem with the court system sometimes is that it's inflexible, and it seems to think people can't change," Kupcho continues. "Why are we doing what we are doing if people can't change?"

Still, Kupcho understands why it's hard for the people who are responsible for protecting Ruby's children to believe that, this time, she has changed for good. "I can't say I'd like to sit in that judge's chair and make the decision," she admits.


I do hereby give my consent for termination of all my parental rights to Penny Myhre, Jane Waldahl, and Michael Waldahl, and consent for my children to be committed to the guardianship and legal custody of the Commissioner of Human Services....I understand that I will not have any enforceable rights to make any decisions concerning my children's welfare....I believe my consent to terminate parental rights is for good cause and in my child's best interests.


--Affidavit of Consent for Termination of Parental Rights, signed by Ruby Myhre, January 23, 2001


In August Ruby had one last reunion with Waldahl, from which she emerged pregnant. It seemed she had very little chance to reclaim her older children; she was determined that the new baby would not have the same fate. The county had Ruby's precarious history in mind. She had no bargaining chips except her vow to stay sober this time.

She says that her attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge all told her that her best bet for keeping the new baby was to give up her three older kids and start with a clean slate. She asked that her grandmother be given custody, but Ruby says she was told by the prosecutor that Sandra Myhre wouldn't gain rights to the children, especially now that Ruby was living with her.  

So on January 23 this year, when Ruby was five months pregnant, she and Waldahl both signed affidavits giving up custodial rights to their three children. "I was confused at this point," Ruby recalls. "I figured this would end the whole thing."

When the matter came before Judge Herbert Lefler the next day, both parents say they told the judge that they felt the separation was being forced on them. "We were all bawling," Ruby recalls. "I was devastated. Crushed. I was hysterically crying and my hands were shaking so violently I had trouble signing the papers."

Ruby remembers standing out on Sixth Street in downtown Minneapolis afterward with her aunt and grandmother. It was a dark and cold day. "I went home and laid down and cried for about two days," Ruby says. Waldahl remembers feeling tricked. To both of them, the one consolation was that Ruby was convinced that she would be allowed to keep the baby she was about to give birth to.

But on April 26, five days after Ruby delivered Isabelle, the social worker and assistant county attorney who had been involved with Ruby's previous case petitioned the court to terminate her parental rights to the infant. The impetus, according to the file, was Ruby's long record of not adhering to case plans, as well as the fact that she had surrendered rights to her older children three months earlier. The county took custody of the infant.

On May 7 there was a hearing at the Hennepin County Center for Juvenile Justice over the fate of Isabelle. Two assistant Hennepin County attorneys and two social workers were there to argue that Ruby should lose her rights to Isabelle too. A contingent of people showed up to vouch for Ruby: her attorney, Alfred Griffin, two of Ruby's mentors from the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, and a social worker from Hennepin County Medical Center. Sandra Myhre was there, her face scrunched in a stony grimace, periodically jotting things in a notebook.

People on both sides shuffled around the third floor of the courthouse with other parents and children, attorneys and social workers. By the time court proceedings began at 8:30 that morning, the crowded hallways had taken on the feel of a backyard barbecue, albeit one stifled under the weight of a legal institution.

Ruby, dressed in a cream-colored blouse and purple dress pants, was calm and reserved, as if she had been hardened enough that another setback would simply be par for the course. It was two days before her 23rd birthday, and it was unclear whether she had any fight left in her. "It's just another day for me," she said. "It's the same with my birthday--just another day to me. After 18, it's just another day."

Valerie Forsch, the child-protection worker in charge of the case, testified that the decision to take Isabelle away from Ruby was based on "prior cases with her." "My concern is in regards to neglect with her previous three children," Forsch said, adding that Ruby had terminated the rights to those children just four months earlier. "I investigated Myhre a couple of weeks ago and found that she had another baby."

Forsch was also concerned that Ruby might not have severed ties to Waldahl, whom county workers saw as an immediate threat to the well-being of the children. Ruby insisted that she has no contact with Waldahl, something he confirms. "We've had a bad history together," Waldahl concedes. "I would love to be with that baby and Ruby, but I wouldn't even want to risk [her] losing that baby. After they took the kids, I was a mess. My life--wow, you know, I lost three beautiful kids over it."

The decision to take Isabelle from her mother seemed all too abrupt to Lisa Ellis, the hospital social worker assigned to Ruby's case. Ruby's dedication to sobriety during her stay in the hospital had convinced Ellis that she was mentally sound, and indeed had put her past behind her. "A vast majority of these cases are high-risk for the child and it is appropriate to find placement for the child outside of the family," Ellis notes. "But there are a handful of cases where this is not appropriate, and we try to take steps against outside placement. Each case should be looked at individually."

Rachel Kupcho, who had been leading Ruby through post-treatment counseling at the Indian Center, testified that Ruby never missed individual or group meetings and was dedicated to sobriety. Further, Mary Jo Brooks-Hunter, Isabelle's court-appointed advocate, or guardian ad litem, seemed to be on Ruby's side. "I fail to see the problem here," she said during the hearing. "I have to ask, what harm is there in letting the mother be with this child?"  

Judge Herbert Lefler, however, was unmoved by the testimony on Ruby's behalf. Three days later he ruled that child-protection services had done the right thing, and that Isabelle should be kept in temporary placement in a foster home. Ruby left the courtroom quietly.


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change/Courage to change the things I can/And wisdom to know the difference.


--The Serenity Prayer, taped to the
mirror in Ruby's bedroom


An August hearing at juvenile court to check on Ruby's progress had a decidedly hopeful tone. Dressed in a blue T-shirt and jeans, Ruby chatted with Leah, her sponsor from the Indian Women's Center, and joked with a county social worker and Isabelle's guardian while she waited outside the courtroom. Ruby's face often erupted into a broad, bright smile. Judge Lefler had jettisoned his cold, stern demeanor toward Ruby. "Ms. Myhre's been doing a good job," he noted with some pride.

Isabelle had spent the previous three weeks living with Ruby, who had won conditional rights to her in July and had brought the baby home to her grandmother's house. Today, anxious to let Ruby get on with her life, her attorney was asking that the case be dismissed. "This is a different person than is in that file," Griffin argued. "This proves that people can change and nobody should be written off."

But Brooks-Hunter wanted the case kept open for the benefit of Isabelle. Lefler concurred: "In cases with people who have chemical issues, there is no such thing as too much support," he said, addressing Ruby as "Mom." "The guiding hand may be lighter and lighter, but it's still good to have it there." He scheduled another hearing for mid-October, and warned Ruby not to "lose track of what to do to make things right."

After the hearing, Ruby went back to her grandmother's house. There, Isabelle was just waking from an afternoon nap. She brought the baby outside to catch the late summer sun. As she held Isabelle, Ruby finally dared to talk about the future. She daydreamed out loud about taking a job at the Indian Center, perhaps becoming a sponsor for another recovering addict, leading Narcotics Anonymous counseling groups, or, if she can get a degree from a technical college, even being an administrator at the center someday.

She still has no contact with her older children, a fact that gnaws at her. Her only hope of a reunion with them, she says, is to establish herself as a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. The Indian Child Welfare Act, a 1978 federal law, allows children of chemically dependent Native Americans to be placed with relatives of the parent. Initially Ruby's case appeared to fall under the law, but when her first attorney contacted the tribe, they denied that Ruby was a member and refused to get involved.

Ruby believes that the Leech Lake Band has never recognized her because they have her father confused with her half-brother, who has the same name. She has appealed to the tribe to straighten things out, but it's an arcane process that could take months, if not years. Her father can't help; in 1997, Ruby heard that he had died of a heart attack. A staffer at the Indian Center has contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to try to track down records they believe will show that her father was born into the tribe but given up for adoption.

Meanwhile Sandra Myhre plans to file papers seeking to adopt Penny, Jane, and Michael. Both women know she won't be able to adopt them as long Ruby lives with her. Ruby does hope to be able to find housing for herself and for Isabelle soon, but she says she's not even sure if someone else has already adopted the three children.

At night Ruby writes personal goodnight messages to Michael, Jane, and Penny in a journal she keeps in a drawer next to her bed. Her children, Ruby notes, have never seen the pages. But she writes to them every night, just so they might someday know that their mother loved them. She writes so they know their mother never ignored them, never abandoned them. "I don't think my kids even know they have a little sister," she says.

"I feel like I deserve a chance, that I deserve some kind of life," she continues. "I was a drug addict, and now they've taken away my rights to be a mother. I'm a person, and it's a nightmare for me to get up in the morning."  

No matter what, Ruby can't imagine going back to what her life has been for so long. She's sober for good this time, she says. "I'm doing fine," she says to herself. "I'm gonna make it. I'm doing just fine."

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