Sunday, July 19, 1998Juvenile 'R.P.' rebounding for problems in earlier years
Last modified at 12:20 a.m. on Sunday, July 19, 1998
By JAN GAUGHAN
Log Cabin Staff Writer
She has been known in court for the past two years as "the juvenile girl, R.P." And on the very day the controversy surrounding one of the toughest periods of her young life finally came to an end, R.P., Rebecca Pendagraph, legally became an adult.
"I was surprised when I heard about it," she said Friday of Judge Karen Baker's order that DHS employee Sandi Doherty begin serving a two-day jail sentence for contempt. "Today's my 18th birthday."
When Miss Pendagraph appeared before Judge Baker in August 1996 for excessive absenteeism from school, it soon became apparent to both prosecution and defense that she needed support, not punishment, from the system. All utilities in the family's home had been shut off, her mother explained to the judge.
Judge Baker ordered DHS to see that utility service was restored, so that Miss Pendagraph could remain with her mother in their home and have the basic comforts that allow for a normal daily routine.
But for 53 days after that order, Miss Pendagraph and her family remained without running water and electricity, while DHS officials struggled to avoid setting what they thought was a bad financial precedent for the agency, offering instead to put her in foster care. The legal and political questions -- Does DHS think it's above the law? Is DHS to be expected to pay the bills for all of the thousands of Arkansans living below the poverty level? Should a mid-level employee of DHS be singled out for punishment for following what she saw to be departmental policy? -- may have been fascinating fodder for debate in the media and the courthouse corridors, but there was nothing fascinating about having no heat in 10- to 15-degree weather that November.
"It was a very hard time for me," she said grimly. "A very hard time. But I got through it."
On Friday afternoon, she tried to sort through her feelings about Ms. Doherty's two-day jail term.
"I'm torn," she said. "I'm sorry she has to go through this. I don't wish harm on anyone, but I just feel she put herself in jail. It's got nothing to do with me."
"If that's cold-hearted, I can't help it," she said.
The refusal by DHS to follow the court order was a decision based on numbers, not human beings, she said.
"They just didn't care. It was a business for them," she said. "They didn't want to turn loose of that money."
Miss Pendagraph is a success story for the juvenile court system: a hard-working (she holds down two jobs and helps support her mom) young woman who will enroll as a freshman at the University of Central Arkansas this fall. She plans to take a full course load and keep one of her jobs to help defray expenses.
"Life still is not quite what you'd call easy for me, but I'm making it," she said.
"In the end, it's all going to be worth it."
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