When she was 15 years old, Jenny Pentland – the daughter of actress Roseanne Barr – was surprised in her Los Angeles home by a group of large men who, without warning, handcuffed her, took her to an airport and flew over her. to Utah.
There she was taken against her will to a wilderness survival camp where she had to live in the woods for two months. She ate little more than raisins, peanuts, raw cornmeal, and half-cooked beans, braving the elements with no connection to her family or the outside world.
At one point, Pentland, who claims to have been beaten by a staffer during her ordeal, even helped someone skin a squirrel for food, getting the animal’s paw to eat for the effort.
Now 45, she still refers to what happened to her as a kidnapping.
But in reality, her ordeal, and others like it throughout her teens, was fully sanctioned and paid for by her mother and then the comedian’s new husband, actor Tom Arnold.
To this day Pentland does not fully understand why she was repeatedly put in these situations and prevented from living a normal teenage life. As far as she knows, her only offense was “being fat.”
She tells the poignant story in her new memoir, “This Will Be Funny Later: A Memoir” (Harper), out Tuesday.
The troubles started when Pentland was 13, around 1989. As her mother adjusted to the newfound fame of a successful sitcom, she also had to deal with her divorce from Pentland’s father, Bill. Pentland and her siblings became pawns in their parents’ lawsuit.
“On the advice of the attorneys, every action we took was recorded and used to advance the story of the parent who was suing the other at the time,” Pentland writes. “When I came home from my father to my mother’s house with dirt under my fingernails, [Barr’s lawyers] would write that down. If I put on weight, the lawyers would notice too.”
Indeed, she gained weight and also started cutting herself in response to the stress, as she learned the key details of the divorce and her own family life from the tabloids.
About this time, Pentland wrote in her journal, “I feel above and to the right of my body. Like I’ve been knocked into the past for a few seconds and can’t catch up.”
She gives no indication in the book about Barr’s side of all this.
Pentland was first dropped into an institution when she was 13.
She writes about Barr taking her to a therapist appointment at a hospital, barely speaking to her all the way, and leaving her there for eight months without explanation.
“[Two hospital workers] took me into an office that looked like a medical exam room and had me stand behind a curtain and undress,” Pentland writes. “I had to hand them every piece of clothing when I took it off so they could dig through the seams and pockets looking for contraband. When I was naked, the female [worker] told me to make sure I gave them everything and then came around the curtain to see me naked. I was freezing cold and totally humiliated and scared, which came across as anger.”
She describes mealtime as “not a joyous event,” with the teenage patients pushing their food around their plates until someone occasionally threw food at the nurse’s station for laughs. The others would follow and cause a “code red”, meaning pressing a red button would set alarm bells ringing.
“Alarm lights would illuminate the hallways and all available personnel would grab anyone who was violent or out of control,” Pentland writes. “They either held them on the floor until they calmed down, or they injected them with Thorazine and waited for it to take effect. They took the child to the observation room. [The patient] would remain on the bed until the drug wore off, or they would be held in ‘five points,’ meaning all four limbs and forehead were attached to the metal frame of the bed.”
When she not only failed to lose weight, but even gained a few pounds, she was accused of “running an underground food railway.”
“I did nothing but eat three cafeteria meals a day,” Pentland writes, “and I sat on my ass in a mental institution where the only exercise we got was the two hours a week we were dragged upstairs to the roof. on the third floor volleyball court.”
But Pentland learned how to be institutionalized. Later, after being transferred to another institution, she discovered how to “make prison-style tattoos with a needle, pen and thread.”
Here, with their room overlooking an apartment complex, Pentland and another patient began blinking at a local in exchange for buying them cigarettes, which were thrown through the window.
One day, one of the employees, a recovering addict, saw her crying and asked what was going on. Pentland exploded.
“Am I crazy? I must be crazy! I’ve been here longer than anyone! Am I crazy?”
The employee took a slow drag on a cigarette, then revealed a painful truth.
“You have the best mental health insurance I’ve ever seen,” he told her. “You’re worth a million a year, honey.”
“I got cold,” Pentland writes. “My blood was draining and my brain was doing that montage thing of calculating information. It took me a while to get the answer. Could that be true? Could it be that simple? Oh my God. I’m not crazy, I am profitable.”
Pentland spent most of her teenage years in and out of institutions like that, or in programs like wilderness survival.
There were times when she’d been free for months, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, was captured again.
When Pentland reached 250 pounds, Roseanne started pouring Coca-Cola over her daughter’s food so she wouldn’t eat anymore. The teen was expecting to be picked up at the airport by her father, but was instead met by one of Roseanne’s bodyguards.
When she realized what was going on — that she was being transported to another prison-like facility — Pentland started yelling, “Where are you taking me?!?!?”
Her mother’s bodyguard replied calmly, as if it were an everyday occurrence, that “he was a martial arts expert and that he was qualified to handcuff me.”
She came to believe that Barr and Arnold were plotting to keep her captive forever.
“I racked my brains trying to think of ways that Tom and my mother could have circumvented the law and kept me locked up for the rest of my life,” Pentland writes. “Would they suggest ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or something else with lasting effects?”
She was released from her final institution shortly before she turned 18, right around the time Barr and Arnold broke up.
Pentland has maintained a relationship with her mother and has even spent time as a writer for her original show. (Barr’s revived ABC sitcom was canceled in 2018 after a racist tweet, then returned to the air without her.) She doesn’t seem to have any ill will toward Barr, especially now that she has five sons of her own.
She recalls a time when one of her sons got into trouble as a teenager.
“I thought about what I could do differently than what” [my parents] did, and my answer was “listen,” Pentland writes.
“My voice was so often lost between the voices of the professionals, the commentary of the public, or else my own screams. I wanted to hear my children. I hoped that would be enough and that one day they would forgive [my husband and] me because I didn’t know what we were doing and would be thinking, they tried their best.”