Club Meds

The mental-health-care system says Lynda Sue Dale, a young mentally ill mother, is ineligible for treatment -- until she informs the bureaucrats she's talking to New Times

In December 1987, Nancy took Lynda to Charter Hospital for psychiatric treatment. During Lynda's weeklong stay there, a psychologist noted that she spoke of the racial prejudice she'd been facing.

The psychologist said Lynda was displaying "strong patterns of manipulation, poor internal controls, poorly developed social skills, and strong feelings of being victimized, [which are] part of a general chronic depression as well as a rather strong oppositional attitude."

She was 7 at the time.

Nancy had lost control of her wild child.

Lynda's first juvenile "referral," for burglary, came in 1989, when she was 9. Lynda later told another psychologist she'd started smoking marijuana at the age of 10, about the time a west-side gang had "jumped her in" as a new member. Between 1989 and 1994, police busted Lynda 11 times on shoplifting charges.

In April 1992, Glendale police arrested Lynda for kicking her mother in the ribs and wrist, and for also assaulting her sister. That led to a monthlong stint at the Durango juvenile jail.

The following May, a juvenile judge ruled Lynda "incorrigible," and ordered her back to juvenile jail.

"I was on a weird mission," she says of that time, "a fuck-the-world thing. I considered myself a half-breed, a misfit. I'd dump my books in a ditch and laugh about it. I basically was a thug. I was doing crazy shit . . ."

Without elaborating, she adds, "And I never got caught for any of the big stuff."

She was expelled from just about every school she attended before dropping out for good after ninth grade. She became a chronic runaway who stayed wherever and with whomever she could.

Before her 14th birthday, Lynda -- whose street name then was "Kitty Kat" -- moved into the Glendale home of John Stull III, a man then pushing 50. "He was infatuated with me," she recalls, "though I never let him do anything. I needed a place to stay. I saw what he did with some of the other kids. He said he wanted to marry me."

Lynda finally moved out in the fall of 1994, around the time a ComCare psychiatrist evaluated her for treatment. (ComCare preceded ValueOptions as the contract mental-health-care administrator in Maricopa County.)

Glendale police arrested Stull in December 1994 on charges of sexually abusing another 13-year-old girl. He's now serving a life sentence at the Arizona State Prison.

In July 1995, Stan Cabanski filed a "psychoeducational" evaluation of Lynda with the county's Juvenile Court.

The psychologist concluded, "This is a very seriously emotionally disturbed young woman who at this time does present a serious danger, both to herself and to others. . . . It is questionable whether she can be worked with safely or effectively while she remains in the community."

Cabanski recommended Lynda's placement in an inpatient program. ComCare disagreed, closing her file two months later with a note that her "treatment goals have been completed."

In truth, she needed more help than ever, and wasn't getting it.

That month, a juvenile probation officer wrote, "I do feel that Lynda is a danger to herself and to the community. She is on her way to becoming a very sophisticated delinquent . . ."

Then, as now, those inside the system were at a loss about what to do with Lynda. "Since I am unsure of what would be the best treatment plan for the juvenile," the officer wrote, "I will not recommend a consequence at this time."

Lynda says she quit gangbanging when she was 16, around the time she found work as a stripper at the Jungle Cabaret, a club in downtown Phoenix.

"I told them I was 21, and they went for it," she says. That's noteworthy because now, at 20, she could easily pass for a 16-year-old. "Stripping came natural to me, and I was good at it, and I made some real money."

Lynda says her new skill led someone to invite her to dance -- clothed -- onstage during a hip-hop show at Desert Sky Pavilion in the summer of 1996. "There I was," she says, "dancing with Bobby Brown, and my homies are out there in the audience going, 'Look who's up there.' I went on tour with the show, and I saw a lot of places you're not supposed to see at that age."

(Lynda's counselor, Ruth-Ann Robinson, says she believes the Desert Sky part of the anecdote. As for going on tour, Robinson chuckles, then says, "Lynda has a lot of interesting stories. Some of them are even true.")

Lynda met the future father of her son at a traffic light in southern California when she was 16. She'd just moved there with a girlfriend and her girlfriend's mother. The couple loved each other deeply, Lynda says, but brawled constantly.

"We had a lot of fights where the cops had to come by," she says, bursting into tears at the memories, "but we had a lot of good times, too. I didn't know what I had."

Lynda was ecstatic when she learned she was pregnant in mid-1997. "I was so happy. It was, 'We'll have our own family now.' I wasn't taking any meds 'cause I was pregnant, and I noticed my mood swings were really wild until D.J. was born."

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