Welcome to the Hotel Arizona

Check-out time is age 18

"From the first talk with her she was irreverent, but so amazingly needy," the lawyer says, recalling that when she asked Henage if she knew what the word "hypothetical" meant, the girl replied, "I'm fucked up, I'm not stupid."

Henage draws and writes poetry. She also pulls out her own hair and scratches herself with pens 'til she bleeds.

"I fell in love with that spirit behind this incredibly abused child," Cerepayna says, her eyes misting.

Barbara Cerepayna (left) and her client, Sun Lynn 
Barbara Cerepayna (left) and her client, Sun Lynn Henage.


More stories in the Slammed special report.

ADJC officials refuse to comment on Henage's case, but Cerepayna says it took just weeks to get the girl released from the department's custody, and put into a residential treatment center. Henage had to promise Cerepayna she'd stop swearing so much, keep her opinions to herself and stop self-abusing.

But what really made the difference, Cerepayna says, was the presence of a private attorney. Almost overnight, Henage was promoted from sophomore to junior status (girls are required to reach at least the junior level before they can ask to be released from ADJC).

"It was interesting that once I got involved with her, things changed rapidly," Cerepayna says.

Sun Lynn Henage and Barbara Cerepayna sit at a table at the Coffee Plantation on Mill Avenue on a hot June day, two weeks before Henage's 18th birthday.

The two just toured the Arizona State University campus; Cerepayna thought she could get Henage a scholarship for the fall, but advisors at ASU said she should set her sights a little lower, spend some time at a community college first.

That seems fine with Henage, who looks overwhelmed. She sips an orange slush, anticipating dinner out before Cerepayna has to take her back to the residential treatment center where she'll live 'til her birthday.

Cerepayna is more mother than lawyer, at this point, worrying that Henage's medication makes her drowsy, gently chiding the girl for picking at her acne.

Quietly, Henage describes her time at Black Canyon. The girls were "very mouthy" and intimidating, she says. Most of the gang activity was wannabe stuff, but she did meet two serious gang members. Henage was assigned to the Maya cottage, the facility's mental health unit, but even there, she says, the counseling was often given by untrained corrections officers.

"We had some groups you wouldn't believe. Those are the ones you probably want to know about," she says. "One of the staff members had groups like Truth or Dare. She'd bring up issues of the girls, and humiliate the girls in front of everybody."

The staffer would ask questions like, "Is it true that you kissed so and so here, or is it true that you want to do this with this person?"

The reaction? "Everybody'd be laughing except for the girl they'd be talking about." The girl would be "crying or blushing."

She learned more about how to deal with the counselors than she did about how to deal with herself. "I learned to be cautious and be careful how I said things and who I said things to."

The only good part, she says, was that each girl was assigned a staff member as a mentor. She got really close to that person, Henage says; the bad part is that now that she's out of the institution, she can't have any contact with him for two years.

Henage was in and out of the "separation" cottage -- ADJC's version of solitary confinement -- a lot, sometimes for arguing with staff, other times for self-abusing.

The longest stretch was two weeks; staff wouldn't let her out if she refused to shower or eat. In separation, you don't get a pillow or sheets for your bed, just a mattress, she says. At night, a blanket. She was given schoolwork to complete, but describes it as busy work -- multiplication tables when Henage had already passed her GED and was doing college work. She was also given paperwork to complete, extensive essay questions about acceptable behavior. If she didn't finish the paperwork, she didn't get her hour of exercise time.

She was in exclusion, too, locked in her cell often for a couple days at a time.

The day before Henage was released from ADJC, a counselor told her that "the chances of me getting out were as good as the chance of his water bottle growing legs and walking off his desk."

The next day, after Cerepayna made her case, the counselor told those assembled that "he'd been working for weeks to make this happen."

ADJC Director David Gaspar won't talk about Sun Lynn Henage, but he does acknowledge that Barbara Cerepayna has been asking questions.

"Barbara creates anxiety for people," he says. "I think anybody who has passion for what they believe about a kid could create that. I think our agency struggles with how we understand that. I embrace that. I embrace Barbara coming in here and talking to them. Because I frankly see them as throwaway kids by society."

Read more stories in the Slammed special report.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

This story has a lot of false statements in it! My name is SueAnn Henage Garzon, Sun Lynn is my sister. The statement of our mother bring a prostitute is in accurate as for me I never lived on the streets. This lawyer lady should probably have done her research since I believe she was used as a puppet for SunLynns poor me story. I am sickened to how this story portrays me and others in my family. BTW my older sister did die because she had a involuntary reaction to Tylenol PM not and not because she wanted to die,

Faith Simmons
Faith Simmons

ADJC Director David Gaspar

"Barbara creates anxiety for people," he says. "I think anybody who has passion for what they believe about a kid could create that. I think our agency struggles with how we understand that. I embrace that. I embrace Barbara coming in here and talking to them. Because I frankly see them as throwaway kids by society."

My God I am 30 years old now, but I was sent to to ADJC when i was 16 so that was just one year before the expiration of that ruling , I never knew i was considered a "throwaway kid by society" I sure didn't feel that way! No wonder why the adult prison population has skyrocketed now that it is 2011, Who the hell is this guy to "frankly see" anything for all of society? How the hell did we the freaking people allow this to happen? The teens and bad kids that i was housed with in success unit mostly just needed someone listen to them, they had real live issues when they where free. My first roommate she was 13yrs old and had shot her foster mother in the face because no one would listen when she said she was being abused, molested, and starved. She attempted to get help and was denied. Now what does one do when they are forced to protect themselves from their "STATE ISSUED PROTECTOR"? You can not expect children to teach themselves confidence or give themselves reassuring that there is a better life with attitude such as this David Gaspar . What a very incorrigible ADULT individual in charge of the self-esteems of so many young and encourage able people. By the way , this "throwaway kid " Is now a medical professional and if you needed medical attention I would not even hesitate help you , without judgement or second thought. I am pretty sure that I am not the only bad kid that got better.


Phoenix Concert Tickets