Dix Hill Redux

Growing up in Raleigh, the only consistent intel on Dix was to steer clear, trepidation not so much over the inmates but from staff mistaking you for an escaped “loony” and stuffing you into a rubber room. I’d never really got to know it until my head injury 5 years ago. Early mornings I began climbing to find a still place to quiet the ringing in my head. One exploration nearly cost me a bicycle tire from a 4 point Eastern White Tail deer antler as overhead ducks honked overhead in the classic “vee” formation. I discovered a federalist era house I didn’t know existed: Spring Hill raised by Theopholis Hunter in 1815. Instead of the Yankees who took up residence after the Waw, the NCSU Japan Center now occupies the fine, aged house.
“Dorothea Dix stayed lived here,” I was told by Francis Moyer, director of the Japan Center. Outside, kids screamed and played across the street.
Since then I have a better grasp of a place I thought I knew about, this namesake of an empathetic visionary from Maine who made herself a pain in the ass to legislators around the young nation with her simple plea, nay, demand: render compassion and aid to innocent sufferers of medical conditions instead of the usual punishment by imprisonment. Five years has seen the hospital begin to wind down preparatory to the big move to Butner. Nowadays, the acres and somber institutional buildings have taken on a decidedly post-bomb feel, darkened, vacant windows gazing out on weedy parking lots. The kids are gone. The state claimed 30 million to bring Dix up to code versus 108 for the new hospital. Considering the disruptions to patients and their families lives and incidental costs of moving, does that sound like a good deal to you? No argument that Cuckoo’s Nest thinking had it’s problems but now, with the closure and removal of the hospital, this state’s capital and Wake county will have no local service for serious mental cases other than Central Prison’s spanking new psych ward, precisely what Dix dedicated her life to changing.
The world is upside down. Accompanying the growth of the Prison Industrial complex the work of this courageous warrior is being undone via this nation’s legacy of financial opportunity. Across the nation “Lunatic asylums” are being converted to condos and townhouses. One example is Danvers Lunatic Asylum in Massachusetts where Avalon Bay Communities created a “campus-like environment” with swimming pools, WiFi cafe and fitness center. Rents start around $1,400 for a one-bedroom, about a half-a-million dollars for a condo.
Two of the players at Avalon Bay and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) moved 5 years ago to Raleigh to be near a niece in Wake Forest, they claimed, stressing no interest in Dix. Compare this with a local legislator saying research on Dix led to ULI, the same organization who with J.W. Willie York launched in 1948 the suburbia mess that is Raleigh, 2010, this in light of the fact that Willie’s son Smedes attended Dix meetings as an “interested Citizen,” he then freshly returned from New Orleans as head of a ULI commission. And what about the Dix Commission backing down from removing references to “commerce” and “housing’ from a draft statement?
This upcoming Dix decision has more loose ends than a bucket of worms. Is the same fate as Danvers, Dammasch in Oregon and Northern Michigan Asylum, development, awaiting Dix? That is up to you, citizens and voters. The only way you can have any steerage over this is to hold your elected officials to their word. So much negotiation goes unnoticed and unrecorded that, sadly, the peoples’ sole bargaining chip is intimidation. We will have to make the commercial quislings that infest governmental bodies understand that their political careers could well hinge on the outcome of the Dix issue. That said, remain mindful of how little the publics’ wisdom mean in light of the Convention Center, opposed by 67 percent of your fellow citizens and now way over budget. Oh, democracy.
The only thing the ordinary people of Raleigh and North Carolina can do is to combine forces and attempt to retain some bit of what Dorothea Dix lived for, a place of quiet respite for the harried city dweller, i.e. yourself, increasingly buffeted by the psychological ravages of the toxic elements of this culture.
If we do not engage the forces making plans out of sight, your commons, that which should belong to everyone will be stolen from you. Bet on it.


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