Psychiatrist continues educational journey in law


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Twenty years after graduating from medical school, Lindsay-Rose Dykema became a student again last fall, as a rookie in law school.

“The path that brought me here might have started fresh out of my residency training in psychiatry, when I started treating a man who had spent five years in prison for setting fire to a sign outside a restaurant, under the delusion God wanted him to,” said Dykema, now a 1L student in the evening program at Wayne Law.

“During his incarceration, his schizophrenia was poorly treated, and he spent long stretches in solitary confinement. As any form of torture would, solitary confinement only served to worsen his psychosis.”

The agitation drove the man to injure himself, which left him blind.

When the man was ready to talk with Dykema about the experience — nearly three years after the two started working together  — spoke about the day he injured himself.

“He told me he thought he was there to be tortured,” Dykema said “He said he was convinced that was what they were going to do to him next, and he decided he’d rather do it himself.”

Over the next decade as a public-sector psychiatrist in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, Dykema heard more stories from patients about how the criminal justice system had negatively impacted their lives — and her threshold for involving law enforcement for patients in the midst of psychiatric emergencies got higher and higher.

“I saw how their presence would agitate paranoid patients, and that agitation could lead to charges of resisting arrest or assaulting a police officer, so they’d get propelled into a carceral state that traumatized them with violence and unaffordable fees that threatened their housing stability,” she said.

In September 2018, a friend invited Dykema to a Wayne State University panel discussion, “Imagining a World Without Cages” — her first exposure to the prison abolition movement.

“It sparked a fire in me that has burned ever since,” she said. “I read everything I could get my hands on by Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Angela Davis, and started hanging out with octogenarian anarchists in the Quaker community in Ann Arbor. But it was Detroit that drew me in.”

In March 2019, Dykema took a job at a public mental health clinic in Detroit tailored for individuals with ties to the criminal justice system, including Wayne County’s Mental Health Court, a jail diversion program, and community re-entry services.

“That’s when I really started to appreciate how broken the system is — the way it criminalizes poverty and mental illness, locks people who need help in cages, and then seems to set them up for failure after they’re ‘freed,’” she said.

One day, while visiting the zine library at Trumbullplex, the housing collective and showspace in the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit, Dykema saw someone wearing a shirt that read, “National Lawyers Guild.”  Too shy to ask about the wording, later that night she Googled it — and knew she wanted to be a part of it.

The following day, Dykema registered for the LSAT, and even after a sub-par performance on the Logic Games section — “Possibly the least fun games I’ve ever played,” she says — Wayne Law offered her a scholarship to attend their part-time evening program, starting last fall.

Dykema, who earned her undergraduate degree, medical degree and Master in Public Health all from the University of Michigan, moved from Ann Arbor to Detroit just as the COVID pandemic hit.

Since the overwhelmed mental health clinic she had been working at was not equipped to transition to telehealth, she jumped ship to do things her own way, launching a private tele-health practice, “Uncaged Minds Detroit,” last April — “Making the basically-unheard-of choice to accept exclusively
Medicaid, whose reimbursement rates are half of what many private insurance companies pay providers,” she said.

“I remember sitting in my office basement, frantically crunching numbers and filling out forms and wondering if I’d ever see a paycheck again. One evening I was listening to the nightly chants outside from the Detroit Will Breathe protestors and found myself feeling super sad I couldn’t take to the streets too because I’ve got kids and a family to support and felt like I couldn’t risk getting arrested. But I realized that increasing access to mental health care for people whose choices are so painfully limited was a pretty radical anti-racist act, when you think about it. So I felt like I was joining the fight in a different way.” 

Flexibility in her career has allowed Dykema to structure her hours around the part-time evening law school program.

“Every day my brain makes an interesting shift from the emotional labor of holding space for patients’ heartbreaking stories, to the intellectual labor of understanding the Erie Doctrine,” she said. “My partner says I’ve taken to this way of life because I’m a Gemini, but I’m not convinced of the science around that.”  

At 42, Dykema may be the most senior member of her class.

“But I hear the Zoom camera takes off 10 years and many of my classmates would be surprised at the incongruity between my behavior in class and my chronological age,” she said with a smile. “That’s because if there is any room for a joke, in even the most banal cases, I will pounce on it.

“I’m told this is another Gemini thing. But I’ll also pounce on any opportunity to point out the brutality of state violence when it jumps out at me from our case books, too — gotta school those kids!”

Dykema lives in the Boston-Edison historic district of Detroit, with her partner Finn, a sex researcher working on their dissertation, a project to develop and validate the first-ever transgender sexual self-concept questionnaire.

“We’ve fallen in love with the parts of Detroit COVID has allowed us access to so far, and we can’t wait to explore this great city more,” Dykema said. “My two sons, 7-year-old Adam and 9-year-old David, split their time between us in Detroit and their dad in Ann Arbor; wherever they are, they’re always down for a Mario Bros. marathon.


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