By Stephen “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
I was born broken. Simple fact of the matter is my biological mother was a cocaine addict throughout her pregnancy and having this be the fact, she gave birth to a baby addicted to cocaine. She was so concerned for her “baby” she gave me away for adoption at birth.
Thank the Creator for my adoptive parents. My new mom gave me her love and the first milk I ever ingested not long after my birth. It took a full year for me to stop screaming in rage when I was put down, something about being a cokehead infant made me want to be, no demand to be held.
Scoot ahead to kindergarten, I had always been a problem, wandering off in crowds, hiding in department stores, even walked out of a grocery store, got into a lady’s car and told her to take me for a ride. I was sending my mom into fits almost every other hour. Wasn’t a tree I didn’t climb or a neighbor’s house I didn’t just appear in and make myself at home. I guess the scariest thing I did as a toddler was to somehow make my way unseen across a busy highway. I got through a fence and into a pasture to pet the horsey. The owner spotted something moving in the distance and came running thinking I might be a coyote after his new colt. Good thing he didn’t shoot first.
Crazy, and all this by 5 years old! It was pretty clear early on there was something wrong with me, so off to doctors I was taken. They pronounced me as “hyperactive.” Imagine that! A brilliant way to just toss some labels around, never solve the problems, or even get to the root of them, but they sure did medicate me, one amphetamine solution after another, years on Ritalin.
Anyway, wasn’t till I was around 10 that they discovered for real that I couldn’t read, so they ran a truck load of aptitude and I.Q. tests, found out I was really, really smart and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t “catch on.”
Then all of a sudden a teacher read an article about this new problem they had discovered, “dyslexia.” So the die was cast, and there it was, so simple, he sees words backwards. Not quite! Leave it to me and my brain to be even stranger than that, where the letters of any word appear jumbled and all mixed up. For instance the word, “house” might be seen by my brain as “usoeh” and so on. Anyway, I was scooted on thru the grades like the medicated, disruptive kid that I was, never doing any homework, never learning to read, and always in trouble, till my early teens when I just quit going to school.
I started skipping and doing drugs, weed, uppers downers, all arounders, anything to help me deal with this hole in me, nothing worked and finally I got to the point where I would try anything to get a thrill that could overpower my brokenness. The more I did the more I was broken.
I am not proud of the way my life went from there, I was a mess, in and out of trouble with the law. From and thru all this drug-induced reckless behavior, I began committing crimes, burglaries, robberies even going so far as to use guns in the robberies. My twisted logic was that if I had a gun it would reduce any chance of resistance from the victims and lessen the chance of my being hurt. I am able to forgive myself for these horrible acts only because no one was ever physically harmed. If that were not the case I would not ever feel forgiven or cleansed of the bad things I did in the past. I was 26 when I was sent to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas in 1986, for all the crimes I committed. Yes, I have served more than half of my life in prison.
BREATHE Fate obscure – point deter. World so strange – down the drain. Forge your soul – hallowed goal. Pain inside – run and hide. I’ll remember you – someone screams at you, With no respect – heart full of neglect, Defiant till the end – let the games begin, So that we can get to the fucking end. Cut your throat with your own knife, The destroyer steps into the light. Doesn’t matter how hard you try, Fate predisposed so go ahead and cry. I’ll remember you – someone screams at you, With no respect – heart full of neglect, Defiant till the end – let the games begin, So that we can get to the fucking end. Breathe – breathe – breathe, Dammit, just breathe. Monstrosity is a socialite – why are you so uptight? Sightless eyes that cannot see – end up where you wanna be. With the blank stare, with nothing in it for me Léger de main was your destiny . . . I remember you – someone screams at you, With no respect – heart full of neglect, Defiant till the end – let the games begin, When – will – it . . . begin. Breathe – breathe – breathe – just breathe. Breathe © Steven "Walks on the Grass" Maisenbacher
Prison is where all the positive things that happened to and for me occurred. It was there I first realized that I wanted to learn so much more than the little I knew. Eventually, when at my lowest, I decided I would not be broken anymore; I would teach myself to read. I started using my mind to learn all the letters and the words they could spell. I learned how to solve the puzzles of words and developed my own little method for reading that works for me. After that I became a voracious reader, demolishing anything I could get my eyes on. I read westerns, adventures, the classics, history, and there I found my way to books on Native cultures, ways and ceremonies. The more I learned the more I wanted to know and books were not enough.
I had always known I had some Native blood, and however slight or whatever the quantum is, I have always in my soul and heart considered myself Native. But therein lies the problem for a lot of “breeds” in prison. The full-bloods sometimes feel ill will towards us, like just because of skin color or blood quantum we are not worthy of being allowed to participate or learn. Yet as I discovered, there are ample times and people who are full-blood who disagree with this prejudicial treatment or belief.
Fortunately some even came into the prisons to teach and volunteer their time to participate and help the brothers in these iron houses grow and change. Being a wild youngster fresh in the federal system I was fortunate in that one of my first cell mates was a full-blood Oglala Sioux. Mark had been a sun dancer. He was a very spiritual brother who fell into a bad situation and was serving a life sentence. He had been working on change for the several decades he had already served and was the first elder to take time with me, explain about the cleansing ceremony and the sweat lodge. He felt it wasn’t the color of the skin, but the color of the heart that matters, and to this day, I still remember Mark’s kindness. He has long since passed on and I know Creator is well pleased with him.
Then I was transferred to Lewisburg Penitentiary, Pennsylvania. There were some really good brothers there and I tied in with them. However the prison administration at that time had a policy that you had to be medically cleared by the doctor in order to sweat. I had COPD and asthma, so medical would not approve me to go into the sweat lodge. This was disappointing and a block to any spiritual growth, but my thirst for knowledge was ravenous and I continued my study and desire to know more. I read as many Native culture and spirituality books as I could: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Black Elk Speaks, Cheyenne Autumn, Hanta Yo, just to name a few.
So years go by, finally I had stayed out of trouble long enough for my security level to go down. There had been many outside volunteers who gave of their time and came into the prisons for “gatherings” and visits, some very good people who brought both wisdom and camaraderie to us inside these walls. These outside volunteers were like water in a desert to us. They were always welcome and really listened to. I thank them all, those still with us and those who are beyond sorrow, they truly give of themselves and their visits mean the world to us in these iron houses. They are all in my dawn prayers each day.
My lower security “points” meant that after 11 years I was able to go to a medium security facility. My first stop is to be FCI Phoenix, where in 1997 the U.S. Parole Commission recommended that I take the 500-hour residential drug program. When I got to Phoenix, the place was amazingly beautiful to me. I loved the desert and the prison laid out like a college campus.
Right off I asked a Native I met in the chow hall who the pipe carrier on the yard was in order to make myself known to him. Come to find out I still had a lot to learn. I had no clue about intertribal prejudice and the poor relations amongst some tribes and others. It’s really sad to think that sometimes things can get pretty heated and even set some Natives against other Natives, northern tribes against southern tribes, full bloods against half breeds. It just amazes me that still we can’t get along well in some places and many prisons have two or three groups of Native Americans, full bloods and breeds or northern and southern or whatever, just silly if you ask me. After all, aren’t we all after the same end – a stronger, closer, tighter relationship with the Creator and our spiritual growth?
Anyway things worked themselves out and I found that they didn’t have the medical proscription in this particular prison, so I went to my first real sweat lodge ceremony at the invitation of J.R., the pipe carrier. Let me tell you a bit about this. First off it was May and blazing in the desert this day, so 100 degrees outside. The lodge fills up and I am seated in the south, it’s packed, at least 14 Natives in this lodge, they begin to bring the rocks in. Being of the understanding that things are done in sevens for sweats, I expect 28 rocks to come in the lodge followed by some water from a buffalo horn on the rocks. Imagine my apprehension when the final count was 100 rocks, and the amount of water to be used for the entire first round was about a quart. I did not know this was to be a “dry sweat” in the style of the Apache. Needless to say I came out blistered with the hide all but burnt, but I came out with a sense of clarity and focus that was so intense it was far more powerful than any drug I had ever tried. I knew right then that ceremonies within the Native sweat lodge would be the ultimate source of my healing.
So from Phoenix and my first sweat I was definitely in the “want” for more knowledge and experience. My entire stay in Phoenix was a learning experience, from the several types of sweat lodge ceremonies (dry-wet-healing-general-directional) to big drum etiquette and procedure to the various types of big drum songs and appropriate styles, even some of the traditional dance techniques. All was well and moving on in my world. I was looking forward to being free and reuniting with my family and friends. Little did I know that I was nowhere near ready for the world at all.
“The lost home that we are seeking is ourselves; it is the story we carry within our soul.” ~ Michael Meade
July 20, 2021