By Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
Finally! I’m getting the transfer I was promised when I was so distraught and depressed in Beaumont dealing with the Interferon treatments. I’m on my way to Coleman Low in Florida and I couldn’t be happier!
Generally, most transfers include a stop at a Detention Center Unit (DCU) to go through the usual routing rigamarole. This trip, I’m only in the Atlanta DCU for a few days, but as a short aside, let me tell you about that place. Atlanta is the filthiest, nastiest stop in the federal system! It sits smack dab in the middle of the roughest neighborhood and the staff there are the roughest, most unprofessional I’ve ever seen. You are out of line if you even try to ask for anything. At best you will be ignored, at worst you will be thrown in the hole and beaten up along the way by the cops who would rather abuse you than look at you.
Rats as big as cats come into the cells at night and will actually take any food you may have managed to save to keep from starving at night. One time I woke up to find a rat dragging my apple across the floor towards the door. When I yelled, it reared up on its hind legs and hissed at me, then scurried off. For a minute there I thought I was going to have to tussle with this thug rodent for stealing my apple, but to avoid conflict, I just gave in and pushed the apple under the door. “You win, dude,” I said, “Just don’t come back in here.” As far as I know he didn’t, but what do I know?
Anyway, my Con Air flight arrives at the airport in Tampa, then it’s onto a bus for the ride I‘m familiar with from going to Coleman Medium several years before. Once I arrived in Coleman it’s the usual, first the bus goes to the penitentiary to drop off the guys that are going there, first pen 1, then pen 2, then the medium, then the low. Coleman Low is at the apex of the lows – it boasts a beautiful yard with open movement from 4-9pm and all day on weekends and holidays and a super cool recreation department, where the band room has state of the art equipment, a 24-channel mixer, with on board effects, really good speaker cabinets and amps for the guitars and bass, and a drum set like the pro’s use. In fact the band that I was immediately drafted to sing in after putting in an appearance at the band room did have a pro drummer, he was also a drum tech to several well-known southern rock bands and just a phenomenal drummer. This was as good as it gets.
By contrast, the sweat lodge and area was rather run down and actually not in any way traditional. There were no Natives there, only some young guys that were playing Native, not because they weren’t sincere or didn’t want to learn, but because there just wasn’t anyone with any knowledge there. When I asked about their songs all they could give me was some silly song that wasn’t even in any native language, then a song that was about “iktomi,” the spider that is actually a teaching song for children.
The brothers were doing the best they could, but less than 10 minutes into the first sweat lodge I attended, the pipe keeper asked me to run the sweat and teach them some songs. Now, I’m not a spiritually vain man, I try to remain humble before the Creator, but I’m thankful to have been blessed with the mind and the desire to spend the past decades constantly learning the songs, ceremonies, lore, legends and stories instructing me how to be more of a good man and a warrior for the Creator.
So for these young men to ask me to teach them was amazing, almost like rolling out the red carpet for my beliefs and teachings and knowledge. I started simply with a couple of songs for the kids and they seemed receptive. I need to tell you, though, this was like a spiritual energy booster shot for me. This opportunity was enabling me to recall how these youngsters could best learn what I myself had learned from elders.
It took me a minute to get used to them calling me the elder. I understood the implied respect and honor that it conferred, but more than that, it made me feel like I had reason and purpose, and that the Creator had finally started to use me as a tool to carry the ways on to the next generation; to help other men find a path to the life-changing religious beliefs, practices and behaviors that had given my life meaning. As I sit here now, laying this out in writing, it occurs to me that I had never thought much about what a big deal my feelings were when they asked me to take over the sweat lodge as the spiritual leader. Pretty cool for an old guy.
So weeks go by and things seem to be going good. Then here comes a hurricane that we never saw coming. A transfer bus comes in and on it a guy who claims Native American heritage and beliefs. Something about him made me immediately skeptical but I was willing to give this guy a chance. He called himself “Chains” and claimed to have been a member of the Native circle in Pollock U.S.P. in Louisiana.
At first we hung out a bit, he was in the same unit as me just the other side, but soon I realized he had some perverse attachment to me going on that went beyond our being in the Native spiritual group. It got to the point that I literally had to hide from him; he wanted to go everywhere I went, do everything I did, hang out all the time together until the situation became intolerable.
My life involved many other interests, I was a musician and I also built beautiful jewelry from stone, bone and shell for my line of jewelry I call, “Rocks on a String,” a part of my plan for a business when I’m released. So, this guy became more and more clingy, already he had alienated several of the youngsters with his ego and bravado. Chains was a wreck waiting to happen and happen he did.
Sometime later, another guy came to the joint from Petersburg Low in Virginia. He said he was a member of the circle there. When I asked if he was a sexual offender he stated that he was. As is the policy with many traditional Native religious people, he was politely informed that while we could not tell him he could not use the sweat lodge, he just couldn’t do sweat ceremonies with our traditional group. I told him he would need to make arrangements to have someone help him build the fire, bring the rocks in and perform the ceremony for him, but that we were not available to do this for him.
As I explained to the youngsters, although he probably needed prayer and the forgiveness of the Creator as bad or worse than any of us, he had violated women and/or children, both of which are at the root of our prayers. We pray for the women and the children, the elderly and all other life after that. As we see things, it wouldn’t be right to have any sexual predator sitting across from us while we are praying for the women and children when he had violated the very people we’re committed to pray for, asking Creator for their protection. The medicine power of that situation would cause a lot of disharmony inside the lodge during ceremony and we couldn’t have it. So this guy listens and acts like he understands, says he will figure something out, and we think that is the end of it.
Now unbeknownst to me or any of our circle, the guy “Chains” decided he needed to take matters into his own hands. He goes down to the sexual offenders unit, goes into his unit and threatens him if he tries to come to the sweat lodge – a real bad move and something he had no right to do! Here’s why, no one has the right to tell someone they cannot pray, they may however make it clear that they will not pray with that person or that that particular individual isn’t really welcome to pray with anyone or someone else. This can be done with tact and without being mean, but to try to forbid someone from praying and to do so at risk of threat, that is wrong. Period. No gray area on that. After all who needs absolution and forgiveness more than the one who has committed heinous acts? We all need forgiveness from the Creator and others that can find it in their hearts.
Several days go by and after 4 pm count I’m told to report to the lieutenants office. When I get there I see Chains and asked him if he knew what this is about?” He claimed he didn’t, but the lieutenant said he was going to lock us both up for threat assessments and investigation. I was blindsided, but off to the hole I went.
Five months later I am told I’m being transferred but not out of the region. I knew it could only be one place, Yazoo Mississippi. I had heard nothing but bad about this as far as doing time for a man like me.
Thanks to the acts of one man, and by mere association, I got lumped into a mess. Because of this, after only 9 months, I was transferred away from home, away from my circle, and my music. But in those short months, I was to meet one of the best people I have met while in custody – a true friend who has not forgotten me since his release and has been very supportive of me everywhere I have been, but that strange blessing is another story…
Lyrics © Steven Maisenbacher (Walks on the Grass)
Black River, wash my sins away
For another day.
Some things ya just don’t know
There’s no forgiveness with no soul.
With evil antagonistic ways
Beautiful to ugly in just one day
No wasted words. No words to waste.
Just your soul they take. Just your soul they take.
Listen to my story
There were many here before me,
Eyes of fire, Hearts of stone
So powerful sitting on their thrones
With spirits that mock Fire and Ice
Soulless, you slowly go mad.
What now can I do?
What now can I say?
What now have I done?
What have I become?
Oh, you’ve no chance to run and hide
Now you’ve met the devils in their disguise
You’re guilty before you’re even tried
What he sees to be truth, you’re sentenced to die
Black River, absolve my sins away,
If only for today.
Some things ya just don’t know,
There’s no forgiveness in hearts so cold.
Court is dismissed. . .