By Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
Cat In The Forest
Shortly after Walker left, about mid-week, I was asked if I would come to the next sweat and was told the brothers wanted to ask me to become a member of the circle and spiritual group there.
For more than a year, since I came to Yazoo, I had never asked to become a member of the circle. I only attended the sweat lodge if I were specifically asked by one of the brothers to come as a guest. There were just so many things going on with and around Iron Rope, the sweat leader at the time, that I didn’t want to be a member of “his” circle. According to traditional ways, if I were a member of the circle then I would have an obligation to speak out against any wrongs I saw within the circle. Most definitely I wasn’t looking to go down that road. So I would just wait until one of the brothers asked me if I was going to the sweat that week, and then respond with “are you inviting me?”
The answer was always yes, so I would go as a guest. In fact it became so usual to see me there for the ceremony that no one thought anything about my not being a member of the circle until they had their annual ceremonial meal. I didn’t attend because I felt it would be wrong to take food out of the mouths of a community that I was still not officially a part of.
It was not until after the meal and they wondered why I hadn’t attended that it became obvious that I had still never asked for admittance to that circle. Everyone just took for granted I would be there or I had somehow managed to not serve four fires or whatever.
Eventually when it was time the Creator saw to it that they did extend an invitation. I accepted that invitation, but contingent on my being allowed to teach what I knew or had been taught over the decades and that the brothers made a conscious effort to learn a song for the lodge so they could contribute and be a part of the ceremony instead of just sitting there. Another requirement was that they learn to control their language in the sacred area, because it was sacred to me and I found it offensive that they would be so disrespectful of the Creator that they would use vulgarity in this sacred place where they supposedly came to pray. So we made a language rule. For each infraction of the language rule, 25 pushups 1st violation, 50 for 2nd, and repeated offenses. That is how I managed to get a foul-language-free sweat lodge area. Didn’t take too long either.
When it came to question I went ahead and served the four fires I had never done. In a way this was really kind of pointless in that by that time I had already taught several of the brothers the proper steps and reasons for making the fire a certain way, from how a medicine wheel is laid on the ground and blessed with herbs and then how the stones are laid, 7 first individually, then the others as you need to, all the way to teaching the brothers a fire badger song to help the spirit of the fire to consume the wood offering and heat the rocks.
Now, for the second reason I believe Creator sent me to Yazoo – David Martinez. David was a Mexican, here for guns and illegal entry, he was from the interior of Mexico, and most interested in the Native American culture and ways. I have always been of the position that Mexicans are Native Americans! After all they didn’t draw the borders, they were conquered by Spain and we were all from North America. Many of our ancestors had migrated north from Mexico or moved back and forth, so we are all the same people.
David wanted to learn and he had made a point of coming around me to ask questions about the traditions, languages and ceremonies, so I proposed that he come to a guest sweat and that way he would be able to at least have experienced some of what was actually supposed to go on. At this time the guy Iron Rope was still the pipe carrier, still up to his antics and still very anti anyone coming in that could see him for the fraud he was.
A meeting was called and I was basically grilled on why I wanted to bring this “Mexican” to the lodge. So I explained my feelings and told them these ways are sacred, not secret, and the Creator embraces all who come with the truth on their tongue and prayers with a true willingness to become a better person in their heart. After all it isn’t the color of your skin or your geographic origin that defines your desire to follow the red road, it’s your heart, and your soul that lead you and keep you in these ways. So there it was, because of my desire to help a man learn, the pipe carrier’s true colors showed, not just to me but to everyone in the circle. When it became apparent to the guys that I would not participate any further with a racist group, he was convinced by the group to let me bring this guy.
David and I became very close friends. We spent a lot of time together. For more than a year where you saw one of us outside the unit, the other wasn’t far away if we were not together. Meal times together were the best. As we all know prison is a strange place, where there is a place for everyone and everyone has a place all “set.” Gangs and homeboys from the same state all had their places in the chow hall, and you know, blacks sat over there, whites over on the other side, Mexicans here, Puerto Ricans and islanders over there, you see where this is going?
Well David and I broke all the conventions together but no one ever questioned it. At first I wasn’t so sure how it would be taken, a light skinned Indian going over to sit at a Mexican gangs table, but they always made me feel welcome, calling me Indio and come sit here. It was known to all the Spanish brothers about David being a Spanish Indian, and my friend, and that I was on a spiritual path. I was and still am known throughout the federal system so they all knew that I ran Native and wasn’t on the “political” time.
After the first couple days of going over with David and sitting down to eat it was just expected and accepted. It worked out a whole lot better than the time David went with me to the white side. I won’t go into it any further than to say we got up and moved after calling several people out on their attitudes. We never again attempted that, in fact I never ate over there again, even if I was alone; I was more welcome at the Spanish tables then I ever felt at the white tables. Funny how I’ve had just as many problems over the years with the whites a I’ve had with the Natives over my color. The whites are leary of me because if you don’t know me, you would never think I am Native with my fair skin and green eyes, but the Natives are sometimes on that same B.S.
So David’s time with me, learning the ways and culture was very special. He was like a sponge and learned so much. We never thought our time together would end when or the way it did. I knew I was again in for a transfer, then one cool fall evening I was at work in the factory, a guy came to the factory door and sent for me. I walked over to see what was up and he told me David had gotten a pack out order, meaning he had to go to R&D the next morning to pack out. They were sending David to be deported. This was the last I saw of my brother, but not the last I heard or that we talked.
David Glecht Ni Kote, Cat In The Forest, was to become one of the best friends I have ever had, in line with Donkey and Paints…true friends, men who say what they do and do what they say, all with a good heart.
We talk often and email back and forth. David and his beautiful family are fine and doing well. They have the usual speedbumps of life, but all in all they are well. I am proud to call him my friend, and more, my brother. Cat In The Forest, you have made my life richer for knowing you and sharing who we are and how we approach the Creator, Ahoa Mitakuye Oyasin.
The rest of the story – the Native circle is doing good, Iron Rope leaves but passes the pipe to his little friend “Taz.” Like Iron Rope, Taz is no good, a real piece of work, but he is clever. At least he has the sense to ask questions and try to learn a pipe song. He also asks me to run some sweats since I do so in the manner I have been taught. I could see his character had never changed and the deal is he just wanted to watch and learn so he could mimic me when he ran a sweat. Now this didn’t make me mad or angry, it just made me sad to know he just wants to copy someone else so he can act like he is something he is not.
Anyway, things went fairly well for the next year until I was finally able to get put in for a transfer. Not long before, I started having pain in my back and when it got bad enough, I went to medical. I had an MRI and the surgeon came in for a consult. He told them I had some serious issues with my vertebrae and disks and really needed surgery. So what they did was transfer me to avoid having to pay for the surgery.
The three years I spent in Yazoo, left me emotionally and psychologically drained. From the very beginning I felt like the place was super bad medicine. If not for the lodge I could not have dealt with it. Later I learned that the place was named for an ancient tribe that had been massacred by another regional tribe, totally wiping them from the face of the planet, leaving only a name.
Dear Friend Lost in space, prisoner in time, The place where we are is less than sublime A shot in the dark from a dear friend of mine, With the faith that he borrowed on a hope that was blind. I’ll bring the science, they’ll bring the greed, Time-space continuum ain’t what we perceived, A snake in the grass, another ant on the farm, Your childish lies have lost all their charm. From zero to ten, we travel that far, just two dear friends stuck in a jar. With nothing to stop us from shifting our gears, Check your baggage along with your fears, As you look to the heavens I’ll give you a nod, If you look closely, you’ll see there’s a god… From zero to ten, we travel that far, just two dear friends stuck in this jar… © Steven Maisenbacher, Walks On The Grass