By Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

Part 1 – Spiritual Journey Toward Addiction Recovery

Chapter 15

Finally a New Circle

April 30, 2019, I arrived in Talladega about 9am, and went thru the usual check-in routine, interviews and unit assignments. I’m told they have me assigned to Gamma-Beta Unit but it’s full so they’re going to house me in Delta till space opens up. OK, that sounds reasonable. I get released and pointed in the direction of my new home. When I step outside I’m stunned by what I see; just had to stop and stare at the biggest oak tree I have ever seen right in the middle of the compound. That thing was huge. I looked around and there’s another one across the compound by another unit. Never had I seen such a beautiful sight as this!

So I go on into my assigned unit. I already know this isn’t a political yard. When they were grilling me about my affiliation tattoos, the cop made it clear, “We don’t have problems here and we won’t tolerate them, the people here are going to stay here, unless they are a problem. Understand?!?!

“Yes, sir Lieutenant, I got ya loud and clear, sir.” I sure don’t want any problems, so that’s all I can say.

Anyway, I’m now in this unit, Delta-A. There are 2 sides, A and B. I’m just floored there seems to be a zillion TV’s; actually no more than other places, it’s just that the common day room area is not that big. This is an older “modern ” facility, built in the 70’s; it’s still cool to me but starting to run down a bit. The cells are big enough and they even have real porcelain toilets and sinks, not the usual steel toilet that flushes like a screaming water vortex. I imagine a dragon sounding like some of the prison toilets I have been subjected to over the past several decades, so this is cool.

So get to the cell and start to make my bed and a guy knocks on the door, it’s the welcome wagon with all the “where ya comin’ from’s” etc., but then he hands me this bag full of stuff, some shower shoes, soap, toothpaste and toothbrush. He tells me it’s from the Christian community, no strings attached. I immediately tell him, “Dude I’m Native and I ride native, I can’t accept this,” but he insists. So I thank him and tell him I will return it all as soon as I catch the store. I knew I had a couple dollars, like maybe 13 or 14, but enough to return it and I would and I did.

Then he asked me if I knew “G.”  Well, no, I didn’t, but I knew of him, so after getting a general description and finding out he lived in another unit, since there were no other Natives in this unit I figured I’d catch up to him at supper. After all it should not be hard to find a huge Indian in a wheelchair with snow white hair. I’d been trying to catch up to this man for years, through several institutions, but it always seemed I had “just missed him.” So now at least I know he is here.

So I’m getting dug in and my cellmate comes in, I introduce myself and he does as well. Alarm bells inside me go off; something about this guy isn’t right. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I just feel it. I heard later he has gone thru multiple cellmates; no one wants to live with him. Not a great start, but I’m going to just try to hang on and give him the benefit of the doubt till I can get to my assigned unit and into the factory.

We go thru the ever present 4 p.m. stand up count, mandatory in every B.O.P. facility, then I get ready to go eat and find G. Now I’m eating and conversing with some of the people who see I have on transfer clothes, and therefore know I’m “fresh on the line,” when in rolls this behemoth in a wheel chair, bandana all askew, hair going everywhere. As soon as he gets to the cattle run, a railing that runs along the wall to guide men thru the chow line, I get up and walk over  to him and say, “So I guess I’m supposed to call you G? You can call me “Walks” but my name is Walks On The Grass.”

G. lights up and gets that all excited demeanor that I have come to love in him when he’s happy. So we talk for a bit, with me giving him a little of my history and him trying to tell me eleven million things at once, which is his way when he is excited. So we let him eat and then I get him to go outside with me to talk. He wants to know all about my history, do I know any songs and do I know about the culture, the sweat lodge etc. Now, comparing what I know to what he knows would be like comparing a comic book to the library of congress, but I believe he was surprised to learn that I knew way more than he expected, and evidently more than he is accustomed to among the fellas in these places.  

The next day was Friday; we met up again and spent some time together. Somehow, I just knew this man was going to be of import in my life, I just didn’t know how. Then comes Saturday and the Native brothers all meet up at the chapel to go outside for the pipe ceremony. At that time I met two young Mexican brothers and come to find out it had been just them and G. for several months and if it had not been for them he would never have been able to perform the sweat ceremonies.  

It takes a whole lot of labor to prepare and do a proper Inipi ceremony. You do not just show up and take a seat. There are cartloads of blankets and tarps to be taken outside, with the herbs and drums and buffalo skull for the alter mound. The firewood must be hauled up a ramp in a cart and then there’s building the fire and covering the willow framework of the lodge. When everything is ready, someone must stay outside to tend the fire and bring the rocks in while the conductor pours the water for the ceremonies to begin. It would be very difficult for one man alone to do all this, but it can be done with 2 men.

I remember a brother and I managed it in Gilmore, West Virginia in the middle of a freezing cold winter, so I know it can be done. But it’s no easy task, and when you’re an elder or disabled, it takes some young bucks to get everything done. Without the help of the two Mexican brothers these sweat lodge ceremonies wouldn’t have been possible. The willow lodge poles and framework were long overdue for replacing. The willows were rotting and some had deteriorated to the point of cracking and breaking so repairs had to be made each time before the covers were put on to prevent a possible collapse during the ceremonies. For more than a year G. had been requesting new willow poles but to no avail.

We did have some good sweats that first summer. G. leads the sweats and we are song full; G. knows many more than I do, but between us we have a veritable smorgasbord of authentic, traditional Native American songs, in several languages. My knowledge includes songs in Lakota, Cherokee, Dine (Navajo), Crow, Creek, Seminole and Nez Perce languages, all true and traditional. Some are sweat lodge songs, some big drum songs, but all authentic and as I was taught them. I’m also able to translate these songs if it is a teaching moment. Over the several decades that I have been practicing and learning my religious ways and beliefs, I had realized how important it was to know what I was singing and not just learn by rote or to mimic the people that taught them to me.

I think G. was both surprised and pleased to welcome a brother who actually had taken the trouble to gain this understanding. So I was officially here, the first Tuesday sweat was truly profound and it opened a spiritual door for me to further my blessings in the ways under the tutelage of a man as knowing as G.

                        FREE HERE NOW

Offer of sanctuary, a place in my heart,
Free here now, and that’s just the start,
Off to grand vision impossible to see, 
You seek true justice, there will be none for me.

Free here now, nothing seems too far, 
Free here now, this is who we are...

A willingness to do nothing, look yourself in the eye,
have a long laugh, then have a good cry,
The mirror tells no lies, just honest reflection,
A basis for repair, a way of correction.

Free here now, nothing seems so far,
Free here now, this is who we are...

Offer of sanctuary for your soul, 
Unafraid of love, but what do you know,
Free here now, I believe I will be,
Free here now, now here free...
free here now.

Free Here Now © 2009 Steven Maisenbacher (Walks On The Grass)

Published by Sings Many Songs

I'm an 80-something child of the great depression and WWII. Throughout my life I have been a seeker, an outsider, never quite belonging anywhere, still always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A lifelong student with many interests and a love of writing and editing, my elder's path led to encouraging and assisting some remarkable people to write out their amazing stories. This calling became the magic elixir that keeps me growing, keeps me alive.

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