By Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
Calm Before the Storm
February 2020 – Our spiritual group had been complaining for more than a year about the lack of materials to re-build the sweat lodge. See, if you are not of the professed faith group of one of the institutional chaplains, getting anything in here oftentimes proves all but impossible. It had been more than two years since the lodge was built and the frame was so deteriorated as to be a hazard when we covered it to use it for ceremony. The lodge should have been rebuilt the preceding spring, but in the federal prison system you must learn to make do, not without, but make do. Finally the chaplain said he had the willows coming in and asked what else we needed. So we gave him the list of all that would be required.
Since it had been a rough year previous for me I truly needed the lodge, the ceremonies, the songs and prayers just to help heal mentally, physically and spiritually, so this was welcome news. Before the willow poles arrived and the actual build, we still had work to do. We needed to take the old lodge down and prepare the holes for the new willows to be bent into the dome and just generally do all we could to ease the re-build. The day we had to work is cold and it’s pouring down rain on us. Did we let that deter us? Not for one second. Ghost, J.D., Jody and myself, just the four of us were there doing all we could in the freezing rain, knowing the next day we would have much to do.
Even with all the right tools and ten men, building a sweat lodge is no easy task. With four men and makeshift tools it is an endeavor. This is especially true when every man that has ever built a lodge will have his or her ideas and methods of doing it. I do need to say there is a wrong way and that is in a freezing rain, so we got as much done as we could, then all we needed was a hot shower, a warm bed, and the next day for the willows to come in.
And in they came, but thankfully they didn’t bring the rain with them, just the cold, but we barely noticed; we all stayed too busy blessing the 16 holes and dropping the willows in them, then packing rocks and dirt around the poles getting ready to bend and join the willow poles. Building a lodge is a sacred endeavor and when it’s coming together the feeling is really special and amazing. You can just feel the medicine power emanating from the lodge as you tie the bent willows together to join them. After that was done we began placing the outer rings.
These willows run around the lodge in a circle, tied to the poles that have been tied together creating a dome-like shape that represents the belly of the mother. The rings are placed around 4 times; when all this is done correctly there will be a star in the top of the lodge formed by the meetings of the poles and the spaces they form. It’s really cool how the geometry of a circular dome can produce the straight lines that make a star shape. So we had our lodge re-built and ready to go the following Tuesday for its inaugural sweat lodge ceremony. I cannot remember which of us conducted the sweat, but it was a good ceremony. Little did we know we were only to have a couple more before the Covid 19 pandemic.
Despite all the trials of my recovery and getting situated most of 2019 had been pretty good and things were moving along smoothly. Nothing was too out of place or time; I would go outside every day and sit at the tables at recreation and build jewelry. I had been building the nicest things using fresh water pearls, amethyst, tigers eye, garnets, turquoise, hematite, and crystal, even some pyrite and all the various jaspers and all the beautiful agates.
These are all medicine stones with their own medicinal benefits and I deeply believe in the healing power of natural materials and stones. I always try to use the sacred Native numbers in the patterns and designs I create, leaving my pieces open to the eventual owner’s use and needs. My hope is that by working with these beautiful gems, I may be able to start a business and help myself with the proceeds from my jewelry line I call “Rocks on a String.” Sings and her daughter, April even set up a booth at a church Holiday Bazaar and sold some of my jewelry for me.
I would take all my materials outside to recreation (the yard) and set up a table, just building jewelry to send home as part of my master plan for my future release and managed to build quite a bit. Working with the gemstones helps me stay calm and focused, while creating things I love. Now the upside is many faceted (pun intended); see when I’m out there I get to see all the fellas. I made friends with a guitar player and he and I formed a band we called “Whatever.” When I was outside, he would come over with the acoustic guitar and we would sit and exchange chops, mine vocally, his on guitar and we managed to write a couple of really decent originals before the “19” hit.
We got a band room slot and while the equipment is really of poor quality it was better than nothing at all. So we drew Saturdays from 12-1 p.m. Another guy was supposed to come in at 2, but he never showed up so we just played on thru till 2 o’clock. Getting back to singing was such a release. We did a prisoner lament song we put together, Try To Get It Right, plus a cover of the rock classic, Stranglehold, by Ted Nugent, and another Walks’ original, an old-west outlaw saga, Ride for the Sun.
I’ve been singing since I was 15, but as I said somewhere a million miles ago, the best bands I’ve ever been in were in prison and I have been known to sing with a gospel quartet. when I get out I’m planning on shocking some people with walk-ons at open mic nights if I can find any. I’m glad to say I can definitely still hit and hold some high notes, I can sing in key and harmonize at will doing the above line or below line or jumping back and forth from one to another without stepping on the lead vocal line. SMILE! Yeppers, I love to sing. I think it’s a gift the Creator gives people and if they find they can do it, then they owe it to themselves and the Creator to not waste the gift but to develop it to the beat of their ability. Oh well, makes sense to me. Let the music commence!
There were other good times too. Like the picnics we had. Sometimes on a Saturday morning, I would get all my little food stuff together and cook a bunch of it up to make burritos. Then I would smuggle them outside in my smuggle-buggy (walker) for all the brothers and we would have a meal outside. By then everyone knew my invisible dog, Booger, and he kept us all entertained with his pranks and hijinks. One time Ghost told him to pee on my foot, said it would cure my foot fungus. Made me so mad I ran him off. How was I to know he was only trying to help?
During the year, I was happy to be introduced to a Facebook group, Ghost Dancer & Friends that had been set up for Ghost. The members included his family and an outside circle of friends. Though I had never met them, it was nice to have new friends. I posted some of my poetry and immediately people seemed to resonate with them. Then I wrote a particular piece called “Off Kilter.” It went over well and Aunt Hazel really was liking the stuff I was doing and even encouraged me, so I said hey, let’s all write a verse to a poem about a certain topic and everyone put their name to their verse and let’s see what we end up with. We called it the “Off-Kilter Poetry Club.” The result was fantastic and we all had a good time doing this. Aunt Hazel became so special to me, I think of her often.
Then just before Christmas I got the best news ever!
I am getting a visit! My brother and his wife, Karen are actually coming to see me on their way to Illinois to see my brother, Bob and his wife, Bab. It was incredible to get this news and all I could think about was how long it had been since I’d seen Mike and how good I would be to meet Karen face-to-face for the first time ever. And to top that off, Ghost was going to get a visit the same day. His mom and sister were coming and it was so cool I would get to meet them as well and introduce them to Mike and Karen.
Now let me tell you, the visit came and it was a great day. Ghost’s sister, Judy was as kind as he had made her out to be and his mother, Joyce…well, to call her an elegant matriarch would be an understatement. When she said, “I’m Joyce and I’m very glad to meet you,” you just knew she meant every word she said, and you had better listen.
When I saw Mike and Karen standing there, I just grabbed my brother for a hug, tears streaming down my face! It was so good to see him; he looked good and so did Karen. What an electric lady she is; super confident and knowing, smart and funny and very pretty, I don’t know how Mike pulled it off but he landed a keeper in her! She is as Irish as a jug of whisky, a very cool woman and I’m a lucky man to have these two in my corner. With my release coming up withing a couple of years, it was good to talk with them about my future and possible release plans to a halfway house near their home in Florida. This was the best day of my sentence and seeing them made my year.
All my outside friends know how much I love to read, so books were high on my Christmas wish list. Little did anyone know how much all the books they sent would mean in the not-too-distant future. Then 2020 arrived and before long we started hearing reports of some kind of strange virus sweeping across the globe. It didn’t raise much of an alarm at first. Some routine safety precautions were instituted in the prison. March goes by, the added restrictions made us uneasy, then WHAM! The unthinkable happens…
TRY TO GET IT RIGHT I’m tired of waking up mad Sick of waking up all alone I’m tired of these damn prison cells I just wanna come home. I’m tired of acting happy When deep inside I’m sad I’m runnin’ out of smiles When I’m dying inside instead. Now half a life wasted The other half shot to hell If I’d only listened long ago I wouldn’t be sittin’ in a prison cell Trying to get it right... But ya can’t tell a man anything When he thinks he knows it all Just like the seasons change And he's still stuck in fall. With half a life wasted The other half shot to hell A little girl graduates And he finds out from a cell Trying to get it right... Well an old man sits alone in his rocking chair Not a damn soul around left to even care And he thinks about his days gone past But it won’t change the nights If he'd listened long ago He wouldn’t be in this place, Wishing he could get it right. Well half a life was wasted The other half shot to hell If he had listened long ago To what they had to say He wouldn’t be alone writing this today Trying to get it right... Walks >>>>>>>>>> © Steven Walks On The Grass Maisenbacher, February 23, 2020