When you look at this drawing of the Eagle I would like for you to see beyond the art and understand all that was going on that inspired it. In the early 1990’s, I was locked up at the notoriously infamous Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama, commonly known in the system as “The Bottom.”
Administrators of other prisons in the system threatened their inmates to either behave or be sent to Holman. This most dangerous of prisons was a place where life meant nothing to the staff, officials, or other prisoners. This was Death Row and if you were sent to Holman it meant that you would die there. You would never be free!
While at Holman I spent years in solitary in a cell the size of your average coat closet. During this time I was working on drafting a proposal to close the loopholes in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. We had won our fight in federal court and it was signed into law on August 11th, 1978 but the law was filled with loopholes that judges could use to misinterpret the meaning of the law.
Now in the 1990’s we were pushing for a more precise law and I was working with Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Daniel K. Inouye to clearly define the meanings of the wording so that no judge, no court could ever try to put their own interpretation on the true meanings of our religious practices. We had already won several battles in court over this, but we needed the law itself to be stated just right.
So, it was with a deep sense of justice for us all that this and similar drawings were made. The Eagle symbolizes Truth, Justice and Freedom for all. Traditionally the Eagle is highly honored and respected by all Native Peoples. It was even adopted by the Americans who came here from everywhere else as a symbol of our country.
These drawings are asking what we are doing to our beautiful Mother Earth? to all her children? to our waters, to lands, plants and all life? What are we truly doing about Justice? Or does anyone really care unless it is something that affects them directly or someone they love?
The Eagle is asking us all to look and see the truth and to stand up for what is right and for those who can’t stand up themselves. See, an Eagle is loyal. So we must ask, are we loyal to our family, loved ones, friends? What about to Spirit? Are we loyal to our neighbors, or those in need? Or do we walk around with blinders on our eyes and plugs in our ears?
I am the Eagle in the drawing. Through my art my spirit was showing how I feel.
Mvto Enhesse, Ghost
The Rest of the Story: A larger, more exquisite version of this particular image was first done in charcoal and gifted to Ghost’s loyal sweetheart, Cat who corresponded and visited him in prison all those years. That piece was later destroyed in a hurricane. He also did other drawings in pen and ink, but those were all lost as well. Forgotten was the fact that one of those was sent to a co-worker of Ghost’s sister in 1993.
In early 1994, thanks to Cat’s impassioned appeal, Ghost was finally granted parole after serving 11 years in the Alabama prison system. Later that year, his work as a relentless activist for Native rights, along with other imprisoned Natives, came to fruition when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 were signed into law by President Clinton on October 6, 1994.
Following his release, Ghost was to enjoy only 15 months of freedom before he was once again charged, tried and convicted for federal offenses he had nothing to do with on the thinnest of circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to 40 years as a “violent career offender,” a totally devastating sentence, not only to him, but his entire family.
Ghost Dancer’s spirit was far from broken, however, and he made the best of his years in some of the worst prisons in the federal system as a spiritual leader and teacher among inmates of all races. Nor was he a stranger to legal challenges over the years. After the near total destruction of his health and years of legal battles, the courts finally granted Ghost a compassionate release in the fall of 2021. Then the blessings of many small miracles began to happen in his new freedom.
By January 2022, Ghost and Cat, now reunited, were able to make a short trip to visit his family, and a joyous reunion it was. Many photos were made which his sister, Judy proudly posted on her social media page. One of the most compelling is this photo of Ghost visiting his beloved Aunt Hazel who has prayed for her “Eagle” all these many years.
These photos caught the eye of Judy’s former co-worker and she sent this picture of the original Eagle drawing she had treasured for nearly 30 years. Life is indeed full of miracles large and small. ~ Sings