All For the Right to Pray (14)

Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Chapter 14 – When Life Came Undone

By Ghost Dancer

When I was 16 years old my dad signed for me to enlist in the U.S. Navy. A big part of this decision was to get away from the woman I had been forced to marry at age 15. The marriage was a farce, we shared no love or children, so I saw this as the only way for me to get on with my life. I thought I might be able to use my natural skills and knowledge and gain even more. This would be a fateful decision with a far-reaching impact.

While I was in the Navy something very bad happened to me; some kind of terrible accident. I have no memory of the incident, only that I woke up in the naval hospital with a terrible headache and a busted head. I had serious neck and back injuries and loss of hearing as well. Though I had no conscious memory, I did have recurring bad images flashing before my eyes. After a long stay in the hospital going through their treatments, I was given an honorable discharge for medical reasons.

To this day I have no memory of what happened before or after that incident. All I truly know is I was not the same person afterward. I have walked in the Spirit World all my life, thru ancient times, distances, dimensions, and I’ve seen many things. But what I was experiencing after the accident in the Navy was something totally beyond that. I could not determine what was real and what wasn’t.

Later I was diagnosed with PTSD which I had never heard of before. When I came home I kept having seizures or blacking out with no memory of what happened or where I had been. During these time I would literally go berserk, lashing out and even fighting walls, buildings, cars, or whatever. Afterward, I never even knew what happened or remembered anything. Each time I had one of these blackouts that caused a big scene, I was taken to a mental hospital. This happened 4 different times. While in the  mental hospitals I was never told what they were subjecting me to with their tests and psychiatric drugs but I was declared to have a mental disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, that I was delusional and extremely dangerous. Each time I left the hospitals against medical advice. 

Not too long after I found a job working in a dogfood plant. Only a few days on the job, I suffered yet another serious head injury when a sledge hammer accidentally fell on me. That sent me back to the hospital. After being treated for the head wound I continued to have the blackouts. They kept transferring me to different hospitals until I was placed again in a mental hospital where they deemed me insane and kept me sedated. My mother got a lawyer and got me released. Slowly I recovered and went on with my life though I was left with occasional seizures. I worked all week and spent most weekends setting up at local flea markets where I loved trading, buying and selling all sorts of things including guns just like I had grown up doing with my dad.

Late in the winter of 1976, I was on my way to visit my sister, Jackie, who was living in a trailer park. I made a mistake and went to another trailer that looked exactly like my sister’s place and knocked on the door. I was dressed in my usual fringed leather jacket and boots. I guess the woman panicked and thought she was being attacked by “injuns.” She shot me right through her door. My sister rushed me to the hospital ER where they treated the gunshot wounds in my arm and dismissed me. The doctors reported this to the local sheriff. In the end, neither of us were charged in this incident but I was locked up anyway.

The sheriff’s deputies arrested me at my sister’s in-law’s home and told my mother that it was over stolen guns. When my mom and step dad came to visit me in the county jail, they were appalled by the conditions. The cell they put me in had no bed or mattress and no access to a shower. I was still wearing my Indian jacket and boots and sitting on the floor. I even had to eat sitting on the floor. Worst of all they had not taken me to a hospital for my gunshot wound that was already getting infected. My mom raised sand to the sheriff about this. He acted like he hated me and nothing was ever done. My wounds festered and every day the deputies would take me out driving around telling me they would take me to the hospital but first they wanted to know who I got the guns from they found in my car. I wouldn’t cooperate because I felt it was my responsibility not to tell so they denied me medical care.

During this time a man named Larry T. Lucky, who identified himself as a federal agent came to see me. He said if I would tell what I knew about the people at AIM he could make all my troubles go away. There had been a connection made between the stolen guns confiscated at Wounded Knee and a gun-theft ring in my area. They all knew I was not the thief but were pressuring me to give up information. I refused.

Finally when I had become seriously ill, a couple of deputies took me to the hospital. My mom and stepdad came to see me. Mom remembers that I was very sick, delirious and talking out of my head. The doctors there told her I had blood poisoning and possible gangrene in my arm. It took awhile but I finally recovered and when I was returned to jail they put me back in the same bare cell. Never at any time was I read my rights nor did an attorney ever come to see me. Eventually charges were made against me for the stolen guns.

While sitting in jail awaiting trial, I was plagued by headaches, anxieties and seizures. The Court sent me to Bryce Mental Hospital where I was given electric shock and powerful drugs which literally put me in a medical straight jacket. Eventually they deemed I was ready to stand trial and sent me back to jail with a standing prescription for Thorazine, Mellaril and Valium. According to records these were administered in large doses by the jail staff every day right up to the very day of the trial. Witnesses have testified that I was like a “slobbering zombie” in the courtroom.

~~~

In the world of psychiatry, many things that were done in the 1970’s are no longer considered safe, appropriate or acceptable. But most certainly the law was very clear about the mental state or drugged state of a person pleading guilty to a crime. To put the situation in perspective, here is some relevant information:

Mellaril, Thorazine and Valium – their side effects, interactions with other drugs, and their contraindications.

Chlorpromazine, more commonly known by its proprietary name Thorazine®, developed in the 1950s was the first of the antipsychotic drugs and is described by some as a chemical straight jacket.

“The blunting of conscious motivation, and the inability to solve problems under the influence of chlorpromazine (Thorazine) resembles nothing so much as the effects of frontal lobotomy. . .

 – Peter Sterling, neuroanatomist, article Psychiatry’s Drug Addiction, New Republic magazine (March 3, 1979)”

From https://www.drugs.com/mtm/mellaril.html:

Mellaril (thiordazine) side effects: tremor (uncontrolled shaking), drooling, trouble swallowing, problems with balance or walking; headache with chest pain and severe dizziness, fainting, fast or pounding heartbeats; confusion, slurred speech; seizure.

Major (serious) Interactions: Thorazine (chlorpromazine) and Mellaril (thioridazine)

Using chlorpromazine together with thioridazine is not recommended. This can increase the effects of either medication: extreme drowsiness, confusion, agitation, vomiting, blurred vision, feeling hot or cold, sweating, muscle stiffness, fainting, seizure or coma.

Contraindications:  Mellaril is contraindicated for anyone who has suffered a head injury.

In the words of renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas S. Szasz, author of The Myth of Mental Illness:  “Mental Illness is a myth whose function is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations…The young and the old are defenseless against…psychiatrists whose livelihood depends on defining them as mentally ill.”

So I sat in court wearing a “chemical straitjacket” and pleaded guilty to crimes I never committed and everyone knew I never committed. I was sentenced to 8 years in the State of Alabama prison system. I was 18 years old.

While awaiting sentence I was not allowed to have prayers or any religious practice or ceremony. After sentencing, I was taken directly to Kilby State Prison mental hospital. On my very first day, I tried to tell them that I was an American Indian and it was against my religious beliefs to cut my hair. When I refused to cut my hair, they said, “No, you are a convict and you don’t have any religious rights.” Then they sent the goon squad in with pepper spray. After they maced me, they used clubs and boots to beat me down until I lay face down, naked, and handcuffed. While one guard sat on my back, holding my head up with a night club under my throat, and two more sat on my shackled legs, they shaved my hair off. Then they beat me unconscious. I woke up in the hole, naked, eyes swollen almost shut, my body bruised and battered all over. This was my introduction to prison and the way my life was going to be for many years to come.

Life has not been easy for me since I first started walking the Sacred Red Road. I was still in my teens when I was first sent to prison. The FBI investigated me, but they wanted the state to prosecute me for the stolen guns I had purchased and taken to Pine Ridge. That way their hands would be clean, and the state could give me more time than the federal court would have.

This legacy stuck, and corruption, both inside and outside, engulfed me like a web from which there seemed to be no escape. I would be in and out of prison for years to come. I quickly learned that being put in prison in the south would be a huge challenge. Back then, only two races were recognized. You were either white or black, and in prison when they did their counts, you would be counted as white or black. I’ve been listed as both and counted as both. I’ve been housed in all-black dorms, units, or cell blocks, and in all-white cell blocks, but one thing to remember, here in the south there was no freedom of religion for any minority. I guess Spirit really was going to test my vows and promise.

Big Tree

Big Tree was a special person Spirit placed in my path. He was a Lenape tribal chief. At the time, his tribe didn’t have a reservation, so he and others lived on other reservations. When I first met him, he was living on the Poarch Creek Reservation. He had lived a hard life. His face looked like a road map of wars. Yet it was gentle, and you could see his heart through his eyes. He helped me learn many things. One is to choose my fights carefully. He told me he could see in me that I was one who has the urge to protect and stand up for our people. Then he warned me that I cannot save the world. He said, “Do what you can for those around you, otherwise you will be spread so thin you will fade away.”  He warned me, “People will let you help them because you offer, rather than help themselves. Use your energy and time for the best for all.”

Even when I wasn’t around Big Tree, he sent me letters telling me his thoughts, and answering any questions I might have written to ask. He stood beside me and spoke up for me always. He helped open doors to other elders and spiritual teachers that I needed to guide and shape me. What was amazing to me was that no matter when or what was happening in his life, he always took the time to teach and counsel me.

I was so happy when Big Tree’s people got their own reservation. He was so full of life and went to work on all the things they had planned on all those years waiting to get a place of their own. 

When I was thrown in prison and being beaten for standing up for my religious rights and the jailer’s fear of all Natives, he was there counseling me. He told me to never let them see you hurt, never let them see that they are getting to you, this will give them fuel to do it even more. “Silence, silence your cries of pain, swallow them, go deep inside and let your spirit stay free.” He said to remember they must defeat your spirit to win, not your body. Our bodies are weak, our spirit is awesomely powerful. Walk in your spirit and they will never defeat you, no matter what torture or pain they do to you. These words I still carry with me every day. I live to always honor Big Tree’s teachings to me.

Note: There were actually three courts involved in this conviction because there had been guns stolen from three counties. In 2020, using the Alabama Rule 32, I challenged the legitimacy of each of these convictions. In each case, the state could not deny the wrongdoing; the courts simply ruled them to have been time barred.  

Published by Edna Peirce Dixon

I am an elder in my 9th decade. I have lived an ordinary life, I’ve done all the ordinary and expected things, went to school, got married, raised a family, tried to be a good person. Throughout this life I have also been a seeker, an outsider by nature, always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. Then in my golden years, as I sought to find meaning in my existence, some unexpected things happened and I’ve since learned it took a lifetime to prepare me for the challenge to come. My journey – indeed my calling - led me to come to know a remarkable man who happened to be an inmate in federal prison. Nothing could have been more foreign to my personal experience. GHOST DANCER Communicating daily for nearly nine years I had the opportunity to walk many paths with Ghost discussing our thoughts on many common interests with candor and respect. With enormous generosity Ghost has allowed me to share his wisdom and knowledge of his Native American heritage on Journeys of the Spirit. Over time, Ghost gradually revealed his life story in small bits, like scrambled pieces of some gigantic puzzle. Now, after spending more than 40 years in prison, Ghost Dancer is at last free and ready to tell his amazing personal story. As the saying goes, “you can’t make this stuff up” and as his friend and editor I can say this is a story so big that even after working with him for nearly nine years, I continue to be astonished as he shares new details my mind simply could never imagine. From the very first chapter, Ghost leads us on his journey and invites us to walk with him on his Nene Cate (Red Road). From the day he was born, a happy, loving gifted child, he endured heartbreaking sorrows, betrayals and exploitations. Through it all, Ghost fought a system determined to destroy him by any means, as he struggled to remain true to his calling. Through Ghost Dancer I also met and came to know Walks On The Grass, another federal prisoner whose story is also compelling even though very different. In Journeys of the Spirit, Walks has shared his decades-long journey from deep addiction to wholeness in LONG ROAD HOME and shared other bits of his story in ALONG THE WAY. Now as he approaches his August release into this crazy world of 2022 Walks shares his the thoughts and misgivings as he counts down to the big day in LIGHTS IN THE DISTANCE.

One thought on “All For the Right to Pray (14)

  1. No one, 16 years old, should be entering the military. It is very serious, life or death, business, that teenagers are not prepared. I do realize that in the old days, boys as young as 12 served as midshipmen on sailing ships, but times are different. Of course, I entered the Navy as a Midshipmen just after turning 18, but in no way was I ready to lead men in combat. Men change a lot between ages 17 and 22.

    Liked by 1 person

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