All For the Right to Pray (16)

Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Chapter 16 – Treachery in High Places

By Ghost Dancer

On the day of my arrest, August 5, 1981, I had just dropped my so-called wife off at her aunt’s house in Pensacola with a rental trailer loaded with her belongings. I had never been to this aunt’s place before, so she showed me how to get there. Only then did I tell Sandy I was leaving her. I drove away with a plan to go on to Ocala, Florida. Back on the highway, I stopped to gas up, then parked so I could stretch a bit to relieve my leg cramps before continuing on the long trip.

This is what I was doing when the police pulled up. The cop asked me for my identification, and I gave it to him. He asked me if I had I ever been in trouble with the law before. I told him the truth; that I had just been released from parole in Alabama the day before and was headed to Ocala where I grew up.

He then ordered me to turn around and he handcuffed me. I asked him what he was he doing. He told me I was under arrest for robbery. I couldn’t believe this. I am in shorts and a t-shirt and I have no shoes on. I have nothing on me but my wallet and car keys. Needless to say I was not a happy individual. I had no idea what was going on so had to wonder if it was the fact that I told him I had just gotten off parole from Alabama?  I told him then that I had just dropped my wife off and she could verify where I had been. I told him I didn’t know the name of the street, but it was no more than a mile or so away and I could show him the way. He refused to even try to check this out. Instead he made me stand there barefoot and sweating for a long time in the summer sun on hot pavement.

Eventually they brought a woman in a sheriff’s car and asked her if this was the man. Now I’m the only one there handcuffed and the only person she is being shown. She said she was not sure. At this point I thought, okay they will take the handcuffs off and I will be on my way. They kept asking her to take another look at me. She walked up close and looked me over from every angle. She could clearly see that I had short, brown, naturally curly hair and a dark, heavy mustache. She said she didn’t remember the guy having a mustache. The cops kept talking to her for a while and pointing at me. 

Finally they led her to a car, and she left. I figured I was going to be let go, but the cop put me in his car and said I was going to jail. I asked, for what? He said you will be charged with strong-arm robbery for snatching that woman’s purse. I said to him then that was not right, the woman said it wasn’t me and you still are arresting me? So, I stayed in jail until I could get the money from my bank account in Alabama because the bail bondsman would not take a check, nor would he accept a credit card.

This bail cost me a lot of money, but I paid it. While I was on parole in Alabama I had been working as a mechanic and made good money. I had recently purchased a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo. I had money, a credit card and a bank account. Does it make sense to think I’m in this situation and I’m going to snatch some woman’s purse?

Once I was out on bond I got a job at Alterman’s Truck Lines as a diesel mechanic. My bondsman had no problem with me leaving the state to go to my mom’s in Alabama or anywhere else during this time. I made good money as a diesel mechanic. Now, while I was on bond, the prosecutor kept coming to me, offering a misdemeanor charge to plea and only six (6 ) months to serve if I would accept it. I turned his offers down every time because I was not guilty of anything and I thought that would be shown in court.

Then months later when I finally went to trial, the same woman who had seen me standing there in handcuffs and indicated she was not sure, testified it was me who robbed her. There was no other direct evidence, no physical evidence linking me to anything or to having ever been anywhere near her.  I did not testify because my lawyer said the prosecutor would bring up the fact that I had been in prison before and that I had just gotten off parole. He said this would prejudice the jury against me, so I did not testify for that reason only. The jury simply took her word for it and found me guilty. I could not believe this was happening, but there it was and there was nothing I could do about it.

On December 30, 1981 I was convicted of strong-arm robbery in Escambia County, Florida. I did not know until the day of the trial that Sandy and the victim of the purse snatching were close friends. There they were together all smiles in the courtroom. I went to jail. Sandy got my new Monte Carlo loaded with all my tools, my credit card, all my savings, clothes – everything I owned – even the settlement from a work-related accidental injury before we were married.

Another coincidence, my wife’s brother, the FBI agent who first made a complaint about me having “dishonored his family” — his direct superior was the very FBI agent who would manage the investigation of federal charges against me in 1995. This man, Joseph Tierney, was well known for his perseverance in going after Native Americans.

~~~

After I was found guilty at that crazy trial the judge ordered that I be placed in custody and taken to the Escambia County jail to remain until sentencing. This even shocked the bail bondsman who was at my trial and not happy at what happened. Even the bonding company knew this was all wrong. The bondsman knew the judge very well and wrote him a letter recommending probation while I was in jail. He stated he knew that I had not committed any crime and that was why he allowed me to travel while on bond to any place I chose to go. He visited me in jail and urged that I should be staying out of trouble, that I would be granted probation pretty soon and I could get back to working. My lawyer also came and told me that he filed an appeal. He said I would win this appeal, but I would be getting probation more than likely, so I would be free soon and my conviction would be overturned while I was out on probation. So I surely wasn’t looking for any trouble.

The county had been building a new jail at this time and I was one of the first to be moved over to it. Only problem was, the work was not complete and hardly anything was working there at all. It was winter and there was absolutely no heat in the jail or at least not in the cell blocks. It was so cold in the blocks that people were getting sick. Now in jail we didn’t get to have any clothes except what they gave you to put on, which wasn’t very much. After weeks of nothing being done, food being ice cold, late or told they couldn’t give us that meal, with no change of clean clothes and still no heat, the guys in the cell blocks were very upset.

So finally one day after most of everyone was sick with fevers, coughing and still being ice cold things came to a head. The air conditioner worked very well and it was on full blast in the cell blocks and units. They claimed they couldn’t get it to turn off. The guys in all the units bucked and refused to go to their cells. See they only let us out of the cells to eat or shower, but there was no hot water in the showers so most weren’t bathing either. I still bathed even though it is ice water. This new jail had all kinds of faulty problems and should not have been opened till they got all the problems fixed.

Anyway I did not buck or refuse to go to my cell. I was the only one who did not; I did not want any trouble. I had my blanket, so thin and way too small to cover much of me, wrapped around my shoulders trying to keep my upper body warm. Apparently to the guards this was a violation and I was told to remove the blanket. I told them I was cold and needed the blanket to keep warm and asked to speak with the Lieutenant or jail supervisor. They came back later and told me to come on.

No one else had even obeyed them at all and refused to go to their cells. I was asked to come to the sally port;  I did and they told me to drop the blanket. Once again I told them I needed it to keep warm. I got down on my knees as they requested with my back to them at the doors made with steel bars; they reached thru and placed leg shackles on me. Then they put a waist chain on me, cuffed me and secured it to the waist chain. I was told to stand up which I did and they opened the sally port for me to step inside.

They closed that door behind me and then opened the cell block door for me to step thru. Two officers held me by my arms on each side. They led me outside the door and turned the corner, then a ball bat smashed into my face. Another guard struck me in the stomach with a night stick, point first. While the two guards were holding my arms and keeping me upright more and more guards began to beat me. I fought back.

Using my body I smashed the guard on my left into the wall forcing him to let go of my arm. Then I head butted the guard on my right to get them both to let go giving me a better chance to protect myself. I kept telling them I was not wanting any trouble but they just kept trying to beat me with their sticks, ball bat and fists.  Finally I  got mad, really mad and I broke free from my cuffs. Yes, sometimes something will give you extraordinary strength and this was one of those times. Now I was fighting for my life.

Now more and more officers were coming at me with mace, pepper spray, and even a fire extinguisher to spray me and using their shields and sticks, the numbers were just too many. They got me down and began beating me till I passed out. They kicked in my face repeatedly with their boots, breaking my jaws; leaving their boot prints all over my face. They broke my ribs on both sides and damaged my kidneys so much I was bleeding inside. I was dragged down the stairs and thrown into the drunk tank where I lay bleeding on the floor till the next day when another supervisor came thru and had me taken to a hospital. At the hospital the doctor and staff were told by the guards that inmates had done this to me.

When the doctor got close to me I reached for his arm and pulled his paper from his hand motioning that I wanted to write. He handed me his pen and I wrote the truth – guards did this to me. He looked at what I wrote then looked closely at me and nodded his head. The doctor stepped away and was gone for some time; then returned with two hospital security officers and a camera. He took photos of me, my face and chest, ribs, wrists, hands, back and legs. He was talking the whole time he was doing this describing into a microphone everything he saw and had the officers he brought with him witness all this too.

He spoke to the guards and told them there was no way inmates could have done these things. First it was clear with all the boot prints embedded in my face; no inmates had any shoes on their feet. He said he had worked there for years and inmates only wear tiny flip flops or a soft slip-on cotton loafer. Second, his exam clearly shows that I had been beaten with round objects striking me all over and whatever that was smashed my nose and broke it and my cheek bone. The guards tried to play it off and say they were only repeating what they were told. Again they were lying; they were there that day. I didn’t forget their faces. My eyes were almost swollen shut and gashed open but I could see them.

After all this was documented and I was given only what treatment they were allowed to give me, I was taken to the courthouse and officially charged with assaulting police officers. I pleaded not guilty and was returned back to the jail and thrown into solitary. A little later on I was taken to my sentencing hearing where I was supposed to be given probation while I was waiting on my appeal. But now the judge denied my probation and sentenced me to three years in prison based on the fact that I was now charged with assaulting numerous police officers. The judge said he could not allow this and my actions showed him that I had no respect for the law or his court. 

I was returned to the jail where I remained waiting for my trial on the charges of assaulting police officers. I went to trial and was found not guilty and the truth of who assaulted whom was proven. Yes I testified in my own trial and told exactly what was done to me. I was returned to the jail where the word spread by the news of me winning in court. No charges were ever made against the six officers who assaulted me. I filed a lawsuit against the officers and the jail while sitting in the jail. I won this lawsuit and was awarded $6000.  

A couple weeks later I was attacked again by the lieutenant officer. I was just sitting at a table bothering no one and he just walked up to me and hit me in the face with his handful of big steel jail door keys on a steel ring. Yeah it cut my face, but this time he really messed up. My hands were already free and I was not chained anywhere, so he got body-slammed on top of a steel table. Then other officers joined in and there was total chaos. Other inmates joined in then until there was a standoff between me and the other inmates against all the cops. The Sheriff came up and asked what happened. Others told him what they saw and what happened. His staff denied any wrong doing naturally. He asked everyone to just remain calm and he would go check into it. He went and reviewed the cameras and saw what we said was true and came back and said as much to us.

He asked me to please allow them to handcuff me. I told him no way was I going to fall for that again. So he allowed me to walk unrestrained back down the stairs to my cell block and go to my cell where they locked me in. Then they brought down the rest of the prisoners and they went to their cells. No charges were made against any of us. I began washing all the blood off my face from cuts made by the keys when he struck me. A medical staff person brought some ice and I was allowed to wrap it in a washcloth to put on my face. I later filed another lawsuit against these officers as well. 

I was then sent off to a Florida State prison with big bold letters on my jacket: LOVES TO ASSAULT OFFICERS. Now you can imagine what effect that had on the prison guards and staff when I arrived. While doing my time I received a letter from the appeals court that my appeal had been denied. I had never even seen or heard when my lawyer filed the appeal. I never heard a peep from him.

After I had served most of my time and had not received a single disciplinary write up, I was transferred to the Pensacola Work Release Center on S street at the Salvation Army Satellite Center. I was given a job and recruited by Charles Land, a former U.S. Marshal and retired magistrate to serve as his personal body guard in 1983. I stayed at his house. Charles Land felt like he owned me and treated me as such.

Cat Dancing 1983

Despite all the treachery, abuse and heartache, there was one shining moment during this short time of relative freedom. Spirit answered my prayer for someone to love who would love me in return. The moment I saw her, this beautiful, tall, shy girl with the long blonde hair, I knew I had met the love of my life. She became my Cat Dancing, the woman who stood by me through all the hard times to come.

Cat Dancing 1983

I did not like working for Charles Land. So I told him I was quitting. He said I could not do that. He threatened me and even told my mom that he “owned me!” I told him no one owns me so I left his house and I never went back. I went back to the work release and told them I quit working for him and began going out to look for another job. A few days later I was told I could not quit that job and I had to return to working for him and staying with him. Charles Land clearly wielded a lot of clout.

I left and Cat took me to my mom’s where I explained everything to her and my family. My brother took me to a phone where I called the F.B.I. office in Huntsville, AL and told them my situation. They said there was nothing they could do. I went to see my dad and let him know what all was going on. He said he would talk to the police there. My dad was a fireman and worked at city hall right next to the police department so he knew them all and would see what he could do. In the meantime I needed to go back to the work release center and try to get them to do the right thing so Cat took me back to Pensacola. When I called they said no I could not come back there and that they were going to arrest me. I asked what for and they said I was supposed to be staying with Charles Land and since I wasn’t, they considered it an escape. Once again I was arrested and placed in jail. 

While in jail I called my mom and my dad. My dad said I should call him back the next day. I did and he said he had talked to some of his friends at the police dept and that they would help get me out of Florida but I would have to play along with them and do as they said. He said not to worry they would release me once they brought me back up there.

When the police from Alabama came they told me what they had planned and discussed with my dad; they would be charging me for crimes in Alabama and I would have to confess to these crimes. Once I did they could get Florida to release me to them and they could take me back. They would drop everything once I got back and I would be free. I knew one of the detectives, Freddie Day, personally. I had known him for years and  played on the same ball team with him so I felt I could trust him and I knew he was a friend of my dad’s. 

So I did as he said, only Florida refused to release me as they said they would and they kept me for almost five more months before allowing Alabama to come get me. When they did I soon found out I had been lied to. I never saw the detective who first came to see me again.

In November 1983 I was taken before a Florida judge and was told all charges of assaulting an officer of the law in Florida were dropped against me and I was being extradited now to Alabama. I was then taken back to Alabama by Chief Roy Woods, and his brother, Lynn Woods, both of whom I knew. I arrived at the Cullman City Jail and later my dad was allowed to see me. I do not remember too much after that other than the fact that I was taken to a mental hospital for evaluation.

The people at the hospital started drugging me and asking me if I wanted to stay there forever or did I want to go to court. I couldn’t understand what I was even doing in this place and just wanted out of there. I don’t remember much of what happened after getting back to the jail either, other than I kept telling my lawyers to talk to Freddie Day and get him to tell the truth. They had promised me the charges against me would be dropped when we got back to Alabama.

But here I was and they kept me chained and in the cell with two other prisoners and they weren’t chained. They made the two prisoners sign waivers that they knew I was dangerous, so they could not sue the jail if I killed them or hurt them. Neither of the other prisoners was afraid of me or wanted to be moved. Yes, I was agitated and anxious about what was happening and had terrible headaches but there was no reason for them to believe I was going to hurt anyone. These men could see that.

Now these cops here all knew me and knew about my athletic/martial arts skills and training. No doubt they had also been informed of the altercations I had with prison staff while in the Escambia County jail – but of course not the part about who assaulted whom or the fact that I had sued in federal court and won. So for sure they felt they had reason to be afraid of me and perhaps justification for the illegal management of my case by all involved in the justice system.

This is the real reason why they kept drugging me with Thorazine up to the maximum 1600 mg as well as Mellaril and Valium the same drugs they had used to keep me in a chemical straight jacket back in the 70ies. (See Chapter 14) Even when I said no, they forced the drugs on me anyway.

I remember my lawyers saying I would be out soon; that everyone knew this and if I would just sign a piece of paper I would be sentenced for no less than 2 years but no more than 20 years. They said that since I was cooperating they would see that I got about half of that. I refused it! I wanted to go to trial and kept arguing with them! Later they had me taken to a room. I remember my dad and my Aunt Mary sitting there and they had a piece of paper they wanted me to sign. I refused. I don’t know what they said to my dad and aunt, but I kept saying no! I just remember being taken back to a cell and they kept forcing drugs into me. I was chained to the max and could not resist much. 

Again, sometime later, I don’t know how long, I remember sitting in front of my dad and he was saying, “Sign this, please sign this.” All I could remember was my attorney telling my dad, “See, the judge has signed this, the D.A. has signed this, we have signed this, and if he signs this we will send him to a hospital for medical help and this will happen today.” I don’t even remember signing it.

The piece of paper they kept asking me to sign was actually two plea bargains for the two attempted robbery charges against me. The first should have been federal jurisdiction, but the FBI declined to intervene. They knew the maximum federal sentence was 25 years; the sentence in Alabama was life in prison, so the feds didn’t even bother. They had me where they wanted me. In both cases the plea bargain assured me of no less than two and no more than 20 years in prison.

I have a vague memory of sitting in a room with the judge whom I knew, and my attorneys, all the cops, and the D.A. They were saying I would see my family soon and then go to a hospital as best I can remember. Then I was taken down stairs, and out to a car. My mom and family were there. I remember they were crying. I was placed in a car and taken to Kilby prison. When I got there they placed me in a mental ward, put me in a straight jacket and said the judge ordered me to be there.

Only then was I informed that I had been sentenced to life in prison. All in the same day I was drugged and coerced into signing the plea bargains and given a hopeless sentence with no jury trial ever! I later learned that Sandy was there and prepared to testify against me if there was a trial. I guess her mother really meant it when she told my Mom I would spend the rest of my life in prison if I ever left her daughter. Sandy got a divorce after I went to prison. By then she had already taken everything I had worked for.

Not long after, I was transferred to Holman Prison where I was kept on tranquilizer drugs for years. If I did not show up to take them, the guards would come get me and lock me up in the hole again! I steadily fought to get off the drugs. It took me awhile but I was finally able to just refuse them all together.

Footnote:

It would take more than 30 years with many attempts by my mom and other outside friends to ever get copies of the actual records in this case. Time after time they were told there were no such records. Finally, in 2015 a court clerk suddenly remembered where the old records were stored. One of my friends was able to secure copies of old jail records to prove that I was being drugged as well as the two plea bargain agreements listing my crimes as attempted robbery and the promise of 2 to 20 years in prison. With the help of my friends I was able to file a Rule 32 Petition against the two illegal cases in which I received two life sentences for these “attempted robberies.” In 2015 both of these cases and the life sentences were vacated by the state court in Cullman County Alabama.

Nearly 40 years after my 1981 conviction for “purse snatching” in Florida I found out about changes in the Florida law that would allow me to retroactively seek post-conviction relief for the original wrongful conviction. After learning this, I again asked my friends to help me get the right forms and records and filed for what is right and just. Since I did not do this crime but was badly harmed by the conviction and the prejudice the record still carries, I would argue that it should be vacated even though I had already served every day of the sentence.

On February 18, 2020 I filed a Motion for Postconviction Relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal procedure 3.850 asking the court to grant me the justice I deserve in this case – to have it vacated and expunged from my record. After the court had made no ruling in nearly two years, I filed a Motion to Compel the court to make a ruling in January 2022. *To date the court has made no ruling.

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 (16)

  1. At least in the late 20th century, this sort of thing happened all the time in the Southeast. A very similar thing was done to the 19 year old son of a friend in Opelika, Alabama by a ex-girlfriend. He was in prison for two years before his mother got the conviction overturned.

    Liked by 1 person

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