Part Five – Sweet Freedom
Chapter 20 – Miracles, Cleansing, Healing
By Ghost Dancer
Unheard of parole granted on February 9, 1994
When my parole hearing came up in February 1994, I was already fighting my convictions in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Then a miracle happened. I will share that miracle in Cat’s own words as well as my own:
Ghost’s mom and sister, attended the parole hearing along with me and my mom. Ghost put me in charge of speaking for him, though by nature I am not at all comfortable with such situations. Until this day I still wonder who that girl was who got up and boldly made her case before the board. I had waited 11 years for this man I loved so much; for 11 years, we had written letters to one another. I came with positive thoughts and determination that he was coming home. To help bolster my self-confidence, I wore the most sophisticated dress I had and carried a brief case filled with everything I had prepared.
The 5-member parole board sat behind a high desk which I could barely see over as I stood to present my prepared statement and show photos of Ghost’s artwork and the property where we planned to build our home. So I walked around the desk to the person on the end and showed him all the pictures and talked about our plans for how we were going to live and make a living. I just spoke from my heart. I told them he was sorry for what he had done, but I never mentioned the pure hell he was going through, so I was a little surprised when I looked up to see they were all wiping tears from their eyes.
When I had finished, one of the board members came to us and asked, “If I can pull some strings, can you go pick James Johnson up today?” Now we all broke into tears of joy! Yes! Yes! We can do that today! We drove from Montgomery straight to Holman Prison. We had been instructed to wait in the parking lot in our cars and watch for Ghost to walk thru the gate. What a beautiful sight to see! We all hugged him with tears of joy.
We decided to go to a restaurant to eat and visit a bit before his mom and sister headed back home and Ghost came with my mom and me back to Pace, Florida. I didn’t realize at that moment how very hard it was for him being around people when he had just been in solitary confinement for so long. Ghost came out with white hairs all through his black hair. He looked so thin and pale, and a little scary even. That’s what solitary will do to you. I think I colored his hair brownish black the next day. Wow! He was so handsome again!
At first, when they told me I was getting out, I thought they were lying to me and just getting ready to attack me some more. When Cat and my family came to the prison to get me and I walked outside, I thought I was hallucinating, but it was a good hallucination! I wanted to go kiss the ground, and hug some trees, but I couldn’t see; my eyes had been in total darkness for a long time. I didn’t want to go around people, everything was happening too fast. It was a shock to go from being in a tiny cell all alone to having people around me all trying to talk to me at the same time. Shock would be a better word than scared. Disbelief, doubts of my own sanity were driving me nuts. I was scared to even touch anyone least they just disappear, and I’d wake back up in my torture chamber.
When we stopped to eat, I was petrified. I knew I looked terrible and I could feel eyes on me everywhere. This was not real and any minute they would come and try to put me back in solitary. I just wanted to get out of there. I had gone so long without food it meant nothing to me! I was even scared of Cat! Yeah imagine that, scared that I would do something, say something, and she would run away from me. I was scared of people and what I could feel them thinking about me! I loved Cat so much and I had dreamed of her all those years in solitary, and when they tortured me I focused on what it would be like to have her in my arms again, to hold her. We had planned on this day and now it was here, and I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted to be alone with my Cat, so I could adjust and get my head on straight.
This wasn’t happening; it couldn’t be, things like this just didn’t happen, ever. But they did! Thanks to Cat and her fighting for me, talking to the parole people, walking around their desk even, to show them where we would live, and showing them my art work, she got me released. Her spirit is what got me released! We went home to begin a new life. Spirit had opened the door for me. Now I must carry this walk and message to the outside again.
Finally free! After all these years, the world had changed a lot by the time my dear wife Cat, along with my mom and sister, Judy, all came and got me that fateful February day in 1994. I was just out on parole and the threat of being sent back for the slightest infraction still hung over my head, so there were many obstacles still to face. How does any human being pick up the pieces and begin to live after years of merely surviving in hell?
It is a documented fact that most prisoners suffer from shock when released from prison: cultural shock and emotional shock. People re-enter the world so mentally traumatized by their experience that most don’t even recognize that their inability to adjust is designed by the very prison system that is supposed to rehabilitate and prepare them to live responsible lives. The system takes away a person’s right to think for themselves or speak for themselves. Prisoners are told when they can get up, when they have to go to bed, when they must work, when they must eat, when they can visit with loved ones. Taking away all responsibility and constantly degrading the prisoner verbally is a pervasive form of abuse that programs the prisoner into believing that no matter what they say or do, it is wrong, or a lie and they will never amount to anything. When this self-defeating message is programmed into a person each and every day of their incarnation, little wonder so many fail on the outside.
When a person goes through solitary, the abuse is a thousand times more severe. I have seen strong men break down and go insane or commit suicide in a short time. It is a proven scientific fact that solitary confinement is, by design, a tool to destroy a person’s mind, body and spirit. Being tortured as I was, starved, kept naked and so much worse, goes beyond any decent person’s idea of how a civilized society treats its prisoners.
No one truly understands the problems such a person faces once they are released. I do! The key I learned, just to survive, was to keep a strong spirit and mind while you are still in. See beauty and love in all around you no matter how dark it is. This would be my focus on the outside as well. Yes, there were doubts, yes, there were fears even. The world changes while you are away, and so have you.
I had to adjust to being around people and things moving around me. I had been in solitary for so many years. I felt I looked like something from a horror movie. This is why a traditional Native Clean-up Ceremony was so important. But having loved ones around who understand that you have to adjust is so important. Encouragement, love, and understanding goes a long way.
I was truly blessed and protected by Spirit; they could not kill me, even when fire bombed, poisoned, shocked with electrical shock devices, scalped, and beaten so badly that no one could recognize my face because I was a renegade who refused to sign a piece of paper saying I was a Christian. Few people have any clue what it is like to be tortured and abused for years just because of who you are and your religious beliefs. It is a mind crushing experience and I had things within myself that I had to deal with. A clean-up ceremony had to be done. Most tribes have distinct types of clean-up ceremonies especially for warriors returning from war or battle.
My war, my battle, had been in prison, but just the same it was a war, and I had things that must be released and cleansed from me. The traditional way to do a clean-up begins with a fast and purging with the black drink. During my years in prison and after my release I continued to visualize the old ceremony; a pit being dug, longer than me and 4 feet deep. The bottom is lined in clay and my naked body is also covered with clay. I lay down in the pit and a helper places wet palm leaves on top of me. A long section of bamboo is placed in my mouth as a breathing tube, and then dirt is piled on top of me. Last, fire wood is placed on the dirt and lit. The fire will be kept burning for four days. This simulates being back in my mother’s womb. While I pray continuously, the clay will be absorbing all the impurities from my body and the fire will burn up all the bad memories and pain that were trapped inside from my experience. My prayers were for complete healing: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. After four days the pit is dug open. The clean-up ceremony I did physically was simpler, but helpful. I did the fast and the purging. Then with Cat’s help, using an eagle feather, my whole body was smudged. I went to a spring, dove in and stayed submerged at the bottom, letting Mother take away my pain and help release the bad memories.
The emotional and mental release of all the inner pain, is always necessary. It is not natural for a human being to be violent, to take a life or hurt others. No, it is not natural, but sometimes it is necessary. Subconsciously these things are buried inside of us; things we see, or do, or have done to us, cause trauma deep within. So before we can go back amongst our loved ones and live right, these things must be released; we must be cleansed and healed of this pain. Otherwise our family and friends will all have this brought into their lives, not knowing or understanding what is wrong, what you are suffering, and they feel so helpless. You cannot do this alone. Only Spirit can help you release this pain or damage from within.
My loved ones all knew what was done to me too; family members, friends, children, and even neighbors. It was so important to me to spend time with all my family and those who stood by me and suffered with me. It was important to have alone time with Cat, so we could both heal! My Cat helped me to heal and gather my strength back. She needed healing too. The truth is, when a person goes to prison, they are not the only ones being punished. Every person connected to them suffers, especially when they know what their loved one is going through inside of prison. When they come to visit, they can see the cuts, bruises, and bandages. Receiving letters from other prisoners about what is going on keeps your loved ones anxious; never at peace.
Taking time to heal and adjust was not easy. By parole requirements and just to live, I had to go to work immediately. Cat and I started out with nothing; we worked hard just to get on our feet, but we always made time to spend in the woods with nature. This is where we truly came alive.