Part Eight – The Warrior Comes Home
Chapter 29 – Alive Again!
By Ghost Dancer
Letting Go of Prison
Now I must tell everyone there is a huge dramatic adjustment anyone getting out of prison must make, especially if this has been the only life you’ve known for a long period of time. There are a few things I had to learn – and learn quick.
First is to slow down! Reset the way you think and react. In prison you are in an environment where you must be on constant alert. Any sudden movements, anything that isn’t normal, draws you to be “on point” as we say in prison. Learning to just relax and calm your mind is key for everyone who is getting out.
Yes, the world outside moves at a fast pace, but in their thinking, folks out here are very slow. If you think slow in prison you either don’t make it or you pay a heavy price. Stop and think, on the outside you don’t have to jump when anyone tells you to do something. You don’t have a specific amount of time to act or be punished for not reacting fast enough. Out here no one is ordering you when to go to bed, when to eat, go to the restroom, get up, telling you how fast you have to eat or do without, or how fast that you have to get out a door or miss out on going to recreation, or going anywhere.
People who have been in for long amounts of time have it harder than those who were only in for a short periods of time. Out here anyone who has been in a long time will automatically be considered a violent offender so he needs to conduct himself with sincere humbleness and a thankful attitude. When you are interacting with other people, say when seeking any kind of services you need, a smile, polite manner and gratitude will go a long way toward disarming any tense situations or bad attitudes and help you get the help you need.
Too many people come out of prison with a bad attitude, they act tough and want people to fear them. I say that is a big mistake. If people are afraid of you they will do things to get rid of you. If you have a bad attitude people will not want you around and if you try acting tough, well guess what, someone will call you out on that. So keeping a good attitude, staying humble and appreciative of other’s help are a must for anyone adjusting to being free.
The prison mentality with all its rules and egos must be left inside of prison if you want to stay free, become a success and change your life for the better. No matter how rough you have it out here it is still a 100,000 times better than anything you had in prison. You may have to develop a thick skin and learn to ignore insults or judgments made against you because you have been in prison. People will be people and some are going to be judgmental. Their attitudes towards you will not change no matter what you do so just don’t worry about them. Your own actions of doing good will help you become successful and living a real life will be your reward.
Blessings of a Patient Wife
I could not have made it this far without the help of so many people. I had to hit the ground running to work with my supervised release officer and resource officer who is still helping me through the process of getting myself back into the world and finding the ways and means to get the medical help I desperately needed.
This has meant nearly daily trips, often across town, to all kinds of appointments. In the beginning Cat did all the driving so she had little time for anything she needed to do for herself. Already I’ve had three major surgeries and Cat has nursed me through all of them. There will be several more in the coming months.
My Cat, my loving wife, is the one who has been right here standing by me every step of the way and she has borne the brunt of my mistakes and frustration as well. Cat has helped me through all the adjustments and guided me as I try to figure out all the changes and so many new things I need to know.
Every single thing has changed while I’ve been away. From computers, email and phones to traffic laws, and even the businesses, communities, cities and people I once knew; all have changed. Yes I’m like Fred Flintstone waking up in George Jetson’s spaceship world and Cat’s job has not been easy! See, in prison you don’t ask for help. You just do what you can and try to figure things out yourself. I tried to hide all my frustrations from not knowing anything and feeling so vulnerable in a world I knew nothing about.
I wanted to help Cat; I wanted to do my part and I tried. I would think I was helping but in fact my “help” was doing more harm than good and it made her work so much harder straightening out all my blunders and mistakes. Sometimes I would get upset and vent my frustrations. Maybe someday, maybe ten years from now we will be able to laugh at some of the things I did, but at the time, they were not very funny.
If confession is good for the soul, here are a few examples of the things I did:
Tried to help by running the dishwasher. Put in way too much soap and the wrong kind. Flooded the kitchen with soap bubbles. My sister Judy helped me scoop up bubbles all morning trying to clean this up.
Tried to help do laundry. Didn’t separate my brand new blue shirt and dyed all Cat’s white clothes blue.
Ruined Cat’s electric skillet trying to surprise her by fixing her some breakfast. Used a metal spatula and scratched up the non-stick surface. We won’t even mention some of the other messes I made in the kitchen.
Learning to drive and not paying attention to what Cat tried to tell me. Crazy drivers these days and I was one of them. I had Cat hanging on her seat and scared half to death I would wreck, and me getting upset because those fools just don’t care how they drive.
Thought I would help by mopping the floor. Oh I was so proud but come to find out I didn’t use floor cleaner, I used floor wax instead. I could not figure how Cat got her feet so black when she walked on the floor.
Not being careful when I got up from the dining table. I fell and crashed into Cat’s china-shelf breaking almost all the beautiful pieces she treasured that had belonged to her mother. Yeah I totally destroyed it all and it cannot be replaced.
When I tried learning the computer, I thought I could figure it all out but ended up getting totally frustrated and calling Cat to the rescue. I crashed her computer so many times and wiped out a lot of her stuff.
Yeah, I’m a mess and I caused this beautiful amazing woman so much stress that she was hospitalized three times in one month with her heart. Yeah imagine that! And knowing that it was me that caused her all this stress made it that much more important for me to get my own self fixed.
When she felt she could take no more, my patient Cat told me frankly that I needed to change and change fast. She told me that instead of constantly moving, talking non-stop fast as I could, I needed to slow down, listen, pay attention and be conscious of what I was doing. I needed to learn to ask for help!
By nature I am one who keeps my thoughts, doubts and problems bottled up inside. In the violent world of prison I was able to cope by not letting others see or know how inadequate or helpless I felt. That mindset came home with me. The result is when I wanted to try to impress Cat, my actions were disrespectful of her.
Letting prison go became a major priority for me in other ways too. It was bad enough being in prison all these times when I was actually innocent, but to be sent back now for violating the rules of my release such as doing something that would frighten someone or reacting to any threats or any words by others, would be totally self-defeating. I still have goals and dreams I wish to accomplish in this life. Unlike many that have been in my shoes, I will not, must not allow myself to fail at anything I truly want to do. So I must make the changes necessary to fit in this world, to protect the woman I love and to free her from stresses caused by my own habits, routine, and programmed prison mentality.
Reconnecting with Family
I have a wonderful family that loves me so much. As soon as my mom found out I was free, she was jumping up and down wanting to come and it was not long before my sister, Judy brought her to Florida. That reunion was such a wonderful day! They too witnessed the pressure of my adjusting to this world and helped me so much. They didn’t criticize me, just offered encouragement and lots of love.
A few months later, Cat and I were able to go for a visit with many more of my family. Judy and her husband, Scott welcomed us to their home and took us around to see everyone. Of course Mom was with us every minute possible. We got to see my brother, Greg, his wife Becky, my sister Teresa and meet all my new nephews, nieces that I had never seen before. Getting to see my sister, Jackie after more than 27 years was a special treat. Those were such joyful reunions.
Visiting my dear Aunt Hazel was a true miracle; she has been kind to me all my years and now she is so very frail. It was so good to see my cousins Gary and Ronald after so long and meet all their kids, grand kids and families. So I have been truly blessed in getting to know them all and I will make sure to spend as much time with them as I can. Having a loving family to welcome you home, to help support and encourage you to succeed is vital to anyone being released from prison and I am so grateful.
When people are locked up, every part of the whole system works against them. They brain wash you each and every moment with messages that you are nothing, you are worthless, you will never succeed. “You will be back,” they say, “No one loves you, you are no good and we will save your cell and bunk for you.” Why? Because to all of the system you are nothing more than their cash crop, job security. If taxpayers only knew of the corruption and waste of their hard-earned dollars they would be demanding reform. So reconnecting with a loving family is an essential part of washing away the incessant message of worthlessness everyone hears in prison.
Counting my Blessings
Now I am enjoying the pleasures of real food, meeting people who truly mean what they say, who talk nice to you and treat you with respect because they want to. To feel this again is a wonderful experience and I know it is my responsibility to speak and act toward others with humble respect as well. Having real doctors, P.A.’s, nurses and staff in medical practices and hospitals who truly want to help you and care about you is so wonderful! I have been blessed with all kinds of good experiences, I’ve made numerous real friends, and been helped by so many good people – medical people, business people, musicians, veterans, federal marshals, supervised release officers, Step Program resource officer, neighbors, native peoples, artists, and so many friends from the past. Yes I am truly blessed and so thankful for everyone.
I would like to say “thank you” especially to Edna Dixon and all her family who have stood by my me for so very long and have helped me in so many ways beyond just believing in me. I warned Edna when she reached out to me that people would not understand. Some would judge her because I was in prison. She followed her heart and did it anyway. All of my family and I have truly been blessed by her dedication and help in every way to make all this happen. I would probably still be in prison if it wasn’t for her.
I want to thank all of you on Ghost Dancer & Friends and Ghost’s Thoughts and wisdom for all of your interest, friendships, help, and support in every way. Believe it or not each time any of you have taken a moment to read or comment, It has helped beyond measure. When you’ve gone a step further to help in writing letters complaining about the lack of treatment or other times I was being denied something I needed while I was in prison, you all helped get changes made.
Since my release, I appreciate all of you who bought jewelry or sent money to help keep me afloat and surviving. Thank You! Thank You all for all that you have done to make my days easier, help me and help my family! I still have a lot to overcome, but I will succeed.
Finding a Place in the Wider World
By the time 6 months had passed the pace of our lives had begun to level out a little. I was in between surgeries and the time was right for a little new adventure. Mom and Judy came to join us for a three-day weekend in April at Musical Echoes Native American Flute Festival in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Here I was able to participate; I made many new friends and got acquainted with all the performers. The festival planners were gracious enough to let me have some stage time to sing and play my drum and do a little story telling. This was a wonderful affirmation for me. I was well accepted by everyone I met and invited to return next year as a scheduled performer.
When Spirit Leads
I am blessed, truly blessed by Spirit and will continue walking my spiritual path. Wherever Spirit leads me I will follow and I will do whatever I’m asked to do.
Since I got home, I have been talking to everyone I meet associated with the VA and the veterans I see around home about an idea I have been thinking of for years that will benefit all veterans and first responders. My idea has always been received with enthusiasm and I have been assured there is a real need for the plan I propose.
During that beautiful weekend at Musical Echoes I took the opportunity to talk to the musicians gathered there about my idea and enlist all the support I could. Once again my idea was warmly accepted and several assured me they would be happy to participate.
The Spirit Run Crying, Cleansing, Releasing & Healing Ceremonies For Veterans and First Responders with PTSD The Spirit Run is a time-honored tradition among the indigenous people of North America. It is not a competition but rather an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities, from the strongest to the weakest, to strive as one, united in prayer, toward a common goal for the honor and benefit of all. In the old days, acting as one, the strongest might have physically carried an elder or disabled person. In modern times, the stronger ones might push the weak unable to walk in the same spirit. Historically, the sweat lodge (Inipi, meaning Breath of Spirit) in which the associated healing ceremonies are held began as a tradition of the plains tribes of North America. In recent years the custom of sweating ceremonies has spread across the country and beyond with many variations reflecting the needs and values of the local community. Both the Spirit Run and the Sweat Lodge Ceremonies are sacred practices that help each participant learn the lessons of prayer, sacrifice, humbleness, and cleansing and build a stronger community of more balanced individuals supporting one another.
I have dreamed of this Spirit Run for all disabled, wounded, retired veterans, their families, first responders and their families who are in need, for all the different communities, cities, states, and I hope to see it spread all across this country.
In Native tradition it is our responsibility to help, provide, and look after all of these. It is also my and others responsibility to teach and educate others about these ancient traditional ways of healing and providing in all these matters.
In September 2022, I was invited to attend a barbeque following a United Way-sponsored Suicide Awareness Walk at Pensacola State College. The United Way Veteran’s Group invited me to come and play my drum and sing and then lay out my idea for the annual Spirit Run/Healing Sweat Lodge.
The day was very successful. I did some singing and drumming and everyone enjoyed it. I got to talk with lot of important people from the community and veteran’s groups about my vision. Everyone loved the idea and I believe it is going to be a great success. We’re going to have lots of backing; I will be meeting with city and county officials and other organizations that can help and hopefully a date will be set sometime in the near future, probably Spring of 2023.
Closing the Sacred Circle
You may not know this, but I try to live each day as if it is my last. And I must give of myself to walk with Spirit in everything. I wake up in constant prayer, I pray all day long and go to sleep praying. Truly I give thanks for all that has been given to me, helped me, and for all those in my life and those who will come into my life. I trust in Spirit to put those I need in my path.
Each morning I wake up hours before daylight and go outside to begin my prayers. I pray out loud till after the wonderful sun has risen and blessed each of us with love and life. As I sit and listen to Spirit and watch all of my relations come to life and begin their day I am so grateful, for this is a true blessing that has been denied to me for so many decades. I truly enjoy just being able to step outside to pray again and no matter the weather – rain, storms, sleet, snow or heat – nothing will stop me from greeting each day in this way.
Many believed that I would die in prison and gave up on me. But here I am. I am home, I am free at last, and I have a dream to carry me into the future. Truly I am blessed by all who love me, believe in me, support me, and help me each and every day. I thank each of you as I thank Spirit for making this happen.
Editor’s Post Script:
The War Veteran Comes Home
When Ghost returned to Pensacola after his compassionate release from prison, he was very quickly identified by the Veterans’ Administration as being eligible for full medical benefits. Soon after, as he began to meet more and more veterans he would talk about his vision for a spirit run and healing lodge for the benefit of veterans and first responders still suffering from the trauma of war and all types of disasters. Discovering that many of the vets he met were also American Indians, his acceptance into the veterans community grew even stronger. Word of Ghost’s history spread quickly and amazing things started to happen.
One day when he reported to the VA hospital for an appointment, Ghost was totally surprised to discover that the staff and residents had covertly planned to honor him. Ghost could not hold back the tears as he was wheeled around the halls receiving salutes and honors from everyone. The honor was overwhelming and Ghost was touched to the heart.
The next day when Ghost reported to another VA facility for an appointment he was greeted by an honor guard of Native Americans. These men introduced themselves and welcomed him home with gifts of Navy gear, hats and shirts etc. They invited him to join their organization and Ghost said he would be honored and to just tell him how he could help.
A week later, on Tuesday, August 23, 2022 when Ghost reported to the VA for physical therapy, he was once again greeted by the same gentlemen from the Thunderbird Honor Guard.
Among the most distinguished of Vietnam veterans, Ghost was once again honored by Lt. Colonel George Dodge, U. S. Marines, Special Forces and Silver Star recipient. (Cheyenne) and Master Sergeant Donny Kimmel, U.S. Marines, Special Forces, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Silver Star and Purple Heart. (Cherokee)
These American Indian heroes conferred the highest honor to a brother veteran of the Vietnam war with the presentation of this beautiful lapel pin that Ghost will treasure forever. In return, from his personal walking stick, Ghost removed two spotted eagle feathers and presented them in honor of these men’s services. These feathers were from the left and right wings of the same eagle and will be attached to staffs he will make for them. Ghost will replace the feathers on his own staff from other feathers from the same bird symbolically forming a connection to remember their brotherhood.
As a spiritual leader and the newest member of the Thunderbird Honor Guard, Ghost’s role will include ceremonial services for other Vietnam Vets who take the walk. The Guard will also play an active role in the Spirit Runs planned for the future.