Chapter One – Night Ride to Freedom’s Door
By Steven Maisenbacher
It’s funny how you think you have yourself prepared and all the mental shackles of the past 23 years of captivity are just going to go away when you’re finally released to a halfway house and the first small steps toward freedom.
August 30, 2022 – Amazingly enough I slept like a baby that night before I woke up with the dawn as I try to do almost every day praying thanks and gratitude to the Creator for the new day. What an amazing day this was going to be; I was being released from prison after 23 years and being given a second chance to experience a good new life.
They called me to R&D to do the release thing and I’m identified by a lieutenant to ensure that I’m the right man, and as he does this I’m thinking in the back of my mind, please let it be a dream, please let it be somebody else that has been going through this hell in the belly of this monster for all these years.
He asked me a bunch of questions framed out of my file that only I would be able to answer. Mother’s maiden name, where I went to elementary school, my family’s names, stuff like that. Eventually it’s decided that yes, I am in fact me so they take me to the front building. This will be the first time I’ve moved anywhere outside of the institution without shackles in two and a half decades. They get me up front, fingerprint me and give me a whopping $39 for two meals and cab fare to the halfway house. I’m escorted out and put into a car with another inmate being released that day.
We are driven to the Birmingham, Alabama Greyhound bus station, right smack dab in the middle of downtown Birmingham, not a good place to be. So there I am. I get to the counter and it’s closed until 5:00 p.m., three full hours from then so I go outside and sit down with my walker and a bag full of all I own at that moment.
My first human contact as an unshackled man is a nefarious looking character who approached me asking for a smoke. “No sir, I say, “I don’t have any, I don’t smoke.” He persists, I respond with, “No thank you, I don’t want to score any crack, ice meth, Adderall, marijuana, or heroin, but thank you for asking, and if it’s all the same to you sir, no disrespect intended, I don’t feel like talking right now.” He moves on to where and to what I don’t even want to know.
I have 7 hours until my bus leaves. This is not freedom; this is a war zone and for me it’s fortunate that I don’t look like prey. My first contact with anyone in the free world was a dope fiend trying to drag me back into the same hell of his world. This is not going to be easy. While I’m sitting there, one of the bus station security cops walks by looking for people blatantly using narcotics.
I asked him if there was any way possible to make a phone call. He took out his phone and handed it to me. When I told him I didn’t know how to use the phone, he probably saw the anxiety and apprehension I was going through. He says, “You just got out of prison didn’t you?” Then he made the call for me to the only lifeline I have. I needed to call Sings; she has been my rock through these changes, always supported my want to be a better man. On the phone, Sings listened and helped me deal with the moment. Afterward, the cop and I chat a little more and he asks if I’m going to be okay. I’m grateful for his kindness.
Leave it to say that the rest of the trip was uneventful though it was filled with many people, fellow travelers. Each and every one of them, I’m sure with their own story, their own feelings and family, maybe on their way to those that love them. As I sat in that bus looking out at the sky, the darkness, into nothing, I said to myself, “Walks, this is not going to be what you have; there won’t be darkness in your future, there won’t be bad in your future. There will only be you in the future you make for yourself with the help of those who love you and care. This is who I am! This is who I will be! I’m Walks On The Grass. I am a Creek-Seminole warrior and I will never surrender.
I travelled across this country in that bus, finally got to Memphis. Transferred buses, more of the same, people going here and there. Finally got to St Louis. Amazing that in a city the size of St Louis the place was empty and just miserable. Short delay, then on to Springfield, Illinois, only a couple hours away. The bus arrived with only 17 minutes to spare in the window I was given, otherwise I’d be arrested for attempt to escape and taken to the county jail – back into the mouth of the beast that I had just been expelled from.
My cab arrived at the halfway house with just 4 minutes left between me and violating the halfway house expectations. The halfway house is to be my point of entry into what will be freedom. I understand that I’m still not free now. I also understand there will be things I have to do that will be uncomfortable. For me nothing can be as uncomfortable as the way you feel when you have no one and you’re unsure of those of your family who love you or say they love you. You know you’ve been so wrong in the things you’ve done or said in your past but this is now, not the past. I am more than my past. I have apologized and I will not make more apologies.
I will only move on in the right way and the only way I wish to proceed. From this point on I am Walks On The Grass. I am a Seminole-Creek warrior and I will never surrender. I hope your days go well and I will continue to pray for each and every one I care about in my dawn prayers, eagle feather in hand. The difference is from now on I will pray standing outside watching the sun rise as I sing, knowing I am truly blessed just as I am. For strength, I cry out to my Creator for I believe all men deserve second chances.
Editor’s note: This is the next book in the saga of Walks’ LONG ROAD HOME which documents his spiritual journey including, ALONG THE WAY more accounts of his years in prison and LIGHT IN THE DISTANCE, the last months of his mental and emotional journey, preparing him to STEP INTO THE LIGHT.
Index to publications by Steven Maisenbacher