Chapter Three – Step Into The Light
By Steven Maisenbacher
I had been here at the halfway house for 3 weeks and thought things were finally going smoothly. Usually I’m in bed by 10:00 every night because I’m up with the dawn each morning to thank the Creator for another day.
Then something went very wrong. Since I am handicapped and cannot get up and down the steps, I live downstairs separate from the other BOP residents. This particular night, shortly after I went to sleep my door suddenly burst open. I sat straight up in the bed and there stood a large, young black man. I recognized him as another BOP resident who lived upstairs.
“Hey man,” I said, “What are you doing?”
He responded, “Just chill out chief,” as he ran into my bathroom and closed the door.
I heard the lock engage and then him talking in an agitated and animated way. I’m just sitting there on my bed wondering what the heck is going on when he comes out of the bathroom and heads towards the door with his phone in his hand saying to someone, “The man he’s here! The man he’s here! He’s got a gun!”
Then he left the room and I really began to wonder what was going on. I knew that earlier some of the people here had been drinking and were getting loud and arguing. Come to find out later one of the people that had been drinking ended up getting into a fight with another one of the guys and got beat up pretty good. He then left and shortly after, came back with a gun and now he was trying to get in. That’s why the man was so agitated and the staff just allowed him to run around and into my room to hide, putting me between himself and a man with a gun, placing me in definite danger when I thought I was safe.
Incredibly, a few minutes later the same guy came running back into my room to hide in the bathroom again.
I said, “Hey man, if you bring any drama to me there’s going to be issues.”
Again he said, “Don’t worry Chief,” and locked himself in the bathroom.
Shortly after, just like before, he came out again, shouting into his phone, “Come, Come! Hurry up get here. That n***** is outside running around with a gun looking for me.” When he went out, I got up and locked my door from the inside thinking to myself it was time to put a stop to this. I knew I would have some issues talking to people the next day and he would be the first person I spoke with. That is if he hadn’t been shot and if this man with a gun outside who ran away from the halfway house to go get a gun didn’t get in and shoot everyone. I thought I was safe.
I woke up the next day and called Sings just to let her know what had happened and that I had gotten through it with no problem. She could not believe what the night staff had allowed to happen and questioned why I did not have my door locked when I went to sleep. That is because they do a 4 AM count and I would have to get up and open the door. One must wonder why the staff cannot just unlock the door, check my bed and then leave.
So the fact is the staff did not even try and stop this man from running into my room nor did they even try to get the police here immediately. In fact we later found out, the halfway house management has absolutely no protocol to follow if a situation like this were to ever occur. I thought I was safe and had to ask myself if I should say anything to the management or not. Surely they know what happened, surely they know that this man had been allowed to run into my room. I still cannot believe that they actually didn’t try to stop him from coming into my room nor did they stop him from endangering all the rest of the people here. I thought I was safe but in fact the man’s reckless behavior and the staff’s disregard for a situation so totally out of control put everyone’s safety in jeopardy.
So the next day comes and they tell us we’re all on lockdown; the whole place is on lockdown, meaning no one would get any passes, no one could go to work, no one could have any visits, no one could leave the building because the man that came back with the gun after his drunken fight with the other guy was on the run. He had an ankle monitor on, and had they acted quickly, the police should have been able to catch him within minutes.
So the rest of the resident’s routines were turned upside down and the gunman had time to cut the ankle monitor off. As far as I know he is still loose to this day two weeks later. Oh, the feds know how to find him, trust me I’ve been the subject of their manhunts before. They leave no stone unturned and no door un-kicked-in. When they want you they get you, but he is long gone from here.
As for the rest of us, the management is still not allowing weekend passes (except for some), they are not allowing job searches (except for some) and come to find out, the Bureau of Prisons regional office in Chicago was never even contacted about the incident. It’s no wonder to me that this facility has lost its federal contract to house BOP inmates after this contract expires. The staff here seems to be ignorant of official BOP policies and even federal laws. They have a wonton disregard for all rules unless they make them. Official policies are not adhered to unless you force them with a threat of contacting Chicago.
Since I’ve been here the head office clearly Illustrated this fact when they failed to honor my Native American religious rights. They let me go outside in the courtyard at dawn for my morning prayers but only with my eagle feather. They would not allow me to have tobacco to hold pipe ceremonies and pray to the Creator. The fact is everyone here is allowed to smoke cigarettes outside in the courtyard all day every day for their own personal gratification, so what am I missing here?
Their rationale was this is a halfway house facility as well as a rehabilitation center. Other people might see me with that pipe and they wouldn’t understand. My response to that was this is my religious practice and it’s not for them to understand. The staff needed to research the Native American belief system and the laws that protect them. If they are unsure about something, let them ask. I’ve never had a problem explaining my beliefs, my religious ceremonies or my approach to the Creator. It’s simply that, an approach to the Creator.
Sings Many Songs sent tobacco for me to use in my ceremonial pipe. The staff confiscated it saying loose tobacco is not allowed in their facility. That edict did not last when I showed them the BOP policy statements and the federal laws they were breaking by denying me a religious object to pray with thus denying my religious freedom. They gave it back two days later.
I’ve since come to find out they were also told by another inmate that if they “mess with that Indian he will have the whole facility shut down by the federal government.” This man told them I know congressional laws and BOP policies and have been an activist in fighting for Native rights since 1986. He said, “They just don’t know who he is, that guy makes things happen.”
In reality he was thinking I was still the same militant revolutionary that I was in the past. The militancy is gone now, however I am still a revolutionary when it comes to my religious rights and beliefs. Now this “land of the free and home of the brave” allows me the right to practice my religious beliefs in the ways my people have done for thousands of years – it’s the law.
The simple point of the matter is residents in this halfway house facility were allowed to get drunk and go undetected, get in a fight undetected, one man leave and come back with a gun and not be arrested. While fortunately, he was not able to gain admittance to the building, what might have happened had he been able to get in? He would have come hunting for the man he came here for, of this I’m certain. This guy is still on the run; he’s been known to be violent in the past and obviously my concern, my misunderstanding is simply that I thought I was safe.
I thought I had entered civil society and was to work my way towards being a productive and valued member of society. In the short time since being released from prison, I’ve come to see that society is no longer civil and my only safety will be my own vigilance. Now I’m far from a coward; I’ve always faced problems and fears head on, immediately doing whatever I was afraid to do because I don’t believe in allowing fear to conquer anything, especially me. I will never allow fear to rule my behaviors or my actions. While I won’t rush into stupidity, I won’t turn a blind eye to ignorance either. I won’t suffer a bully, I won’t engage a liar, and I won’t live in fear. My wellbeing is certainly not safe in the hands of my keepers. I thought I was safe. I was not. The long and short of the story is that I’m not safe except for my Creator and myself. In this I have every faith and going forward, I will make a good life.
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