I am an elder and a seeker, an outsider by nature, always looking through cracks in the fences of life trying to make sense of the world. Being an outsider can be lonely sometimes, but oh, what treasures can be found in most unexpected places. Without question one of my life’s greatest blessings came when I reached out for understanding and came to know a remarkable Native American warrior hidden in a world of his own. For nine years, I had the privilege to be both friend and advocate for Ghost Dancer, a remarkably wise and kind elder in federal prison. Over time Ghost began to reveal details of his life and his wrongful conviction, even asking my assistance in filing pro se legal motions as he continued his fight for justice from within the prison walls. The more I learned, the more I came to understand the full extent of his story and realized the importance that not only his wise teachings but also his life journey and struggles with injustice within the justice system be shared with the world.
Ghost Dancer – Known as a “gentle giant,” a wise elder, teacher, artist, and keeper of the old ways, Ghost has a deep understanding of the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Southeastern Native Peoples, as well as the Lakota Sioux and other western tribal People. Little by little over the course of years of my friendship with him, Ghost has shared bits and pieces of his life story, but much he kept to himself. Then in 2020, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, with his health in a shambles, Ghost wrote pro se motions to the courts that convicted him asking for compassionate release. A year later, after multiple near-death health crisis episodes, Ghost was finally granted release from prison. After gaining his freedom in late 2021, Ghost agreed to tell his story. From the very beginning, Ghost’s biographical work, ALL FOR THE RIGHT TO PRAY takes the reader chapter by chapter through the course of this one man’s lifelong struggles to just be himself and live peacefully in a world where he knew even in childhood that he was “out of time, out of place.” Ghost Dancer’s story is both a revelation of the sheer evil that can negatively impact a person’s life as well as testament to the power of Spirit to give them the strength and helpers to triumph over it. From his world behind prison walls, GHOST’S SACRED PATH honors his Muskogee and Ani-Yun-Wiya ancestors as he shares a lifetime of fascinating stories, wisdom and thoughts to uplift us all and help us grow in our understanding of traditional Native beliefs and life ways.
In 2019, Ghost introduced me to another Native American inmate, Walks On The Grass. Walks’ life journey was entirely different but compelling and insightful in it’s own way. What the two had in common was their love of heritage and the practice of traditional Native American religious ceremony as a means of healing, teaching and surviving in the dark and hostile world of the “iron house” where Native inmates are the smallest minority. It is my personal honor to give both these two beautiful people voice to share their stories in “Journeys of the Spirit.”
Walks On The Grass – Readers will be riveted to each Chapter of LONG ROAD HOME as this delightfully warm and talented man shares an honest and compelling account of his amazing journey. From the first line, “I was born broken,” Walks navigates a path filled with bumps, boulders and wrong turns in search of wholeness. Through the grounding of songs, prayers and ceremony in the Inipi, traditional Lakota sweat lodge, and the support of wise elders and teachers, Walks gradually comes home to his true self. You won’t want to miss it. The fascinating story continues in ALONG THE WAY, a post script to Walks’ spiritual journey discussing in short essays, experiences, insights & humor on the “Long Road Home.” Finally, as Walks sees his long years in federal prison coming to an end, he shares each step of preparing himself for a new life outside those prison walls in LIGHTS IN THE DISTANCE.
A full and busy month has passed since my last entry. At this moment my six-months point at the halfway house is just two days away. On February 28, 2023, I will be eligible to go to home confinement. While we are still waiting for the administration here to approve my apartment, I am confident it will be done as Janice has transformed an empty shell into a warm and welcoming home. Paperwork will then be passed along to Chicago for final approval, then I will pack my bags and walk out the door to complete my final 6 months with the Bureau of Prisons before my parole begins. And so the story comes to close just when you thought you were rid of me.
But not so fast my friends. I need to tell you a few things before I go. So come along with me this early morning before the sun rises, before I’ve said my prayers, and before I’ve thanked the Creator for each and every one of you, and said goodbye so that very soon I’ll be able to say hello again.
Many years ago, or so it seems at this moment, I started a journey to document my Long Road Home. Today, in this moment, it will come to a close. But I want to tell you something before I leave you for a moment. I want to express my gratitude that sacred winds have blown me across your path and you across mine, that the Creator has placed my words before your eyes.
You’ve read them. Some of you may have laughed, even scoffed at me, but some of you have laughed and cried with me. Some of you have felt my pain and confusion, my sorrow and yes, shared my joys. All the while, the winds of fortune have been at my back and before I go, I wish to speak of them:
Strong spiritual winds blew me across the path of Sings Many Songs and she has walked beside me on my path. Now the winds of providence and kinship have given me to this woman; she knows my heart and has adopted me as her son. What more can I say? I love you Mom.
Thankfully, gentle winds followed my beautiful Janice as she made her way home in the dead of winter. Janice has travelled through time to bring herself back to me and her heart that never left. My love for her has endured for thousands of years and will surely endure for thousands more.
My brother, Bob and his wife Babs, and all their family have given me hope, trust and a chance to show them what I couldn’t show them in the past. My nieces Andrea and Amber, my nephew, Josh and his wife Anna, welcomed me. Oaf and Jesse and Aaron as well. And my great niece, Vanessa with your kind and loving heart – what a magnificent spirit you carry.
My brother Mike and his beautiful wife Karen, the Irish spitfire. . .I didn’t know they had Maisenbacher’s that came out of Ireland but he found one and managed to marry her and she certainly enriched this clan.
My sister, Leontien, strong winds carried us seven thousand miles to join us as brother and sister. You have graciously given me your family and I give you my love and devotion forever.
Paints On The Rocks and your beautiful Karen, how do I tell you how much you’ve given to me with your sage words and your cutting humor? You’re always on point with your view of the world as it is.
My little brother, David Martinez, your beautiful Jessica and little Oscar and the kids. You taught me that to give a man his culture, his heritage and his tradition was the greatest gift I could give to myself. In bringing a man back to the red path and teaching you about the ways and heritage of our people, I placed myself in front of the sun with my arms open, my face up to the Creator. I begged for another red and blue day as a warrior and one who would not surrender. For this opportunity I thank you.
Butch Reno and your beautiful Angie, you have shown me that real friendship does not die even after 25 years. Friends are just there when you need them. No questions. Butch, since our reunion the music in the winds has been clearly heard in your creative genius. When we sat down again to make music together, the magic was still there.
Patty, I don’t even know what to say about you. You blew into my life like a cyclone and your generosity of spirit is amazing. I can’t imagine not knowing you. I tell you pretty much every day you’re the bomb, chick. Janice and I love you and we always will.
Stephanie, how amazing and beautiful you are. Janice and I adopted you; we didn’t even give you a choice. You just rolled with it like your spirit — a gentle breeze that can become a tempest when provoked. We’re so glad you didn’t buck. Without your help, you and I both know I wouldn’t be where I am now academically. Yes I am a BRAINIAC! hahaha.
Throughout my Long Road Home, the winds of time have carried so many kind souls across my path I can’t possibly name everyone. I will remember you all and I thank you for touching my life. So with these words I close the book on my past so I can begin anew. You all have given me hope and understanding that cannot be replaced. This morning, in the darkest hours, as I think about the past few years, I need to tell you I owe you my life, for you have given me mine. You have given me something I never felt I would have again – a family, people who love me for who I am, for the man I have become. For this I thank you from the bottom of my warrior’s soul!
Now, in these wee hours, I wish I could just go to bed, but midterms are coming up and I have bell curves to bust, so study I must. . .
Until we meet again. . .
Just remember, I am Walks On The Grass and I never surrendered.
Ever had friends that would talk about someone behind their back and you would find out from the very same person that they had talked bad about you too? See how the cycle perpetuates itself? Personally, I think anybody that knowingly does harm to another person whether physical or emotional, or any other kind and does not try to fix it, is dead wrong.
Same thing can be said for loyalties to friends, loved ones, beliefs, or aspirations for oneself. Too many times I have seen people proclaim to be one way, then turn right around and act exactly the opposite. I believe that if you give someone your friendship and you invest personal interest in that person and then they lose sight of that fact, that you, like them, should completely turn your back and act like they never exist again. It’s pretty harsh isn’t it? I’ve seen people I care about hurt like this several times in the past two weeks and it just irks me. Sorry but that’s the way it is.
Otherwise, I’ve had some stellar events happen in the last couple of weeks. In fact, academically I am surpassing even what I could have expected in a lot of ways. Largely this is due to a tutor I have now. Her name is Stephanie and she’s both brilliant and beautiful. What a wonderful young woman. As a single mom, she raised her son pretty much on her own and now she is working on earning a BS degree. Stephanie is a whiz with the computer and helps make ends meet by tutoring other students.
Stephanie really takes the time to help me understand how to navigate the system and has been more help than I ever expected anyone could be. I’m trying to drink it all in. Sometimes there’s way too much information for my pea brain to a grasp but when I do catch on, it’s usually well within the realms of my capabilities, whatever the heck they are. Smile. Anyway, I’ve managed to turn in all my assignments on the computer program and so far I’ve got a 4.0 grade average.
Heck, I’d have been happy to walk out with C’s; now I’m aiming higher. And to think my mind was capable of doing this college thing and I could have started 20 years ago and been on the right path then. That’s an awful lot of years to get from there to here. Yet here we are… I hope living, loving and laughing, growing and enjoying life. I’m pretty sure of that. Just as I’m sure that I’m Walks On The Grass and I Will Never Surrender.
Well fans and music lovers what a week of fun and frolic I have had. Let’s see, since I last talked to you I have done nothing but study. Like I said last week, I’m so grateful for the courtesy and true caring shown by the staff and this week I can give more examples.
Using my computer was still so new to me that I got confused and I had to ask for tutoring to catch up on my online assignments. All assigned work must be turned in online through Lincoln Land’s own site called “Canvas” and within that, each student has their own site and email address.
This week, Ms. E. of Accessibility Services at Lincoln Land went way out of her way to help me understand how the computer works and to navigate the program I must use for all assigned class work. She will continue to let me work in her office so she can give me the help I need until I’m all caught up and my skills are strong enough for me to keep up.
I also have a personal email – firstname.lastname@example.org – and if you wish, feel free to contact me at any time. I’m free and open for discussion on anything that I say here. I promise you I say only what I believe be the truth to the best of my understanding at the time. if I’m wrong I’ll readily tell you I was wrong.
Now, this is what I have found out: The truth CAN help you! Simple enough statement, five words, but what you don’t see is what lies underneath, that is, having to relearn your way of thinking in order to ask for help rather than fail. Seems like not everybody can do that. I know, I was one of them but I’ve learned to ask and I’ve learned to accept graciously and humbly.
Let me tell you something. When I stepped out of prison I thought I had all the answers to all the questions and all the solutions to all the problems that I would encounter in this free world. That is really what I thought, but I was wrong. You rapidly learn when you have no choice, just as you will swim if you have no choice; it’s in our makeup to survive. So I chose to ask for the help that I’m getting now and I choose to continue to fight to get it down. I have found since being free that you have to struggle every day in order to keep that day in line. You have to do all the things that need to be done for yourself, by yourself.
Now that’s not necessarily everything of course, we all have things provided for us on a daily basis that we need to use or enjoy … and usually those providers are who? What? Oh! Our women! Bingo! right answer. It’s not that dudes won’t help people because of course they do, but it just seems to me, from my viewpoint, the women who are in my life or close to my heart or that I see here, they’re all helping people. They help themselves, their families and their loved ones, even people they don’t know. They may know a little bit about them or not, but if you’re able to ask or they perceive the need in you for assistance, heck, most of the time you don’t even have to ask.
This is Amber, the campus dog with her partner on the campus police. I like this little dog and talk to her all the time. When she sees me she will come and her little butt starts wiggling and her tail wagging. She makes me feel happy. So, everybody stay safe, stay loved, stay your wonderful selves.
Just like I am, Walks On The Grass, I Will Never Surrender.
Considering all that’s gone on I’m sure I could have gotten away with not writing an entry in my journal this week – or whatever such nonsense we’re going to call it now. Me, I don’t care what we call it; I’m just getting my thoughts out there. You see, I hit the speed bumps of academia this week. Let me put this in a little more positive way…my whole world has changed in one week…just another facet and I am really digging college.
Now as you may know, I started with a full load, meaning I signed up for 12 credit hours or four classes. Two of these were big prerequisite classes with a whole lot of reading and other assignments. Actually three of them are, so once I realized this was just too much, I decided to drop one class this semester. With me being me, I had bitten off more than I could chew but instead of being the old me and just trying to fight my way through it, I have now grown into the realization this is not a race. I’m in it for the long haul, so I’ll do whatever I have to do to ensure my success.
I’ll pick up the mandatory Introduction to Sociology class another semester. I still have my Introduction to Human Services, Public Speaking, and Music Appreciation for a nine-credit semester. Anyone who has been through college or are going to college already knows you have to be prepared to work. Learning requires a lot of work, especially when it’s geared towards something you’ve dreamed of for years and years and prepares you for something you want to do with your life.
I want to say this about Lincoln Land Community College: Go Loggers! This school is amazing. The staff in every department I’ve encountered has been more than helpful; it’s obvious they care about their students. What they don’t care about is race, creed, color, religious background, or past life issues. Trust me on this; I know. Staff members who know my story have done everything possible to encourage, advise and assist me in any way they can to make it possible for me to get off to a good start.
When you’ve been through as many jungles and battles and hell holes as I have, one thing you learn is human behavior and how to read people. This is what keeps you alive in those places out here in your world, it lets you read sincerity in others.
Here’s one example of the kindness I find here. Yesterday I forgot and left my lunch at the center. I’m a diabetic so I needed to eat and I was feeling it. I knew I had to find food so I asked one of the Student Success ladies. The Student Life supervisor, Leslie, sent me to the Student Life Food Pantry. The young lady there had me fill out a form, then gave me a can of Hearty Campbell’s Chicken and Noodles, a bag of chips and a granola bar. The food was exactly what I needed. But what I needed even more was the grace of these women who handled the situation, the dignity they allowed me to keep even when I had to humble myself and ask for help. In no way did they make me feel like a beggar; they made me feel like somebody they wanted to help and they were happy to do it.
My professors have all gone out of their way to help me as well. They all know I have no computer skills, that I must learn how to navigate the system so I can get through all my assignments. I have an appointment coming up with the lady who handles accommodations for people like me who have special needs but maybe don’t want or know how to ask. The college has faith in every student and a willingness to invest their time, care, and efforts into them. Seems I fit right into that category.
Right now I’m sitting in the library writing this. How cool is that? The person who started out writing on a simple prison email computer not long ago has now become me kicked back in this beautiful chair surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and information – a whole library full of books that I can now read when and if I choose.
Talk about Stepping Into the Light!
I’m just glad I was able to teach myself to read and then figure out for myself what else I needed to do in order to get to where I am now. That’s change. I don’t know why I can’t be as proud of myself as those who love me are. I guess I won’t be able to really feel a sense of accomplishment until I’ve actually done what I need to do to get through this and get to the point where I can talk to the first person that needs help and try to be that help.
Today I dropped off a copy of Long Road Home at the Creative Writing Center to be reviewed by the professor there. The woman who was gracious enough to accept the manuscript to pass along asked how much I had written. I told her I wrote all of it and in fact I had written four books only I was told they’re not four books, they’re four parts of the same book. Then I explained to her how that decision was made for me by Sings Many Songs and my beautiful, loving Janice. And why would they bother to ask me? Asking me would just led to a bunch of me acting like a baby and saying, “No! It’s four books, it’s four books, it’s four books” when in actuality, it’s all the same story, my story, and it’s my gift to you.
I hope maybe one sentence will resonate with you, one pain or anguish or hurt or let down or self-reflection will help you through something that you’re going through. To me that’s what it’s all about. That’s why I’m not trying to sell it but will gladly give it away to as many people as will read it in the hopes of helping just one person. That will validate everything I’ve been through in the past as well as all I’m going through now and I’m so blessed to be a part of. Maybe when it has all been said and done and I can sit across some desk or stand in front of a group of people and actually help one person, it will all have been worth it.
Another blessing worth more than any money is the love of the people that help me and have faith in me. I would rather cut my hand off than let them down. I’m learning how to navigate the computer. I’m learning how to get to my lessons. So far I still can’t quite figure out how to submit the dang things. I guess that’s why I have some appointments with tutors…finally I learned how to ask.
And for that I will give thanks to two beautiful women; they know who they are. To me they define beauty and grace, goodness and caring; they restored my faith in humanity, but even more importantly, they restored my faith in myself. There was a time I damn sure thought it was over with; for a minute I thought it was all going to be too much. They made me back up and focus…take a look at myself and my stubborn willful ways, determined to not ask for help when help was exactly what I needed. They taught me how to ask without feeling shame and never once have they made me feel shame because I need help.
Amazingly enough this entire academic Institution — Lincoln Land Community College — is showing the same grace, kindness and willingness to help me help myself so that maybe, just maybe, someday I can help someone else.
The one thing you can count on, I’m Walks On The Grass and I Will Never Surrender.
Wish I could understand why this new reflection must be so bittersweet, but it is. Sometimes even loving kindness can become the source of sorrow. When you least expect it another’s truth can be twisted into the very knife that breaks your heart of joy. For a moment you wonder if it would have been better to just walk on by and never have opened the box at all?
Curiosity is a risk most dare not take. Rather these seek safe harbor and find contentment there. For them, this is enough.
As for me, a resounding NO!
With each coming day I will continue to cheer for the unfolding triumphs of one precious soul who waited too long alone in the dark, wondering if he would ever find his way, seeking only the light of simple loving kindness.
Despite the singed hair, the hard lessons, and even the pain in my heart, I have no regret. Disappointments aside, taken in stride, my heart will continue to rejoice. Isn’t this all that really matters?
I wasn’t really sure what I was going to write about this week until this week. I had a wonderful New Year weekend. On Sunday I was blessed and honored by an old friend and his wife. As most of you already know I enjoy making music, singing and writing lyrics. Well, many years ago I met a very gifted young man named Butch Reno and we discovered we were both into music. Now Butch really doesn’t think it, but he is a very gifted guitarist and probably the only person in my entire musical career life that I’ve been able to just sit down with and the music we write together just happens. It’s amazing neither he or I really have much purpose or intent, much of a road map, we just sit down and it happens.
About 24 years ago, probably the last time Butch and I were together, I remember us sitting on the living room floor, Butch with his acoustic guitar and me with this stupid little tape recorder. In moments the music just happened. The words I sang, Who Am I, were a raw, emotional cry for help. When we finished I gave the tape to Butch and said, “Here Buddy, this is yours.”
Fast forward – God, I wish it had been a fast forward – after all those next years I spent in prison, I reached out to Butch again, just to touch base, let him know I’m home and see if maybe we could get together to reacquaint ourselves and catch up on what life has given or taken from us. Looking at Butch’s Facebook page and talking with him, I learned that he had married his beautiful wife Angie a few years ago and that they had lost their infant son at birth. I can’t even imagine the pain of that. I can’t imagine how he and Angie got through it other than sharing their grief and the help of friends and family. In time they managed to move on, not forgetting, not for one second, but continued to live.
So Butch and I talked several times and we decided that I would send some voice clips of vocal tracks over this phone thing, and he would try and put some music to it. We would try once again to rekindle the creative juices that just erupted anytime he and I were in a room together. Well it kind of worked and it kind of didn’t. I fired off several sets of lyrics to him; he fires off several guitar pieces to me, but we didn’t build anything. It wasn’t quite the same; something was missing.
Then when I was finally allowed to go out on Sunday visits, I asked Butch if he and Angie could pick me up so we could go have a cup of coffee or something. So Butch and Angie graciously came and took me to their home for a visit and some magic. Butch handed me a tablet with a few lines of a verse he had written and a sketch of what he wanted the bridge chorus to be. He said the song was about looking out the window after his son died, feeling completely lost and trying to find himself. Just the simple fact that Butch shared this with me, opening up all his vulnerabilities as a man in his grief and the pain in the words he wrote, however brief, showed me they were incredibly important and I knew this had to happen.
So I suggested he go get his guitar and show me what he’s got in mind; he did and the result is magical. We managed to get two verses and two choruses in before I had to leave. This song is important and needs more verses to adequately tell of the heartache, the anguish and the confusion Butch felt in those moments and his journey back to himself. I’ve got a couple more verses and choruses in mind to add next time we meet.
Few have ever felt pain so blinding in your soul and in your heart that nothing can make it better. All you can do is cry out your anguish and feel your pain, for the only place you can find any comfort is in your own pain and suffering. Being asked to write this song with Butch and given free lyrical license to write what I think needs to be written is surely one of the most humbling and highest honors I’ve ever received. The feelings come from the heart of a man who has suffered as I have suffered. Though the causes were totally different they were both devastating and life changing in their emotional impact.
Angie and I had never met, but Butch had spoken of me often and she had heard the original tape of who am I that we recorded 24 years ago and I’m sure she’d heard the story of how we just sat down and unlike anything that’s ever happened with any other artist that either of us has worked with, magic happened and it happened again that last Sunday. Finally I was free, I was able to create and sing and smile again. The smiles came from my heart and from the gifts given to us by the Creator, the talent to maybe hold a note, or to be able to play that note on a guitar, or to be able to think about that note and then play it or sing it, to create lyrics that mean something, that heal, that help ease the pain and share our burdens.
Butch and Angie, I owe you both a debt of gratitude and I’m humbled by your friendship, kindness and trust with something as important as this particular song. I hope to go back real soon so that we can finish. Like Butch I’m just grateful to have a good woman by my side. That in itself is a gift. We’ve talked and are in agreement that we both want to work on writing more original songs. We’re not looking to go out there and play a bunch of clubs and bars and all that crap with bands. I know I’m over all that.
What I’m not over and what I do want to do is write twelve or fourteen songs with Butch, polish them up and then just go into little places that normally would not have entertainment and just sit down and do an acoustic set for free for the folks there. In this way we can enjoy performing and share what we both know are gifts from the Creator.
Well, another installment in the never-ending saga of what the hell are these people thinking? Once again I am out of the long-acting insulin. I’ve been telling them for 3 weeks that I need more insulin. They say they will take care of it until all of a sudden I’m down to my last dose. So when I tell them they want me to go to Walmart today and buy an emergency bottle. Evidently the BOP’s health insurance must authorize every prescription refill the doctor from Central Counties Health Centers sends to the pharmacy. This is stupid to begin with if the prescription is valid the first time with refills it should be valid the second time, right?
Is it just me or is this world ridiculous? I’m not really trying to trip on that too much I’m just going to march myself over to Walmart and get the emergency bottle of insulin and let that be that until they can figure out how to keep a brittle diabetic from going into shock or a coma. This is the third time since August 31st that they’ve run out of my insulin! Yes, these are the people responsible for keeping me healthy and safe – you know the same ones who let a guy run into my room in the middle of the night to hide from a gunman outside looking for him. But we’re not going to go there; we’ve already been there and it did no good.
What I do want to talk about is change. We’ve all heard the clichés: change is good, change is inevitable, change is always for the better, the spice of life, yada yada yada. But change can also bring stress, pain and discomfort. I know I’ve gone through stressful changes often enough. Right now someone I love more than anything is going through this kind of change, uprooting her life to be with me. It isn’t easy and it’s kicking my butt to know there’s nothing I can do to help. I can’t alleviate her stress, I can’t make it any better or any faster or any less difficult. All I can do is be supportive.
You see, I’m going to always be supportive of her. I don’t care if she’s right or wrong, I’m going to support her. If she’s wrong, we’ll talk about it later, but until the smoke clears she’s right. To me that’s the idea of what a man and a woman’s relationship should be – support for each other, under any circumstances, in any situation, and at any cost. Those who follow my story are probably getting to know me fairly well, or at least the way I think and the way I see things, my perspectives on life.
Now here are a few new ones. Number one, there’s nothing that a man won’t do for the woman he loves; there’s nothing he won’t give up or work to change or try to make better in order to please her. Number two, I’m in love with the most beautiful woman in my world. Number three obviously refers to number one. So watching my beautiful woman go through these stressful changes, knowing that she’s doing it as much for me as for herself, without being able to help, without being able to physically hold her, comfort her, tell her that it’s all going to be okay … well, it’s very hard, and I can only imagine how hard it is for her.
But she’s a warrior – literally. She served this country, risked her life for this country and the values the people of this country hold. Not the stupid things the government tries to push off on us under the banner of “it’s good for you,” but the ideals of freedom, the right to practice your religion, the right to an education, the right to your own home and family and your safety as an American citizen. Yeah that’s my baby, and I thank her for her service. I thank all of our veterans for your service as well. Without your service we’d be in a world of hurt and for you to put in your service meant many changes in your life, changing your comfort zones, changing the very fact of your existence at that point. I honor you and I respect you.
Some other changes are needed too, like some of us need to change our attitudes. I’m certainly working on mine. I know I’m a work in progress and sometimes I feel like an experiment in human development but that’s okay too. I’m heading for a big change in about a week when I start college full time! I’ve got a full load planned for Spring semester, and I plan on carrying a full load each semester for the next year. I’m happy about that change because every minute I’m in that class I’m going to be absorbing new information, and that too means change – mental change, educational change, and change in my qualifications to fulfill my dreams of becoming a certified alcohol and drug counselor or a juvenile delinquency counselor.
I’m trying to give back some of what I took. I’m trying to change; I’m trying to send the wheel back around in a good way, just like my baby is trying to do the wheel of our love. Our relationship didn’t just start. It goes back decades. In fact, our personal belief is it didn’t start even in this lifetime. The ties are too strong, the bonds are too obvious and the love too deep to have been just this time around. We’ve been together before, we’ll be together again, and we’ll also be together soon. That’s the payoff for the pain of change in this instance.
I want to say one more thing about change. On Christmas Day there was a change in my shape. Bab, my sister-in-law made lasagna and I became distinctly rounder. And no I am not sorry at all. I ate like a pig on Christmas eve and then I came back here and did it again cuz Babs sent me back with a heaping plate full. Thanks to my family I had the best Christmas ever.
I’m not going to roll on and on about how everything changes but something I said last week is making a lot of sense to me right now. Not everything that’s bad is bad; sometimes good things come out of bad. Just look at what’s happening for me right now. I’m Walks On The Grass and I Will Never Surrender. I will however embrace change – and my beautiful Janice when she gets here.
*** Founded in 2005, the Patriot Guard Riders is an all-volunteer organization whose members attend the funerals of members of the U.S. military and first responders at the invitation of a decedent’s family. The group forms a voluntary honor guard at military burials, helps protect mourners from harassment and fills out the ranks at burials of indigent and homeless veterans. Wikipedia
Well here we are again my friends. Another week is almost gone and this one is particularly fortuitous simply because it’s Christmas time. Christmas Eve is tomorrow and I’m spending it with my family. Here where I am now, in Springfield, Illinois, there’s a horribly, horribly cold-cold-cold front moving through. Some of the temperatures are near record-breaking.
At 5:30 this morning when I went outside for my prayers, it was minus 7° with a 35° below zero wind-chill factor. Needless to say, I trust the Creator understood my haste as I did my directional prayers with my tobacco offering already in my right hand and my eagle feather in my left hand. So I made my offering immediately after my prayers. Then I high-tailed it back inside cuz it was Burrrr cold!
Now this is my first winter back in the Midwest after spending many years in the South, so I’m not really acclimated to temperatures like this anymore. I’ve been preparing for the winter for months now. In fact, Sings Many Songs got me this good thick coat. It keeps my whole upper body perfectly warm even with the -35 wind chill. And of course, the love of my life, my beautiful Janice, knitted me this beautiful scarf that saved my butt when it’s so cold that if I’d have gone outside without it I probably would have risked frostbite. This coat and scarf, simple as they may seem are two of my most cherished possessions. I’m not really a materialistic guy but for these I will be. See, you may see them as just a coat and a scarf, but I see them as gifts of love, meant to help keep me safe and warm and comfortable and able to approach the Creator without having to risk freezing to death. While I am willing to sacrifice in my Approach to the Creator, I don’t think he wants my fingers or toes; I think my heart and my soul and my mind are enough. I don’t presume to speak for the Creator but I do presume to speak to him.
The Creator has made clear and obvious efforts to change the life of a man like me and I’m quite sure he understands exactly what I’m saying here. If you don’t think so, just watch a squirrel building its nest or the birds that fly south getting ready for winter. For every season there is a time to prepare and everything has its own season. Every facet of our Lives has its own season. We just don’t get to choose when or where those seasons may fall; they are left to the wisdom of the Creator. All we can do is try to be prepared and allow our loved ones to help us in our Journeys as we should help them as we can and when we can. I’m not trying to go all philosophical or any of that, but what I am going to say is this: If you surround yourself with people who want to be better people themselves you will automatically become a better person. Consider the physics of that very scenario – goodness repels evil, and evil only exists because of goodness.
So if you put good and good together you’re not going to end up with evil or bad; you’re going to end up with better. That’s what the people around me make me – better. They help me find who I am, even in the blinding, freezing, raining, cold; they help me be better. And they definitely know, I love them and appreciate them and I don’t take them for granted.
I was speaking with a young lady today about praying. She said it seems like every time she tries to pray a million other thoughts come through her head. I told her I know, it’s funny because I struggled with this in the beginning of my spiritual walk. I figured out that to get my Approach to the Creator done, I needed to take a look at all the fleeting thoughts that came to me. After that I started counting each thought as a blessing instead of a hindrance to my prayers. Maybe there was something that I wasn’t giving enough attention to or maybe something that needed to be processed or something I don’t know or needed looking at more than I did initially and that’s why the thought was still there anyway.
I said all that to say this: Not everything that’s not good is bad. Look at the 35° below wind chill this morning while I was out there praying. It wasn’t bad. It was a chance for my loved ones to help me approach the Creator with a little comfort and warmth and it was also a visible, physical manifestation and expression of their love for me. Which reminds me of tomorrow and spending Christmas Eve with my family. Remember that lasagna I talked about over a year ago in a previous chapter? Well, tomorrow is lasagna day and my dream is coming true! Oh happy day! Thank you Bab! Your lasagna most surely is a fine expression of love. PS: Hope you have some Tupperware bowls.
So there’s only one thing I can do from this point on. Keep pushing. I’m Walks On The Grass and I Will Never Surrender.
Well here we are again. Another week has gone by with all sorts of frolicking activities; this place is just insane. Let me relate what I’m talking about. At the beginning of this week a guy upstairs, a BOP inmate, had $600 stolen out of his locker. Only one other person knew where it was and that person was to be released that day – and in fact he was released.
Quite understandably, the guy whose hard-earned money was stolen got upset about all this. So he told his counselor that he wanted to go open a bank account so that his money wouldn’t be stolen again. She refused to let him go. This guy got so upset with the way these people were acting that he packed up his belongings and walked out of the facility. During the time that he was away unauthorized, one of the other inmates called him on his phone and said, “Look man, just go back and talk to her, they won’t do anything, they’ll understand.”
So he did and when he talked to his counselor, she smiled pretty in his face and offered him all the consoling platitudes. She then told him to go upstairs and unpack his stuff; they would figure something out. What a mistake trusting her was because she had in fact figured something out. He went upstairs and unpacked his property. Then as he came out of his room to go downstairs and outside for a moment, he discovered the Marshalls there waiting for him. They put him on the wall, handcuffed him, and took him back into custody to a County Jail somewhere. This all happened because he wanted to open a bank account so that the money he had worked for wouldn’t be stolen again.
The next day when they packed up his property the staff took his phone and went through it. Evidently they found what they believed to be numerous drug transactions and nefarious activities conducted with other inmates living upstairs here in the halfway house. So once again, they’re talking about confiscating everyone’s phones and going through them and making sure you don’t have any contacts in them with the very people you live around all the time anyway.
It seems to me that the turmoil in this place is brought on by the very people who run the place. They totally fail to really render any aid whatsoever to anyone trying to reenter society. In fact it has been my observation that they absolutely have done nothing to help anyone I’m acquainted with in reentry, myself included. Let’s go down this chain of thought:
I arrived here August 31st. For the first week I was confined to the building, and while I did have a telephone it took them several days to give it to me. They hassled me because I couldn’t prove where I got it. Well it’s kind of hard not to figure that out that when I had just gotten out of prison I bought the damn thing. Where’s your receipt? What did I know? I threw it away; why would I keep it? The phone worked that’s all I needed to know. I bought the phone while waiting at the bus station. It kept me in touch with Sings and family members and friends throughout my travels on the bus coming here.
Yes, after just getting out I did have some problems adjusting. My PTSD (anxiety, stress and fears) were kicking in just thinking of all the unknowns ahead of me. Like a dummy I told my case managers this and asked for help; I said I’d like to speak with a counselor. “Oh, no problem,” they said, and scheduled me for an interview with a psychologist for the company. From that simple request they also determined that I was to be held from getting any freedom of movement at all because I might be a danger to society due to my PTSD issues. So I had to see the psychologist at least two times and then possibly a psychiatrist before they would allow me to even go out to look for a job or be around the public.
So it took a month to see this guy twice. The first time I met with him he determined the PTSD was very real but that I was not a threat to society nor was society a threat to me. He arranged for them to loosen the reins just a little bit. So I start looking for jobs and we all know how that went. No one wants to hire an old guy with a walker and particularly not one that just got out of prison.
Then I finally got to go out to the community college. Yes, I dealt with that fear and was pleasantly surprised by the helpful way people treated me. I was to apply for my grant and once I got that I would go ahead and register, pick my classes, and meet with my counselors. In other words, do all the things I’m supposed to do to become familiar with the campus. Now before classes start in January I have to learn how to get on the computers. The people here know that I’m going to have to have a computer to do my assignments, but guess what, this place won’t allow me to have a laptop. The first reason or excuse was, and I quote: “We don’t want you to have that much access to the internet.” end quote. So I pulled my phone out of my pocket, put it on Google Assistant and said, Google what’s the temperature in Istanbul?
Now Google and I ain’t never been friends and it’s a well-known fact that I’m going to kick his little butt if I ever get my hands on him but he told me the temperature, whereupon I turned and looked at him and said how much more access to the internet do I need than this phone. The computer is for college assignments not to surf the web — which by the way, I don’t know how to do anyway come to think of it. I’m just beginning but I’m making progress with my computer skill thing now as you know if you read last week’s article. I do know how to get to the area where my assignments will be managed.
I also recently turned in my applications for at least 10 different scholarships I may be eligible for so I was told. Hmm, 10 different ones, I’ll be satisfied with one; anything that will help me get through my education to do what I got to do and that’s to be a better man and to give back. No, I don’t claim to be an angel, in fact I make a lot of mistakes; it’s all part of learning how to navigate in the world that I don’t know.
But what I don’t need in my reentry efforts is a bunch of people who feel entitled to take multiple thousands of dollars a year for a job that’s supposed to help me bridge this gap when in fact all they’re about is laying back In the cut looking for someone to make a mistake so that they can penalize them for it and arbitrarily take away anything that might mean something to them. There’s been a lot of weird things going on around here lately. Every day they are singling people out, it seems they are deliberately trying to get rid of people. At least that’s what my senses are telling me.
It has come to my attention that this place is in trouble because they are about to lose their contracts with the BOP next year. So the more people they can get through here for a minimum of 60 days, the more money they’ll be able to get before they do lose their contracts. It seems like they’re looking for any excuses.
With this on my radar, I decided I was not going to be blindsided by a whim of somebody that doesn’t like me and has been on my chain from the moment I walked in the door. I’ve talked to all my family and explained to them what’s going on. I’ve made arrangements for somebody to pick up my property just in case of the ugliest possible scenario.
The bottom line, however, is even with all that’s going on and all that could go on, I’m still going to keep chasing my dream. I’m still going to keep being me. I’m still going to keep going to college, even if it might be delayed — or might not. I’m still going to keep loving the most wonderful woman in the world. I’m still going to keep loving the most wonderful family and friends that a man could possibly ever ask for, and I’m still going to be thankful for you for reading this.
Oh, and there’s one more thing I will never do. I’m Walks On The Grass and I Will Never Surrender.
Well there are some things that need to be said. The first one is yesterday I went out to the college and learned how to log into a computer. My tutor taught me how to get to the needed site, where my assignments will need to be posted, and how to log out. When he asked me how much I knew, I said, let’s start here: Where is the power button? LOL I took notes…lower left-hand corner in case any of you don’t know.
Getting that out of the way I felt very much a sense of accomplishment. It was amazing how proud I was at that moment. I had actually beat the computer that had me so cowed and in fear for several months. Now I know how to get on, put my lessons in, and submit them. This is important because I will not be getting any exemptions. I’m going to be treated like any other student and in hindsight I think I’d rather have it this way. I’m not special; I’m just a man.
I want to ask a couple questions. If you’ve read more than one sentence of my writings, raise your hand, and also note yes or no at the computer screen if you feel like I’ve put myself out there by, as someone I love said this morning, “Getting on the world wide web.” I never thought of it like that and I asked her if she meant with my stories I write? And she said, “No with that computer that you learned how to use yesterday.”
But that wasn’t what I thought of and it wasn’t what touched me to write on today. I want to tell you some things. First, everything I say on here I feel deeply, I believe to be true, and I pretty much don’t pull any punches. I’ve opened myself up, made myself vulnerable, handed you my heart-strong feelings on a screen and I’ve shared them with everybody and anybody who wants to read them.
For any who were interested I’ve related all the processes of everything I’ve been through, from getting ready to get out of prison, to finally acknowledging, “Yes I am getting out, this is happening,” and then actually dealing with moving towards the second that it happened. I’ve put my tears into this, I’ve put my failings in this and I’ve put my triumphs in this. And while they may not seem like much of a triumph to the world at large it has meant living in a world that remembers where I came from and how long I was there.
Twenty seven years ago I lost the love of my life. Truth of the matter is, she left because of me; because of my lifestyle, my attitudes, my propensity to commit crimes so horrible that no one should be allowed to do — and I wasn’t. As I’ve said before, I paid the price for that but I never told you about the greatest cost. My behavior cost me the woman I love more than anything in the world. She left because she was afraid of who I had become and who I would become if I was released.
Even with that she still supported me in front of the parole board as did her family by letters. In truth she was afraid that I would take her down with me in a hail of gunfire and I’m sorry to tell you that her fears were almost dead right on the money. I cannot blame her a bit for having left. After I came home the first time from the feds, I tried to find her. I gave a lump sum of money to an attorney and within a week he returned to report that she was dead. He said there was no record of her anymore, so she was dead and he suggested maybe I should move on with my life. The short and sweet of it, I went off the deep end; I wanted to die too. I just didn’t have the guts to keep going in a world without her.
As hard as this may be for some of you to believe, some men love their wives or lovers so deeply that there is no world without them. They may not tell you that when they have the remote on Sunday football. They may not tell you that you’re the reason they want to continue drawing breath and life. They may not tell you that you are in every smile and every thought and every action. But ladies, let me tell you something, that’s the truth of the matter. Most men won’t say it. They’re all stuck on that “Macho, I’m a man” thing, but the bottom of the matter is some men love that deeply.
So I picked up a weapon and I went out and committed a bunch of crimes hoping they would kill me upon apprehension. It didn’t work out that way. There’s nothing like having the law get the drop on you. Unless you’ve ever been in a situation like that you’ll never know what I’m speaking about in that instance. I hope to God, I hope by everything that’s sacred you don’t.
There’s nothing good in being bad. Let that one sentence stand on its own merit cuz it sure the hell can. The only thing in being bad is pain and anguish, loss and sorrow and hurting others. If you find anything good in that, turn this computer off and leave this page cuz this ain’t the place for you.
So, a month after I came home I received a Facebook friend request from someone with a name that struck me as odd and a face that looked hauntingly familiar so I thought I’d go ahead and accept. The information provided in the profile included things that intrigued me because there was really only one person who would know those dates and places. Then I saw a picture of a tattoo, the same tattoo I have on my left forearm. My wife, my ex-wife, Janice, designed it and had it put on her inner arm before I ever got it and in fact she gave the pattern to me. It was our credo and our little motto:
“Forever I have, Forever I will” …love you.
Immediately I responded with, “Where the hell did you get that tattoo?” There’s only one person in the world that I know of with that tattoo?!? She, of course, responded just as defensively. Months before, Janice had discovered my book, Long Road Home, on line and had read about my entire journey. Even before she reached out to me, she knew that I was a changed man but was still unsure about how I would accept her.
So let’s get to the Hallmark moment: This was indeed my Janice, the woman I’ve loved more than any woman ever. The same woman whose lost love was enough to drive me to near suicide by cop. Yes, some men love that deeply. I just happen to be one of them.
Now Janice has come back into my life – like a storm, a whirlwind, a hurricane! For you music lovers, yes she rocked me Like a Hurricane! She had been following me all those years, keeping tabs on where I was, and how I was, and when I was getting out. The same woman I thought was dead, the woman I spent 20 some years in prison loving so deeply that I couldn’t come out of it. I lived with the anguish of having lost that love without ever telling her how sorry I was for the things that I had done, for the person I was, and never having the chance to tell her I’m not that person anymore.
This woman has come back and she has given me the opportunity to tell her how sorry I am and that I understand why she left. I also understand that the lawyer that took my money and told me she was dead scammed and robbed me. There’s such a thing as karma and he has passed away as well, so I guess that money is gone, but I’d sacrifice that money a hundred times over, a thousand times over, for just one moment of her time, one “Good Morning,” one “I love you.”
As much as possible we talk every day. We are as deeply in love as two people can be and it’s not going to stop. This isn’t puppy love infatuation stuff, this love has endured for more than 25 years. Neither of us ever stopped loving the other. For her, enough to follow me all those years in her sorrow of having walked away. Me for all those years and my sorrow for having sent her away by my own behaviors.
Let me tell you something. I was wrong and she was right. I can’t get her to agree to that 100% but she sees my logic. Had I not been a bad man she would have still been with me all those years and I venture to say that had I changed before she left I would never have gone back to prison. Her love sustains me. She makes me want to be a better person just to make her proud to be my woman.
And now Janice, this woman, this amazing woman is in the process of turning her whole life upside down just to get back to me, to be with me! How powerful is that love? Have you ever felt love that strong? If not, I’m sorry; really, really sorry because until you do you’ll never understand just how powerful love can be.
So for the moment I’ll say this. Walmart wouldn’t hire me, so you won’t get to hear me say “Hi, Welcome to Walmart. Enjoy your shopping experience.” Evidently there are people more qualified to say that than I am. But that’s okay. Creator has my back and when the time is right I’ll find what I need to do. At this moment I’m waiting for a phone call from a company interested in the real qualifications on my resume. If after an in-person interview they decide to offer me a job I will be able to earn $18 an hour to train as a CNC (Computer something something) operator machinist. As you can see, I need the training. I can’t wait to go out to talk with them and then get to work. The work schedule won’t conflict too terribly with my college studies. I may have to rearrange my classes, but that’s alright. This is not a race, it’s an endeavor and besides that, Janice and I will need the income when we are remarried and move into our new apartment.