In 1986 when I was walking up the steps of United States Penitentiary Leavenworth I wasn’t so much afraid as I was overwhelmed. I mean I had been hearing about this place all my life in movies and whatnot, but once I was there I found it to be like any other maximum security prison, dangerous and tricky, but if you stayed aware and paid attention to what was going on around you, stayed out of the messes that can go on in these places, you were gonna be ok.
Well it wasn’t long and I was transferred out of Leavenworth and sent to USP Lompoc California, where I stayed for a couple years and then transferred out to USP Lewisburg, PA. It seems I just couldn’t stay out of trouble or the hole for more than a few months so I ended up hitting USP Terre Haute, USP Atlanta, and finally “Rockatraz,” USP Florence Colorado. Now I’m saying all this to help you see that I was literally thrown out of every one of these dangerous prisons; evidently too much of a problem for the most dangerous federal prisons in the country.
While I am certainly not proud of some of the things I did to get thrown out of these places, it has finally occurred to me that I started getting thrown out for my behavior long before Leavenworth. I have been thrown out of the free world, and yet, I was to further my exile in each and every danger zone the United States government sent me too. But then the epiphany, I changed and everything changed. I became a model prisoner, I began to give back to my community thru volunteering as a suicide watch companion and teaching Native beliefs and practices to the youngsters as a way of life other than the crime and hate that got them here. I learned how to be a human thru the Native American teachings and inspirations of some amazing people. But eventually, all of a sudden, I became afraid. Not afraid of the prisons, but afraid of the freedom rapidly approaching me because I had changed and I had earned my release date.
So I went thru the whole range of classic reactions to deep fears, from the nervousness and anxieties to sleepless nights, to countless hours wondering “What will I do?” Well, it’s funny how I came to this pass. Now I have just 19 days left; then I will be dropped off at the bus station in Birmingham. I will have no guards around me in a place where the world and predators at large don’t know anything about me but what they see – a little old man with a cane and a walker, a head full of gray-white hair and maybe a look of bafflement about him, almost as if he is trying to figure out the world around him – but what they won’t see is fear.
I’ve made up my mind, I’m not afraid anymore. I may not know what I’m facing, I may not know exactly what I’m doing, but one thing I am not going to do is let the world beat me into fear and or submission. I’m not gonna be afraid of the things I don’t know; I’ll learn them. I’m not gonna be afraid of people and places and all that either. It’s like this, I have lived and thrived where a lot of you couldn’t. I have made it thru the beast that is the U.S. prison system and have become a better man for it. It took all the danger and war stories to make me who I am, and I ain’t been afraid of this in decades.
Hell, I sleep with earplugs in and a stocking cap over my eyes. I know I am ready to get out and do the right things. I know where I am as far as mindset and desire; what I will need to get by is so much less than most of you, so every little thing I get is a luxury and truly appreciated. Now I just want to say this to all of you that have been truly concerned for me in my release to the mean old free world: Don’t be, cuz I’m not afraid of the world anymore. I will deal with it in its own terms and do what I need to in order to stay on the right side of the walls.
Ya wanna know a secret? There are millions of people in the world living their lives and they are not afraid either. The creator has my back and that’s all I need to know; push on into the next “right” thing and the Creator will handle the rest for me. After all what greater protection could there be? So I’m not gonna worry about “what if I cant.” I’m gonna rest on “I will…” and if something comes along that I ain’t sure of, well, I’ll just think about what I am, who I am and what I’m not. I am not afraid…
I first heard about a man called Ghost Dancer late in the summer of 2013. It was said he had remarkable knowledge of the ancient traditions, culture, language, and history of the Southeastern Creek Indian peoples, a special interest of mine. At the time Ghost Dancer was an inmate in federal prison. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I hoped to learn as much as I could, so armed with assurance from a trusted friend, “You will like him,” I took the chance and initiated contact. As promised, Ghost turned out to be a most kind and generous teacher as well as a spiritual leader and a warrior for human rights. His full name was Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer, aka James Keith Johnson.
In time our daily e-mail discussions turned to our personal life journeys. We found common ground and a trusting friendship began. Soon my husband, daughter and I went for a visit so we could meet and look one another in the eyes. An R.N. by profession, I immediately recognized the seriousness of Ghost’s physical disabilities. He was wheelchair bound with limited use of his arms and legs and he had been partially deaf most of his life. Over the years to come we would have the need to discuss details of his medical history and numerous illnesses in real time as his health slowly deteriorated. Ghost asked me to take custody of all his medical records and with them, came his criminal records as well, extending all the way back into the 1970’s. This sizable accumulation was shipped to me. In time I would study every document.
My intent was never to pry into Ghost’s private life but the reasons for his incarceration became a part of our conversation, at least in bits and pieces. What touched me was the emotion I heard in his voice whenever we spoke about his convictions. I soon recognized this as a desperate effort to articulate his deepest frustrations and to simply be heard. He pleaded not guilty at his trials and had continued to proclaim his innocence through more than a quarter-century in federal prison. In due time I would learn of the many contributing factors to the man’s lifelong struggles within state criminal justice systems that led up to his federal conviction and harsh, punitive sentence. I could see through the bravado, the cheerful façade he wore to cover his physical and mental suffering, and there was no doubt about the sincere remorse he felt for the suffering he had caused the people he loves. As my awareness grew so did my sense of advocacy and I began to think of our relationship as the Warrior and the Crone.
The efforts I made to understand this man and his struggles changed my complacent attitude toward the criminal justice system as a whole and inspired this elder to learn all I could. My entire life has been a learning process, questioning everything, and it still is. My contact with Ghost Dancer led me to become an active participant in the movement for much-needed reforms at every level of the criminal justice system. When I was a girl fretting over suffering animals, my mother always said I was the champion of the underdog. Once my eyes had been opened to a world of injustice I could never have imagined, I found myself once again a champion of the underdog.
My first exposure to the concept of wrongdoing within the criminal justice system came early on in my relationship with Ghost Dancer when I discovered an appalling account of his crimes and convictions on the internet written and posted by former Mississippi U.S. Attorney, Mr. John Hailman in 2014. Naturally this was disturbing but I resolved to follow my own instincts and to seek the truth for myself. I made no secret of my friendship with Ghost and when some of my friends also discovered Hailman’s malicious tale, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a maelstrom that cut to the bone. I learned a hard lesson on trust and friendship when I refused to walk away from Ghost. But the larger question was and still is, how much more did this one man’s slanderous lies hurt Ghost’s vulnerable and totally innocent loved ones? My heart hurt for their pain!
It would take years for me to piece together Ghost Dancer’s story and fully understand how Hailman had manipulated a few facts, twisting them into a fictional tale that totally mocks the truth. No matter how celebrated Mr. John Hailman may be in Oxford, Mississippi, to the depths of my soul this old crone finds the whole concept of a trusted public servant, an officer of the people’s court, capitalizing on the suffering of others for his own self-aggrandizement to be an abomination.
* It must be noted that as the U.S. Attorney, Hailman was only present at the grand jury hearing; he was not present at the actual trial. So the only testimony he was personally privy to was that of the FBI agent who made numerous false statements about the defendant just to get a grand jury indictment. With this in mind, we know that even if Hailman actually believed the lies he was spreading, he heard it first from the FBI.
As I would later learn, in the American criminal justice system, the prosecutor has almost limitless power over those accused of a crime with very little oversight or accountability. Only a man who had never been held accountable for his actions during a 30-year career as a prosecutor would have the gall to write such humiliating stories about people whose fate he had near total control over. Even criminals have wives and children who already suffer enough, so one must wonder why such an intelligent man is so insensitive to the pain his egotistical scribbling inflicts on innocents? With insights gained over years, I am now better prepared to challenge Prosecutor Hailman’s lies and slander against Ghost Dancer and offer my considered opinions to expose the role Mr. Hailman played in what I believe to have been a calculated and deliberate miscarriage of justice.
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As seen on the Internet:
John Hailman’s From Midnight to Guntown: Thunder Eagle
January 6, 2014
As a federal prosecutor in Mississippi for over thirty years, John Hailman worked with federal agents, lawyers, judges, and criminals of every stripe.
In From Midnight to Guntown, he recounts amazing trials and bad guy antics from the darkly humorous to the needlessly tragic.
In addition to bank robbers–generally the dumbest criminals–Hailman describes scam artists, hit men, protected witnesses, colorful informants, corrupt officials, bad guys with funny nicknames, over-the-top investigators, and those defendants who had a certain roguish charm. Several of his defendants and victims have since had whole books written about them: Dickie Scruggs, Emmett Till, Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, and Paddy Mitchell, leader of the most successful bank robbery gang of the twentieth century. But Hailman delivers the inside story no one else can. He also recounts his scary experiences after 9/11 when he prosecuted terrorism cases.
John Hailman was a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oxford for thirty-three years, was an inaugural Overby Fellow in journalism, and is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Thomas Jefferson on Wine from University Press of Mississippi.
Here is the eleventh installment of Midnight to Guntown by John Hailman: Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer Launders His Loot
James Keith Johnson was a veteran incompetent bank robber. His main claim to fame was his use of the fake but colorful pseudonym “Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer.” He was white with no Native American roots, but apparently just liked the name. He robbed two banks in north Florida on successive days in March 1995. As he was escaping from each bank, dye packs given him by the tellers exploded. Because the money was stained red by the dye, Ghost Dancer drove all the way to two casinos in Faraway Tunica to “launder” the money by feeding the red money into slot machine bill validators and “cashing out,” in effect exchanging dirty bills for clean ones. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Several people at each casino observed Ghost Dancer playing the slots. At Fitzgerald’s he hit a jackpot, winning $1,600 at a slot machine. Because of tax reporting requirements, casino employees made an IRS report of his gambling winnings. He foolishly used his real name, “James Keith Johnson” and his real social security number. The next day’s “soft count” of currency found several thousand dollars in red dye-stained money. Both casinos reviewed their videotapes for anyone having a connection to the red-stained money. Both soon identified a man and woman who matched the descriptions of Ghost Dancer and his girlfriend [Name omitted] playing slots where the red dye bills were discovered and taking large amounts of tokens to the cashiers.
Ghost Dancer testified at trial to both his gambling methods and his past legal entanglements, which included being in prison most of his adult life “for protecting women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.” He also claimed he was shot “through both eyes” by a sniper in Alabama, that he was the personal bodyguard for a U.S. Magistrate, and had suffered 72 broken bones while being “roasted” by federal agents. Strangely, he denied he was crazy. He claimed he was a registered Shaman for the Creek Indian Federation. The trial judge rejected his request to be allowed to enter the courtroom for trial in “a cloud of ritual smoke.” The judge also rejected Ghost Dancer’s proposed alibi witness, Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” a Satanist priest I had recently convicted (see Chapter 5). The judge sentenced Ghost Dancer to five years on top of his two lengthy Florida sentences. The Court of Appeals affirmed and Ghost Dancer was through dancing for many years.
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Line by Line – Prosecutor Hailman’s fairy tale exposed:
Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer Launders His Loot
Hailman: James Keith Johnson was a veteran incompetent bank robber. His main claim to fame was his use of the fake but colorful pseudonym “Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer.”
TRUTH:Hailman begins with a hearsay statement and announces his own ignorance, hate, and prejudice with an asinine remark about Ghost’s name. The fact is Ghost’s names have rich personal meaning to him. So meaningful, in fact that he had legally changed his name several years before.
Hailman: He was white with no Native American roots, but apparently just liked the name.
TRUTH: This remark about Ghost’s American Indian roots is an outright fabricated lie. The fact is, there are few if any full-blood Creeks living in the Southeast today, but that does not change who they are. Following the removal of the Creeks and related peoples from their Southeastern homeland in the 1830s, laws were passed in several states that discriminated against Indians who avoided removal. In the old days, mixed heritage families hid their true identity for fear of having their property stolen or being forced to leave their homeland. Many mixed heritage descendants living today have very different physical appearance than their distant ancestors. In the 1980s, Ghost’s father, mother, and grandmother gave sworn testimony and evidence of his Native blood lines and this was accepted as proof by a federal judge. As Mr. Hailman so aptly demonstrates, prejudice against these descendants who openly identify with their Native heritage is endemic still today all over the Southeast.
Hailman: He robbed two banks in north Florida on successive days in March 1995.
TRUTH: Hailman knows that Ghost was accused and convicted. He only assumes Ghost actually committed the crimes. All he really knows is that Ghost won a jackpot and a few small marked bills from one of the robberies turned up in the slot machine he played. This coincidence was very convenient for the FBI.
Hailman: As he was escaping from each bank, dye packs given him by the tellers exploded. Because the money was stained red by the dye, Ghost Dancer drove all the way to two casinos in Faraway Tunica to “launder” the money by feeding the red money into slot machine bill validators and “cashing out,” in effect exchanging dirty bills for clean ones. It didn’t quite work out that way.
TRUTH: Hailman made up this scenario to fit his narrative! The first time Ghost went to a Mississippi casino, he and his wife had been travelling on the way home from a trip to Arkansas to dig crystals. One of the creative ways the couple made their living was digging and selling crystals. The work was hard, but profitable. They stopped at the casino early in the morning for coffee and a bite to eat. Ghost played the slots for a bit while they ate and he won some money. Hailman clearly implies they were there to launder red-dye stained bills, but the fact is, there was nothing irregular ever found in the one and only machine Ghost played.
Sometime later, Ghost and his wife made a special trip to Mississippi so he could try out a theory he had on how to win a jackpot. This is when they went to Fitzgerald’s, the second casino. The fact is, Ghost only played one machine that day and only a few low denomination marked bills from one of the Florida banks were later found in that machine.Source: testimony from trial transcripts.
Hailman: Several people at each casino observed Ghost Dancer playing the slots.
TRUTH: Once again, by innuendo, Hailman embroiders the facts misleading the reader to believe there was wrongdoing at the first casino, when in fact he knew none existed. Of course they were observed by staff members at both casinos who served them food and drink and even stood around watching. Source: testimony from trial transcripts.
Hailman: At Fitzgerald’s he hit a jackpot, winning $1,600 at a slot machine. Because of tax reporting requirements, casino employees made an IRS report of his gambling winnings. He foolishly used his real name, “James Keith Johnson” and his real social security number. The next day’s “soft count” of currency found several thousand dollars in red dye-stained money.
TRUTH: Perhaps the only honest statement in this entire story is that Ghost gave them his “real” name which matched his social security number. That would have been pretty foolish if he were indeed in there to “launder his loot.” Then Mr. Hailman goes on to imply a whopper so egregious one would think it would hurt even a crooked prosecutor’s conscience. The fact is, there were only those few small bills found in the one and only machine Ghost had played all day. There was indeed red dye-stained money found in the casino, but according to testimony from the casino security expert and FBI agent, the bills were scattered through 35 to 38 other machines that Ghost did NOT play. Testimony also revealed that around the same time, red-dye stained money from many different bank robberies showed up in numerous other Mississippi casinos and there was absolutely no evidence that Ghost or his wife were ever in any of these places. Source: testimony from trial transcripts.
Hailman: Both casinos reviewed their videotapes for anyone having a connection to the red-stained money. Both soon identified a man and woman who matched the descriptions of Ghost Dancer and his girlfriend [Name omitted] playing slots where the red dye bills were discovered and taking large amounts of tokens to the cashiers.
TRUTH: Once again, Hailman repeats the lying innuendo that red-stained money had been found in the machine Ghost played at the first casino they visited. Furthermore, though there were also a few small marked bills in the machine his wife played, the woman identified by name was never accused, tried or convicted of committing any crime. To mention her name is both slanderous and hateful. Hailman is simply a bully so full of himself he had no concern for the immense suffering he caused this innocent woman just because he could.
Author: In this next part, Hailman went to great lengths to ridicule Ghost for a number of statements he made in the courtroom. For what purpose Hailman highlighted these statements I do not know other than to demonstrate his implied opinion that the man was “crazy.” Though we had talked about these incidents previously, I questioned Ghost specifically trying to get a clear picture in my mind.
Hailman: Ghost Dancer testified at trial to both his gambling methods and his past legal entanglements, which included being in prison most of his adult life “for protecting women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.”
TRUTH: Even at an early age, Ghost felt pulled to follow the ways of his Creek ancestors. When Ghost was just 14 years old, he heard something on the radio about Native elders gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for a “spiritual awakening.” Knowing his parents would not approve, the headstrong boy planned his trip and without a word to anyone, rode his motorcycle all the way from Alabama to South Dakota. His goal was to meet some of Indian Country’s most revered spiritual leaders gathered there and he did indeed sit with the elders including honored Muscogee Creek spiritual leaders from Oklahoma.
This boy knew nothing about the legal implications of the standoff at Wounded Knee between the FBI and leaders of AIM, the American Indian Movement. He was never an active part of the standoff, but he did meet the principal political leaders and got caught up in the drama. Amid the chaos Ghost became convinced of the direct threat to the women and children at Pine Ridge. He believed it to be his duty as a warrior to do what he could to protect them as if they were each and every one his family. As Ghost explained to me, in his naiveté he believed he was saving the world. In the eyes of the federal government he would become a marked man and indeed would pay a very high price for years to come.South Dakota Summers
Hailman: He also claimed he was shot “through both eyes” by a sniper in Alabama, that he was the personal bodyguard for a U.S. Magistrate and had suffered 72 broken bones while being “roasted” by federal agents. Strangely, he denied he was crazy.
TRUTH:A few years after Ghost took that trip to South Dakota, he once again made a bad decision and got in trouble with the law. He served his sentence and later went to work for the State Trooper’s office in Hamilton, ALdoing maintenance and repairs on official vehicles. While at work, he was hit in both eyes by fragments when a sniper with a grievance against the troopers fired into the compound. Ghost was taken by State Troopers to the Helen Keller Eye Institute for treatment. He still bears the scars. At another time, while on work-release in Florida, Ghost did indeed work as the personnel body guard of retired U.S. Magistrate, Charles Land. And yes, the FBI was still stalking him all along. Furthermore, to characterize someone whose world view is different as “crazy” as Hailman has done shows ignorance and hatefulness. To ridicule anyone who truly is mentally ill is perverse and pathetic.
Hailman: He claimed he was a registered Shaman for the Creek Indian Federation. The trial judge rejected his request to be allowed to enter the courtroom for trial in “a cloud of ritual smoke.”
TRUTH: Ghost was and still is recognized as a spiritual leader, healer and counselor by many Creeks and Natives of many Nations, both outside and inside prison. Hailman’s “cloud of ritual smoke” is a crude way of describing a near-universal and time-honored ceremonial burning of a small bit of sage or cedar to purify and send prayers to the Creator. To a spiritual Native person, this would be an appropriate request in the circumstances. This particular choice of words serves to illustrate Hailman’s ignorance, arrogance and insensitivity to cultural practices foreign to him.
Hailman: The judge also rejected Ghost Dancer’s proposed alibi witness, Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” a Satanist priest I had recently convicted (see Chapter 5).
TRUTH: When I asked Ghost who this Danny Schertz was he told me the guy was a prisoner at the Oxford jail when he got there. They were not formerly acquainted. When Ghost told Schertz what he had been arrested for, Schertz and several other inmates told him about another inmate named Ron Maxwell who had been bragging to everyone about all his bank robberies and going to the casinos.
Curiously, Hailman never mentions this Maxwell who did indeed admit to robbing the two Florida banks and did indeed offer an alibi, but he specifically mentions Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” as a Satanist priest. This elaboration is so damning it effectively plants a seed in the minds of gullible readers that Ghost was himself somehow involved in some evil satanic cult. Little wonder my former friends were so outraged believing I was somehow consorting with the devil.
This slick innuendo would be my first taste of the ruthlessness of some prosecutors. I would later learn much more about the power prosecutors hold and I would discover their motives are not always to seek truth and justice, just as the motives of a public defender are not always to vigorously defend the accused.
Hailman: The judge sentenced Ghost Dancer to five years on top of his two lengthy Florida sentences. The Court of Appeals affirmed and Ghost Dancer was through dancing for many years.
TRUTH: Clever little ending, but Hailman’s conclusion isn’t true either. What Prosecutor Hailman fails to understand is that Ghost has never stopped dancing… You can lock a man in a cell, but you cannot imprison his mind. To “dance” is be alive in spirit, to grow, to be productive, to honor all of creation, and to be of service to others – to be Ghost Dancer.
From My Kitchen Table – The rest of the story
Once records of both of Ghost’s trials came into my hands, I studied every scrap of evidence and testimony as well as the notes and reports made by other advocates and investigators long before my time. Many thoughts came to mind. If the Judicial Oversight Committee in Washington read even the Mississippi Grand Jury transcripts they would be shocked. The FBI ran and coordinated the entire investigation for both trials and the testimony of the federal agent in Mississippi about the Florida robberies and other false information clearly prejudiced the grand jury. Mr. Hailman most certainly knew this from reviewing all the records or should have. Under the law, even an FBI agent is only allowed to testify to what they have personal knowledge of, not hearsay or what they think or believe but the fact is lying to get a conviction is common practice and has been for years! See Appeals Court
Among the records in my possession is a hand-written letter Ron Maxwell sent to Ghost’s attorney in Florida describing in detail how and why he had robbed the two banks in Tallahassee and Panama City and passed off the bills at a number of casinos in Mississippi. I find it curious that Mr. Maxwell’s testimony in Mississippi was so easily dismissed by the prosecution who got Maxwell to say he had trouble with telling the truth. Perhaps it’s cynical of me, but after learning about the rampant misuse of plea bargaining, I really wonder what sweet deal Ron Maxwell was offered by US Attorney John Hailman to shut up. The FBI of course provided his alibi.
In fact, discrediting every one of Ghost’s witnesses seemed to be a cinch in both trials. The alibi testimony of every single defense witness was nit-picked to the bone by the equally egregious prosecutor in the Florida trial, making seven valid witnesses look like so many idiots and liars willing to perjure themselves in a court of law and all the while counsel for the defense sat silently by. I wonder why some other witnesses who could offer irrefutable proof were never even questioned or felt so intimidated after a visit from the G-men they were afraid to testify.
At trial, the testimony of several prosecution witnesses bore little resemblance to initial police reports or investigative best practices while blatant misrepresentations and outright lies were blithely explained away, unchallenged by the defense. There are also a few curiosities in the records. Like the witness testimony of an FBI agent that changed from one trial to the other and the casino employee who personally cherry picked a segment of security tapes showing Mr. Johnson to present as evidence but cut out the remainder of the tape that may also have contained valuable evidence. How can that be?
Maybe I’m naïve and I’ve watched too many Matlock reruns, but at a fundamental common-sense level, I really must wonder about all this and some glaring omissions I’ve noticed. In Florida, police reports of actual witness statements about the get-away car were varied, vague and inconclusive. But at least one witness came forward who had actually stood close by and watched the robber get in his car. She could give an accurate description of the man and the vehicle, but for some reason this woman was never called to testify. She even physically showed up at trial and approached the attorneys outside the courtroom during a recess. This woman was overheard by people nearby loudly insisting they had the wrong man.
So how can it be that at in this hurried 2-day trial, a photo of the vehicle belonging to Ghost’s wife was presented to the jury and identified as the robber’s actual getaway car? The police report clearly identified several witnesses who had seen the robber running with red smoke streaming out of the pouch he carried, but in truth this very vehicle had never been impounded or even inspected by forensic investigators for evidence of red dye! Not by the prosecution! Not by the defense! So what am I missing here? Wouldn’t examining that car have been a critical part of the investigation to determine the suspect’s actual guilt or innocence?
Could this entire scenario be a glaring example of FBI manipulation, prosecutor misconduct, and ineffective defense counsel? Perhaps counsel for the defense was too intimidated himself and this is why when urged by his client to object to outright provable lies from a deputy sheriff, he flat refused to “throw dirt on law enforcement.” Did the young public defender’s ambitions for his career and future judgeship take precedence over justice for his client?
Over in Mississippi, something else strikes me as odd. Not saying that I’m an expert on criminal behavior, but it seems to me that if I were going into a casino with the intention to launder thousands of dollars of stolen dye-stained bills, I would want to keep a low profile and not attract attention to myself. But from what I understand, the day Ghost won that jackpot, he entered the casino all decked out in his Native regalia, replete with jewelry and wearing boots that increased his normal 6’ 4” frame at least another couple of inches.
No wonder, as the testimony states, the staff were all standing around for hours watching this flamboyant giant play that one single machine and giving him great service for those generous tips. Surely the security cameras were trained on him every second as well, so nothing he did could have escaped observation. At trial, the prosecution also made an elaborate production to inform the jury about the nature of red dye-stained bills and how the impossible it is to remove the dye when it gets on someone’s hands. Yes, they planted a seed in the minds of the jury, but isn’t it curious that of all those staff members standing around while he played, not one ever noticed any dye-stained bills or dye stains on Ghost Dancer’s hands?
And there’s that other small matter Mr. Hailman failed to mention – according to testimony, in addition to the few small marked bills later found in Ghost Dancer’s machine, there were also stolen bills–lots of them–found in as many as 38 other machines he did NOT play and in many other casinos he could prove he never visited. Mr. Hailman did get one thing right though, it would be pretty dumb for a criminal to actually give his correct identification information! Could it possibly be Ghost Dancer really was just there that day with a plan and intent to beat the odds against winning a jackpot as he said at trial? Could the failure to point this out also be the result of indifferent, uninspired and ineffective defense counsel?
These are the musings of one disillusioned old crone now on the cusp of 84 years. I truly owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Hailman for helping open my eyes. Before I made the effort to educate myself, I had no clue that lady justice has a few more covert ways to balance the scales than most everyday folk realize. Here was an ex-con out on parole trying to build a new life with the woman he loved. Yes, he was angry and hostile about the way he had been treated, but he honestly believed the facts would prove his innocence, so he may have come across as a bit too self assured. Ghost always has been his own person, committed to his beliefs and a fearless and dedicated activist for Native rights. Those in control were often totally unsympathetic to the causes he espoused, portraying him as not too bright, certainly weird or even crazy, and otherwise unfit to exist in respectable society.
We now know that Ghost Dancer’s profile was, and still is, on the FBI radar and has been since he was a kid and got himself caught up with AIM. What a perfect set-up for Joseph Tierney, the hard-nosed FBI special agent who seemed to have played a role in targeting Ghost all those years. After all, this man did say to Ghost that fateful day in 1995, “Well, Ghost you do know that I’m sick of putting you away and they keep letting you back out. So you know what? This time I will make sure you never ever get free again.”See here Could it be Tierney really meant he would stop at nothing to tie up a lot of dead ends and to put this “troublemaker” away for good?
Even these untrained eyes can see a lot of contrived evidence & dubious testimony but no irrefutable proof that Ghost was in any way connected to those bank robberies. Two key witnesses who positively identified Ghost as the man in the bank security video were not bank employees. One was a former female parole officer Ghost had filed a complaint on for unprofessional conduct. She was presented in court simply as a woman who knew Ghost intimately. His actual parole officer who did know Ghost very well and had granted him permission to travel around the country, refused to make a positive identification from the bank’s security video and was not called to testify.
The other was a bank customer who just happened to walk into the bank at the exact moment the robber was about to run out. In his haste, the robber had dropped some $20 bills and the witness told police investigators at the scene he had only seen him bent over reaching for the bills. This person clearly saw the $20 bills and noted the color of the man’s shirt in that two-second encounter, but said he did not see the robber’s face. Yet at trial he positively identified Ghost as the robber when the bank employees themselves gave conflicting testimony and none could be sure of their identification. One has to wonder how well his palm was greased to perjure himself?
The robber shown in the video was clearly shorter and heavier than Ghost. He wore a long, straight pony tail. Ghost was tall and thin with short, curly, even bushy hair.
These are all things that baffle a curious old crone. Even if the entire criminal justice system has forgotten that sacred rule, “beyond a shadow of a doubt” amid all the high-sounding official legalese, I most certainly have not. Only a few small bills were found in the one machine Ghost played for hours. Yet somehow the FBI managed to tie it all together and pin the whole sordid mess on one hapless “crazy” who claimed he was innocent from the get-go and fought like a bear against all odds trying to prove it. I’m told that in the vernacular of the crime world that is called being railroaded.
According to The Innocence Project, there are an estimated 20,000 innocent people locked up in our state and federal prison system at taxpayer expense because of incompetency and corruption at every level of the criminal justice system. Not a day goes by that I do not read at least one news story about someone who has been exonerated after decades of their lives have been stolen from them. Investigating complicated old cases like Ghost’s would be extremely expensive. With thousands of applications they can only afford to accept cases that can be resolved by DNA evidence.
So thanks to Hailman bragging about his triumphs, I was given a rude introduction into the dark side of American justice. As a result, quite aside from my association with Ghost Dancer, I determined to find out what I had been missing. So I subscribed to or joined a number of criminal justice reform activist organizations, including The Marshall Project, The Innocence Project, FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), Justice Action Network, Restorative Justice Information Exchange,The Failing U.S. Justice System, and others, all dedicated to righting wrongs, educating people about the myriad abuses, and seeking reforms to make our criminal justice system more just and fair. What an education this turned out to be.
Once a person learns a truth, that knowledge can never be unlearned! Not that everyone should be condemned, I’m not suggesting that, but after learning the extent of corruption and misconduct inherent in the system, from the Congress, Department of Justice and FBI on down through the state and federal courts and prison industrial complex, there can be no such thing as turning a blind eye or remaining complacent about wrongdoing. As for Mr. Hailman, what he did writing this twisted story may be legal in the eyes of the law, and perfectly acceptable in the culture of provincial Mississippi, but by no measure can it be deemed ethical. My efforts may not have much of an impact for meaningful criminal justice reforms, but in my limited way I try to bring certain realities to the attention of others who may be as naïve and complacent as I was.
Whatever mistakes Ghost made as a callow youth to screw up his life, I know he never deserved the harsh punishment that was been heaped upon his head and he certainly did not deserve a virtual death sentence. This one man and Hailman’s exploitation of his tragic story, changed my attitude toward the system of justice that I had always believed to be above reproach. Hopefully the Warrior and the Crone will live to have see the day when their faith in the goodness of the American system of justice is restored.
When the Covid Pandemic hit early in 2020, the response by the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) was swift, chaotic and harsh. The total lockdown – 24/7 solitary confinement for weeks on end – is normally meted out as the harshest form of punishment. Ghost’s health was already fragile and he fell within the guidelines to apply for a compassionate release so he initiated the process through the BOP system and was denied.
Ghost had no money to hire an attorney, so he decided to go ahead with the next step and file pro se motions for compassionate release to both judges who had presided over his trials and convictions. It was my honor to assist him from the outside to get this done. By September 2020, we had all the necessary elements gathered into respectable legal documents including letters of appeal from from family and friends. Then we submitted identical motions to the Federal Courts in Florida and Mississippi.
Very shortly thereafter the judge in Florida granted the motion. Ghost expected Mississippi to follow suit. This did not happen. We later learned the judge had shuffled a flood of pro se motions over to the U.S. Public Defender in Oxford, MS. Despite being overwhelmed, they kept in touch and worked hard in their representation. As the months dragged on, Ghost’s health made a rapid decline and he suffered several episodes of cardiac arrest. Each time the Public Defender filed emergency relief motions to the Mississippi court. Each time the prosecution objected and the court denied. Finally after an entire year, and several appeals for mercy, the court in Mississippi reluctantly mustered some compassion and granted Ghost’s immediate release in October 2021.
Immediately the BOP literally threw him out, dumped him at the bus station, wheelchair and all, to make his way home. . . but that’s another story. Since then Ghost has been back with his beloved wife and together they have been working hard to get his health restored and enjoying many new and supportive friendships.
During those 27 lost years, Ghost suffered dearly from medical abuse and neglect while in the custody of the BOP. A sweeping Supreme Court ruling in June of 2022, gives absolute immunity for all federal officials, thus slamming the door on his ever receiving just compensation for damages in a court of law.
Expectations. We all have ‘em, like when you go to a restaurant and order food, you expect it to come out well prepared and to your expectations of delicious. Or when you see a big dog growling and barking, you expect it to be mean or a threat. Unless you’re Cesar Milan and wanna try to whisper to the nice doggie, you get the heck out of there to someplace where Cujo can’t get ya. (That would be me, I do not care at all for mean dogs.)
But that’s really not what this is about. This is about people and the things we hold on to or the false fronts we put up with each other. Just as everyone has likes and dislikes, we all have certain things we “expect” from others and ourselves as well. For instance I don’t expect people to forget that in my early and younger days I was a fairly dangerous and deceitful person, not worth a tinkers damn. I could not be trusted to anything except what I wanted for me, or what I felt was of gain to me, regardless of who I hurt or who I deceived or who I mistreated, either by deception or out and out theft. See, that was wrong. My behavior was horrible and totally unacceptable. Such behavior is wrong for anyone, but for me to have treated people like that became my burden. At this point, I’ve begged forgiveness as much as I can or will. I have forgiven myself for all the nasty things I did. I have been told I’m forgiven by most of the people in my life and so it’s time to just move on.
Now that I have paid my debt in full I don’t look to intrude my expectations upon anyone, and I certainly would not expect anyone to just “forget.” If you have heard from me that I am sorry and acted like you accepted my apology, then let it be that. Isn’t that what anyone would expect if they had made mistakes and then paid for them whatever the cost came to be? At this point haven’t you earned redemption, or if not redemption, then at least the chance to move freely around for the remainder of your life without having to “prove” yourself to anyone?
See, it’s like this, I have things to do and things to still make up for, but not to you or for you, but for me and to myself. Yes, that’s right – to and for myself! Even though I made a mess of things in the past – 20, 30, 40 years ago – it’s time to let that go, especially on the forgiveness part. See, I know the real changes in my own self. I know the many nights I laid in these prison cells and silently sobbed myself to sleep thinking of the cruddy things I had done in the past to those I love or claimed to love. I know how heartfelt my prayers were, begging the Creator to fix me or kill me in here, to show me how to not be a demanding, self-serving person, to show me how to care for people as people and to not lose myself to the harsh treatment of my keepers. I begged for the strength to not become the animal they pretend I am so that they can justify the sick and demented way they treat everyone in prison, like we are less than human, not men with feelings and beliefs and desires, and here’s the big one, regrets.
When I go home I do not for one second have great expectations on how I will be received by the people I have wronged in the past, nor do I feel that I am obligated to prove anything to anyone. Beyond that, I will continue to answer to the Creator first and second, to myself. Even the person whom I respect and admire and love more than any living human being I know, will have to just go with her trust in me. This person has already said it is not her place to judge or forgive; she never met that long-ago person and sees only the good in my heart. While I have no doubt about her unconditional love and concern for me, I also have no right to have the expectation of that love.
See, it’s like this: In my past 20 years of change for the better, I have learned many things, about myself and life and people and how it is to be a good person as opposed to a bad person. The change starts within and that’s where it ends – within yourself – and if others don’t see it then it’s because they don’t want to. There is no proving you have changed, you either have or you haven’t. There is no proving you forgive, you either do or you don’t, and there darn sure are no degrees or term limits on how long or what you will need to present to others to prove anything. You are either going to be worth life and respect, or you’re not.
People who live in glass houses should never forget that they, too, have made mistakes. Were they caught or did they try to repair the damage? Did they make any attempt in their lives to do better and truly forgive themselves and others? I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you have found it in your heart to forgive me, then I beg one more boon of forgiveness from you. Forgive me if I don’t spend my time trying to prove to you that I have changed. I will be far too busy living what’s left of my life and doing the positive things I have planned, to meet your expectations or to put any on you…
I can’t get over it, I’m actually at a loss of words over this, I watch the news and within 5 minutes I’ve seen Fox trash everyone that’s not a conservative Republican. Then I walk across the day room and watch CNN trash everyone that’s not a 100% dyed in the wool liberal Democrat. And between the 2 sides they manage to pass the blame for the state of the nation back and forth, but neither offers any cure or a solution to all the issues from the price of gas to everything else.
One thing that particularly galls me is the fact that they keep letting these criminals out of jail without them paying for their crimes. It may surprise you to learn that I believe in the penalization of law breakers and especially violent criminals. I believe that if you do the crime you should do the time.
The nation is in crisis and the bickering isn’t getting anything accomplished. I didn’t care for Trump’s antics, but I’m not convinced he didn’t leave this country in a better place than where he came in. Then within a year or so Biden has managed to destroy the economy, make us the laughing-stock nation of the world and run us into a crisis state.
It appears to me no one wants to work, no one can afford gas, no one is doing anything but scraping the bottom of the barrel to get by. People are killing each other like never before in history, the major cities are war zones where the innocent are the victims and every time I turn around we have more controversy about the border. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong but I do know that in just a month I’m being released to a world that’s in way worse shape than when I left it.
I remember that when I left making ends meet was already hard for families, but nothing like this. Now I’m not ranting, I’m just expressing my concern over a government that has all the power, but not the will to govern and work to solve problems. We have an economy that’s a mess, a job market that’s a catastrophe and civil discord that’s one step from anarchy. Then you have to factor in all the crazy “woke” stuff.
News flash, I am not ashamed of who or what I am. I am certainly not the oppressor of anyone and I don’t feel guilty about my race, color, or beliefs. I do feel contempt for the people behind all the hate, fear and propaganda that is thrown around and dished out on a daily basis all for political gain.
See, I refuse to let all this shake my faith in humanity and the fact that people with different ideas are not all bad. The world is full of kind and compassionate people and it is a dang shame that some people refuse to nurture and cultivate this fact and just want to sling venom and hate. Man, ain’t it bad enough we’ve gotta try to navigate a world where everyone is so busy blaming those “others” that they can’t take time to examine the various points of view and consider real solutions?
Isn’t it beyond belief that when all the misdeeds in every quarter finally start coming to light, no one wants to talk or question them? There is this grand scheme to punish Trump but what about Hunter’s laptop? What about Pelosi and her playboy husband? What about Hillary’s complicity in lying about Trump and the Russians? And what in the name of all that’s powerful is up with Pelosi elbowing a little girl out of a picture? Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to respect that behavior? No!
Now this show mess they cooked up over the trump people has cost the Nation millions to investigate, when the truth is one side is as corrupt as the other. It doesn’t matter what color you paint a politician, red, blue, or purple, still gonna wind up the same way, corrupt. The soul of our nation is in need of pity and prayer. OK, I said it. I told Sings I was gonna, and we all know I don’t bite my tongue for anyone. “Mr. No Filter,” that’s me, so let me close that topic with this: Am I a Republican? Am I a Democrat? I don’t check either of these boxes. What I am is just a man who wants to see what’s best for the nation I love, and make no mistake, this is the greatest country in the world.
I’m just a tad bit frightened to get out into it with all the nonsense going on. Maybe I’d better do what Sings suggested, just don’t watch the news; just try to navigate thru the rest of my life and the day to day things I’ve gotta do, and I believe I’ll be ok. All I’ve gotta do is get up before the sun, pray to the Creator for the blessings and beauty and peace on the promise of a new day, pray for all of you and keep the simple truth in the forefront.
As long as we make a big deal out of the bad deeds of others, we empower them and give them credence. If I ignore the hate and the greed and the lies and the posturing I will surely be confronted with in 33 days, then I’ll have time to do all the things that I have plans and dreams for. I have so many thoughts about these things and what order I think I ought to attack them; there is a whole long list. Please for the love of all that’s good, tell someone how special they are to you today. I’m sure that we all get enough bad news, something nice is sure to matter. And please pray for me also. No question about the need on that front…
Many people believe that Native ways are simple and can be learned quickly. This is not only absurd but so far from real understanding. Just as in gaining insights on any subject, the more you seek the more you will find. And when you find the answers you seek, you realize there are so many more questions.
Most Natives just accept what is, while others, like myself, want to know more, connect more, understand more, and develop more in order to become one with everything. The concept of being one with everything is complex and has deep meaning when you go deep inside yourself to meet and find the real, true you. Then you come to understand that you are like a grain of sand on a beach, or a speck of star dust in the universe and yet, just as important in every aspect as anything else.
When you can feel the pain of those from the past, and the present at the same time, then you are beginning to make a small gain in your wave of light. Any truly spiritual person will tell you this quest is never ending; it is the beginning and there is no end. We as individuals chose what we seek. What we chose in this life, we will see reflected in our next life. Every aspect of life must come into balance. When we do wrong, at some point in time we will have to do right to correct this. And yes, we all know when we do something that is wrong. Our inner spirit tells us this from the get go.
Consider the Rose
Men: Have you ever truly looked at a rose and noticed the many different layers of petals? Did you know each layer of petals has a unique experience, emotional feeling, a different knowledge, a different concept? Have you considered why it is a custom to give a woman a rose? What are you actually saying when you do this? Truly stop and think. Did you think maybe she is very complex and her emotions know no bounds? Or is it that you just love her or think she is pretty? Is this a way of showing respect? Come on guys, tell me what you are thinking here!
When a woman receives a gift of roses, why does it make her happy? What connection does she feel to this rose? Does she understand the rose is part of her; that she too is as blessed as the rose? It is part of her body! It is a gift from Creator. She guards it with her heart, wits, goals and desires. Yes, it is her womb. You will notice that the woman and the rose are much alike.
Each has a bud where nectar is sprung. Each has layers of petals that must be guarding the real center of her universe. Her womb is the only place a new life can be created. And to get there you must understand every single emotion she has, every experience she has, every desire she has. This makes the rose blossom and bloom so beautifully and radiate that love outward.
And just as roses come in many colors, so is it with women. Each color represents different gifts and directions, yet they all are connected as a rose, all are the same when it comes to passion, desires, dreams, goals, securities, strength and weaknesses. All want love, respect, balance, life, and beauty in every way. Yes, they all have thorns too. For when you do one wrong, look out it comes with a price.
Consider the Butterfly
Now ladies, have you ever thought about a butterfly and compared it to a man? Why not? Man is like a butterfly. Stop and think for a moment with me. Let’s look at man. We know in his youth he is really a footloose, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants person. We know he has many ambitions, and egos. We know he can be stubborn and bull headed, and just won’t take time to listen.
If you really observe the butterfly, you will see how it will fly against the wind no matter how much the wind blows it backwards and it has to start again. A butterfly will flutter from place to place aimlessly, until it sees a flower to investigate. It will try to love the flower, even if it’s just for a moment. Even when it finds the most beautiful flower that really draws its heart, it will look in other directions. The butterfly doesn’t know why. It doesn’t stop to think about how lucky it is.
Then, at last, the butterfly finds contentment, finds its true nectar of life. It will linger and just drink in the love till it can drink no more. It uses every part of its body to love the flower. Wings, tiny feet, arms, gently caress the flower then it will curl up and sleep with its mind a bliss.
Now let’s stop and think about all these things. Do you see how deeply you can go inside yourself to find new meanings, concepts, and understandings? What about comparing yourself to a speck of star dust or a meteor? You are part of everything in the universe. And yes, there are untold numbers of universes. So, to understand the depth of Native understanding is to understand that your quest is never ending and always just beginning. We are all so much more than we can possibly fully comprehend. And to understand ourselves is to understand being one with everything that exists. And just as every second something changes, so does this affect you. Higher understanding comes from seeking it. Acceptance is just that.
This story started a couple years ago when my adopted sister, Leontien, told me about the stimulus money the IRS was giving out. I asked my dear cousin, Sings Many Songs about the forms and addresses and all, so she sent them to me. This was during the pandemic and the lockdown, but before the pneumonia that almost killed me. Anyway, I get the forms, fill them out and sent them in. So does my cellmate, Jason. A couple months go by, we finally get to the point where these nice people were letting us Unicor workers go to work, but everyone else was still under lockdown protocols.
Ten or so weeks go by. Jason gets his $1200 and $600 checks; 11 weeks, others around get theirs. Then 12, 13, 14, 15 weeks nothing for me. I’m thinking, Oh heck no! Not me, you ain’t gonna give it to everyone else but me. So I get a Letter of Incarceration from my unit manager, and made 30 copies of it cuz I’m thinking, man, this is the IRS, I’m gonna have to send more than one letter.
Now, a letter of incarceration is an official declaration that I am who I say I am, verified by a Federal Bureau of Prisons employee. It has a picture of me, my mug shot, my birth date and social security number. It states that I have been in the custody and control of the Department of Justice since 1986. It gives the names and phone numbers for my unit managers so the IRS can call if there are any questions or concerns regarding my inquiry letter or my identity.
So I sent the first letter to Kansas City, then the following week I sent one to North Carolina. Now I’m thinking, “OK. I’m cool, they will look into my claim that I didn’t receive the $1200 or the $600 and rush my checks. I wait and I wait—a month, 2 months, then I end up in the hospital with the great cancer/T.B./not a darn thing wrong with me scare of 2021. Finally I get out of the quarantine unit back here at the prison and life starts returning to normal but I’m still unhappy about getting nothing from this omnipotent, put-the-fear-of-god-into-people IRS. After all, I’m in the right.
Then one morning I wake up and get on the computer and what do ya know, all of a sudden out of nowhere I get the third check in the series of “free” money from the government. $1400.00 appears on my account. yyyyyiiiipppppeeee!!!!!!! Some money to go home on and I’m sure as heck gonna need it. I’ve spent all these years paying my dues to society and working for the government’s slave labor for profit manufacturing empire with no benefits for my future whatsoever. When I leave here I won’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.
So, a few more weeks go by and I get to thinking, wait just a minute, I’m a red blooded American, ok, so I did once have an indictment that read: the united states of America vs. Steven Maisenbacher, but that doesn’t mean they can just give everyone else the $1200.00 and $600.00 and not pony up for me too. Then I remember, hey I’ve still got those letters if incarceration and plenty of time and plenty of stamps, so I’m going after mine!
See, I’m as tenacious as a badger when I’m after something or think I’ve been wronged or taken advantage of, so…over to the mail room I go envelope and letter in hand and a plan. I explained to the mail room officer that I’m gonna write to these people till they answer me, or I’ll go to their office in person or to somebody who can help and give them a third of the total I feel I am owed by the IRS, $1800.00.
I mentioned to some of my outside friends that I am going over there to the mail room every Wednesday morning with one of these letters, and I did just that 19 weeks in a row! On week 20 I get a letter from some supervisor of complaints and payment discrepancies and I send back the little form he sent me. Then I wait and another 13 weeks go by. Now I’m really ticked off, and determined I’d be going to the IRS in person when I get home and I’m gonna get my money.
Then the other night, I get a letter from the IRS with the beautiful words, “Dear taxpayer, we at the IRS are aware of your situation and are currently processing your payment, expect your check for the full amount in 4-6 weeks.”
Oh man! I’m laughing like a madman. The next morning I took the letter to the mailroom and showed it to the mail room officer. He said he had never seen anyone as determined or persistent as me. In fact he couldn’t believe it, so I said well here’s the letter, and showed him the proof. Then I told him when the check comes, just please post it to my account.
So there it is, I believe I’m gonna get up and come out here one of these mornings and do what I always do, check my account to see if anyone sent me anything and to make sure I still have what I’m supposed to have and there will be a nice little lump of extra money on the account to take me home. I’m gonna need it, make no mistake about it, and the funny thing is the 6-week mark falls in the 2nd week of August, 2 weeks before I get out. But hey… I won’t be mad if they go ahead and send it a little early; my birthday comes around again on July 20 and what a great present that would be!
One thing is sure, I’m not the kind to just sit back and not go after what I think I have coming. That’s me, I get on something and I’m like a badger. I don’t give up, I don’t give in, and I’m certainly not afraid of any government agency. After all, I’ve lived thru the worst they can dish out, now I’m prepared to deal with the best. Let that be a lesson to ya’all, don’t fear government bureaucrats; after all they are YOUR EMPLOYEES! They are there to serve you, not the other way around…but sometimes ya gotta keep telling them, 23 times if needed.
UPDATE: So yesterday was July 20 my birthday. As usual I got on my account and lo and behold what did I find? There it was $1800 + $68.63 interest! What a birthday present! With that and the other payment I had saved and some nice gifts from family and friends, I now have a nice little chunk of money to help me get started in just a few weeks! Persistence pays and I am one happy badger!
I have a confession to make. Yeah, I know it’s supposed to be good for the soul and all that other metaphoric mess, but I can only hope there is some truth in that. See, for a little over a year I’ve been on here talking about all the wonderful plans I have for when I get out, how I want to do this and I want to do that. But I haven’t told you the part about not having a clue how I’m going to do any of it.
Oh, I’ve told Sings this and she keeps telling me it’s all gonna be fine and deep down I know that ultimately it will. Hey, I would rather do bad living under a bridge in a cardboard box than to do good in these prisons. I know that my worst day of freedom will be far and away better than my best day in here and I know that I am going to have to do it one step at a time, one day at a time. I must not be impatient or expect more than is realistic. I have a lot of patience, prison taught me that. I also know just exactly how little I need to get by and the small amount it takes for me to be comfortable, so I have no reason to doubt that at the end of it all, I will make it.
But here’s the thing… I am scared to death, and as my release date draws closer the anxiety is kicking my butt. Basically I will have a year in the halfway house which is meant to help me make the transition. At my age I have many concerns like how will I get on social security disability. I know they are going to deny me the first go around, that’s what they do to everyone, but here is a problem, I am diabetic and I wonder where am I going to get my insulin? I sure won’t be able to afford it, not with the testing supplies and the syringes and all. Then there’s the other medications I’m on as well, so it’s going to be a matter of emergency public assistance and I worry that being in the halfway house may throw some monkey wrench in that. There are just so many things, it’s like what? where? but even bigger, how???
I don’t want to sound like a cry baby, but the simple truth is I don’t know how to get over the anxiety I am feeling over some of these things, and I don’t know what I can do to get any real answers to any of my questions. My case manager and counselor are absolutely no help; every time I ask them about something they say they don’t know and “they will help you figure it out at the halfway house.” But that’s a real b.s. response; I should not have to wait till I’m there and these situations are on top of me before I have any answers.
I did manage to find out I will be able to work 20 hours a week and still be eligible for social security disability, but then again, if I can find a job that pays well enough, I may just go ahead and work the 35 hrs. a week, hold off on applying for the SSD and go to school in my off time. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to do the majority of my schooling on-line. I’m not gonna be able to afford a car, and I don’t think I’m game for a 3-hour bus ride on a daily basis to get back and forth, so I’m having all these dang wonders and worrying myself to distraction over all the things that I can’t control till I get to them.
So again, I can’t seem to figure out how to stop the worry. I do know that I really, really need the money from the IRS that I am now waiting on. At this point it seems to me everything is going to hinge on my having some money to make things happen and to get from point A to point B. I’m thinking of buying a bike after I get to the halfway house to get to some places, but that would only be an option for 2-3 months till it’s too cold for me to bike wherever I need to go.
So there it is, I’m scared and out of answers but I want to throw this out there for you to consider: When I walk out the door all I will have are the clothes I’m wearing, my meager savings, and some paperwork. Yes I have the jewelry I’ve made over the years. That’s all being held for me but for it to serve my financial needs I will have to get it and then somehow find a way to market it.
I will also need to get an id card, then re-apply for a driver’s license. See, I got into some mess in my addiction and my license was revoked 38 years ago. Unless I can find a way to prove that long ago I did all the drug and alcohol rehab in prison and have been clean and sober for all these many years, according to the DMV, that is going cost me at minimum $250.00 to reinstate it.
I know I will need a computer and a phone. What are those going to cost? Then there is the matter of buying clothes and shoes to wear. Even at Goodwill or Salvation Army I’m looking at another $150 and I absolutely must have new glasses. There’s another $200 I’m sure. Constantly thinking about all these things is just killing me. There will be so many expenses just to get to the point where I can start trying to move forward with getting things done toward my future and leaving the halfway house. UUUggggghhhhhh!!!!!
It’s obvious there are a lot of problems coming my way, mostly all little things, but collectively I find them overwhelming, not because I can’t get over the hurdles but with no concrete answers about what to expect, I just feel stymied. I’m stressing, I’m worried and I’m scared. No matter how many reassuring platitudes I hear; “you’ll be fine,” “it’ll be ok,” or “it will work out,” my level of trust in “the system” is very low. My rational mind tells me the halfway house and resource services will be there to support and guide me through the transition, but still I can’t help being apprehensive. Truth be told, what I really need most is for the Creator to reach out, bring me some solace and some serenity, and yes, patience that the answers or solutions will come…
In retrospect, as I go back thru some of the things I have posted, I seem to have fallen off the track on what my whole intent was. In the beginning it was to be more lighthearted and whimsical, with things I have discovered about myself thru the Creator’s love and care for me. Once I applied myself to those same spiritual teachings and the ways of the whole belief system, I began to become a better man, and someone I was proud to see when I looked in the mirror and not the reflection of the monster I had become thru my addictions, selfish behaviors and lawlessness – all the things that led me to the brick wall I eventually hit. It just didn’t kill me, so me being somewhat intelligent, I finally got the message. BAM!!! Like a light went on, “Hey, knucklehead. You are your own worst enemy.” So at that point I was able to gain the positive transformations that allowed me to grow.
But that’s really not what I want to say here, I want to get back to this illumination I have had about the past few postings. See, it’s crazy in that I have more hope now than ever for a bright future, for my release, for the adventure that “doing it right” will inevitably be. But I have allowed the conditions of my confinement to creep back in and control the conditions of my continuance in my journey, the thoughtful preparation, the sincere plans and dreams I have formed and am everyday forming. I don’t want my story to read like that.
See I don’t really care about the lockdown per se; it’s really just a minor annoyance to me at this point in my incarceration, like a gnat buzzing around trying to irritate me, and it would appear to be successful to the point of affecting me mentally, but then I snap back out of it and chuckle. Yeah, that’s right, I said chuckle, to myself. Man after all these miles, all the wars, all the inner turmoil and changes I have undergone, to let the little inconvenience of “The Bureau’s” silliness bother me, well, that’s no different than me being my own worst enemy all over again.
So I ain’t gonna let that happen and I am not going to show that to you anymore. I don’t want to have this wonderful Journey of the Spirit turned into a rant at my keepers. Here’s why. I am more than my confinement, I am the product of my own journey, not the product of the place where all these changes have come to be. Does this make sense? I mean if I let the silliness that they get up to in here just to keep us off balance and unable to find tranquility succeed, then I let this prison become the dictator in my self-rehabilitation. But if I just go about my journey and from time to time remark on the actions of my keepers for you but refuse to let them get to my peace of mind then it’s all good. I can give you a better idea of what prison life is like, but I am not dwelling on the negative forces at work around me and against me. If I just keep pushing on and following the path that I have forged, it’s all good.
My exit from here gets closer every day; I won’t trip on anything but my soon to be freedom and halfway house date. Man that trip is gonna be enough for me to deal with as it is, without letting the silly little games of my keepers invade my space. I’ve got better things to concentrate on and to talk with you about than whatever these buffoons are up to. So from time to time I will probably throw a gripe out there, especially if it’s something so monumentally stupid that I just have to comment, but no more rants.
I have everything I’m going to need to make it: First, the Creator’s love for me and the love of some very true and dear friends, all who have my back. I would never want to let down or disappoint those who love and support me, so what else should matter? or could? Even more than anything else, I have the chance to get out and get it right, do the things I have planned and dreamed of, and just enjoy what life now offers me, definitely not losing track of my blessings.
And I’ve got 3 more on deck! Yes, I hot-wired them and smuggled them right out of the chow hall in my smuggle buggy. (My bad) See, for whatever reason they have actually seen fit to give us oranges as the fruit alternative at meals where there is a desert on the menu. Amazing, and I have totally taken the pleasure out for them insisting on cutting the oranges in half. I’m saying it’s to save me time in peeling it; I can just do the push on it, it flips inside out and low and behold there is the sweet delectable meat all oozing with juice, dripping all on my hands and down my arms, uhhhggggggggg!!! This was sooo good.
It has been more than 5 years since I had an orange!
Just think about that for a minute – 5 years without one bit of citrus fruit in your diet! I eat pill form vitamin C tabs every morning and evening, but it just ain’t the same. I think that I’m gonna have to be real honest here; I need to tell ya, at this stage in life and after all these years, if I could have my choice (and I will very soon) between a gentleman’s club with all sorts of pretty scantily clad women dancing and prancing around for the tips OR a trip to the grocery store with a nice crisp $50.00 dollar bill, well, I’m sorry, it’s me on the way to Publix, or Kroger, Save-On, Food Lion or Piggly Wiggly, or wherever they got all the fruits and veggies on display! OMG, that’s almost erotic to me – all the oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, the bananas and the cherries, and grapes – Oh Man, can’t forget the grapes, and I don’t even wanna think about the frozen foods isle.
See that’s where I will be able to get the stuff I can just toss in the microwave or oven, heat and eat. Geeminy, wish I could convey to you how deeply I long for real food, whatever I want to eat. I have definitely been starved for real food! I remember pizza rolls, those little things ya heat ‘em and eat ‘em; I used to smash a gang of em watching a movie. I remember the taste of broccoli, fresh and green; rinse it off and sling some ranch on it, man and cauliflower! I love and long for the day when I can get these things again. And all this dreaming is sparked by the taste of a stolen from the chow hall orange. And I got 3 more. Hehehe, feels like a big deal to me. Like you hadn’t had an orange in 5 years then all of a sudden, “wham” score! It’s crazy cuz I’m sitting here writing this where I can see my cell door, wanna be dang sure no one goes in there and relieves me of my prize. No siree, gotta ensure that I get the opportunity to devour them all by myself, and I know just what else too… if they had em today, then maybe they will have ‘em tomorrow… Maybe, just maybe, a grapefruit! Oh, I’d be in bliss.
There are a few other food tastes that I have truly missed over the last 20 or so years – a hot ham and cheddar sandwich or real bacon. I got real bacon when my brother Mike and his wife, Karen came to visit me in the form of a bacon cheeseburger and damn it was so delicious! Even tho it was probably a decade old from a vending machine, I sang praises in their names for being instrumental in getting it for me. Smile.
Another delight I have thought about at least a thousand times, my sister-in-law, Bab’s, lasagna. Let me tell ya, Bab’s lasagna is by far hands down the best I have ever tasted. I had some a couple times decades ago and I can still remember clearly and distinctly how delicious it was and probably still is. I have on occasion while in my ignorance and captivity thought to myself, man, some of Bab’s lasagna would be enough to make me a content person at this very moment!
Sadly enough, that dream never came to pass all these decades, so I have had to do with what I could concoct myself out of what I could steal from the chow hall, the stuff they sell us in the store or whatever can be scraped together by combining things we can obtain by other means like a chow hall, store or kitchen worker looking to make a little side hustle money off whatever they can get their little mitts on. lol.
It’s funny to think that something most people take for granted is something that I dream for, long for, even plan for. When you have to do without or when you are truly hungry, the only cure is plenty, and the only place I know of where I will be able to find solace or satisfaction is only days away from my grasp, that’s amazing! See, once I get out I will be able to walk in and buy one or 10, no limit, no one to tell me I can’t have one or no one to say hey, put it back – well at least as long as I’m paying for it. Smile. Yeppers, one thing on my mind, one thing that can cure my desire, my absolute want and need – a grocery store.
I’m gonna need some napkins, lots and lots of napkins…
Be sure to check out Walks’ Footpan Foodz in Along the Way for some of his creative culinary delights. ed.
Yea, it’s funny how things turn out. See today I was in the midst of my daily call with the wonderful person “Sings Many Songs” and we were talking about the amount of credits I had on the computer to write with and all that she has there already to publish on a week by week basis. She said she had a couple things “on deck” ready to go and I could just take time to think about my next “stroke of genius.” It occurred to me I never set out that way, I never think too hard about what is gonna find its way to the page after I have an idea or an “occurrence.” I just go ahead and get on it, letting it flesh itself out as it will or wants. Not by far would I ever claim to be a genius; hell my best ideas are maybe lucid and somewhat intelligent, but genius, I don’t see that.
Today I was able to get out to the bike again and one fact has made itself plainly clear, I will have to cut back on the distance from 10 miles a day to 5 miles; it’s just too darn hot and I ain’t gonna ride till I’m panting like an insane dog. I just have to accept the fact that I am at least doing something, even if it’s not a lot. Twenty five miles a week is a respectable amount for an old geezer like me. Smile. I’m happy with it and I’m gonna do all I can to keep it up, barring any lockdown, rec yard closings, or other delays or setbacks.
So there that is, but back to what I was talking about. Yea, I first started this at the coaxing of Sings after I was asked to write something for my brother Ghost. Writing down my story just kinda went from there taking a life and breath of its own and its gone from there to here. I believe that it has changed, meta morphed if you will. I also know that the heart and soul of it has never faltered. I’m trying to share who and what I am, how I feel, the recognition of the changes and evolution of my being. I’m trying to chronicle things that happen to me, how I feel about them and the impact of these feelings.
I think that the stories and things I share are as pure as they can be, I just sit down and “let it go,” not trying to win a Pulitzer, not even trying to get anything out of it, but writing about my experiences has already paid me the richest dividend I can think of. It has helped me share who I am and have become without having to face the world as I am doing it. See, I can always hit “save” and retreat to my cell where I know I’m all safe and sound, where I won’t have to face the things I write about.
On the flipside, I have been able to make someone proud of me as well, and the mere fact that she tells me this from time to time is like a balm to my soul; it lifts me and assures me that I do indeed matter, that I do indeed have relevance in this world and that I am capable of being a person to respect and care for. My decades of captivity and selfish ignorance have stripped me of a lot of these things. When I started these writings and this reaching out to you, my self-respect started to grow in the process.
Writing out my story was not my idea, Sings Many Songs is the one responsible for putting it out in a format that others can see, read and think about. If it wasn’t for her, none of this would have ever seen the light of day. Let’s face it, I was not the least motivated to share with anyone the truth of all I’ve been thru in my life and what I’ve put my family and all those in my life thru. I didn’t think there was a forgiveness or a healing or a way anyone would understand. I just kept on pushing along in my spirituality trying to immerse myself deeper and deeper into a spiritual existence and one of change and positivity. So there it is, but after all is said and done, it’s funny that the words just make their way here and what’s even funnier to me is that someone could care enough to read them, and of me.
All that’s left to say is, Thank You!!!
Editor’s Note: This piece was written before the recent lockdown Walks wrote about and I posted last week. The lockdown continues and as a result his whole bike-riding exercise regime crashed and burned. He sees no change anytime soon but isn’t too upset since the summer heat is far too oppressive for vigorous outdoor exercise.