All For the Right to Pray (17)

Part Four – The Spiritual Warrior Awakens

Chapter 17 – Eleven Years in Hell

By Ghost Dancer

After my return to the Alabama Department of Corrections in 1984, they tried to use loop holes in the Religious Freedom Act to deny me my religious rights once  again. I wasn’t asking for much – the right to wear my hair long, certain restrictions on my diet, and the right to pray in my own way. When I insisted on my rights, the solitary confinement, beatings and torture began again.

Once when I was allowed out of solitary in order to work, while out on the yard, I did my own traditional Spirt Run. The whole time, I ran around and around the track praying for all those I loved. Simply for this I was sent back to solitary for practicing my religion.

Another time, again out on the yard, I sat down on the ground, drew a circle around myself and began to sing and pray. As I sang, flocks of birds came and sat down all around me. Everyone was amazed and the personnel were so frightened they sent me back to solitary. There were many similar instances all because of my activism, insisting on recognition of the religious rights of Native Americans. 

Despite this, by 1989 after a long process involving the help of many on the inside and outside, I took this issue back into court again. I filed a case in federal court against the State of Alabama for discrimination and not allowing Native American religious beliefs, practices and ceremonies in the prisons. This time I meant to make sure the court ruled on specific issues of my traditional religious beliefs and practices that had never before been addressed.

It is important to understand that Native American religions are diverse just as  Native Peoples in general are diverse. We are separated by geography, tribal nation, cultural history and numerous languages. Each is different in our spiritual beliefs and practices just as our dress, foods, tools, weapons, and housing are different.

Under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, the law was vague on these differences and the court’s interpretations were left open to biased opinions which of course infringes upon our freedom to follow our individual beliefs and spiritual guidelines.  For instance, all Natives must seek their individual medicine which is found through fasting and seeking our spiritual helpers. This is where we are shown and told what we need for our medicine, what it consists of, and how we must follow it. No two people have the same exact medicine or guidelines they must live by.

During this time prison staff did everything possible to prevent me from pursuing this in court even to the point of beating me half to death, placing me in the house of pain, denying me access to law books, paper or writing materials. At one time I sent a letter motion to the judge written in blood with my fingers on toilet paper to let him know what was happening. I was given back writing materials.

Later when it was going bad for them they sent the chaplain in; he told me if I did not sign the paper he slid under solitary cell door he would not be responsible for what would happen to me. I refused to sign a paper stating that I was changing my religion to Christian and dropping all my cases in courts and the claims I had against all of them.

After that the warden and assistant warden ordered the goon squad to attack me. I fought back for a long time but eventually with all their numbers and equipment they beat me down in that tiny solitary cell. They began tearing up all my law papers, records, law books, court papers and documents that I had in the cell and began torturing me once again. This went on for months and months each day with no stopping in sight.

Then I was placed naked in an even tinier cell, in darkness with no bed, no toilet, no light,  no nothing, just me, a concrete floor and steel bars. They tried to cover up what they did by charging me with assault on numerous officers, disobeying a direct order, creating a security hazard, and disrupting the orderly operations of the prison. It doesn’t take a whole lot of common sense to figure out who was totally restrained, who opened the cell door and who attacked whom.

Being kept in solitary with no lights, no toilet, no clothes, no bed, and no food for any extended amount of time will truly test your spiritual strength. From time to time, the warden would come to my outside cell door and tell me that if would sign a paper saying I had changed my religious beliefs, they would release me. I refused.

Of course the authorities knew Cat had been gathering letters, information and typing up all my court motions. For this she too was made to suffer by federal officers and prison staff but Cat was very brave and determined to stand up to them. Prison officials came and told me that if I did not sign papers changing my religious beliefs and drop the court cases, something bad would happen to Cat. Yes, they even threatened her life! They said they knew she was helping me and she was always driving down lonely isolated roads and things could easily happen to her.

We had a visit coming up and when she arrived the warden pulled her into his office and tried to persuade her to stop helping me. I told Cat what they said and what they would do. She told me what they said to her and how she felt. She sat there looking at me like the true war woman she is and without even thinking about it, said, “You keep doing what you need to do. I will stay and help you no matter what.” Cat told me not to let these people stop me if this is what I wanted to do. “Don’t worry about me,” she said, “I will be very careful and I will let them know I’m not scared of them.”

That day it was getting dark when Cat left Holman prison on her way back to Florida driving on the back roads. It wasn’t long before a man wearing black and driving a black car pulled out and got on her bumper. He followed her on her bumper so she slowed down, allowing him to pass, but he would not pass. So she hurried on to the little town of Atmore, Alabama and pulled over in the Hardee’s parking lot. Cat drove slowly around Hardee’s and sat there for a while. When she pulled around she saw him across the road waiting for her. So she took off again travelling on down the road and sure enough, he came right behind her and got back up on her bumper.

Knowing she would soon be on an isolated highway Cat decided to pull into Barnes Store and just stay there. She was not going to go down that lonely road with him behind her. For the longest time Cat just stood there looking across the road at him. Finally he gave up and drove off in the opposite direction. Cat waited until he was out of sight, then jumped in her car like a good race car driver and got away. 

Yes Cat has been through hell with me and was just as important as any other who fought and struggled for our religious freedoms. They called me “Renegade” and Cat was a true War Woman! She paid a high price for this and few people will thank her or give her the respect she deserves.

Many people might think prisoners deserve to be punished severely when they deliberately upset the “orderly operation of a prison” by fighting for their legal rights under the law. Just so there is no mistake of what I mean by the word torture, though I do not like to think of it, I will give just a few examples of what was actually done to me by the State of Alabama for my activism – all for the right to pray!

Totally naked, leg shackled, chained with a waist chain, and handcuffed they hung me upside down from a fence. Prison guards used electric cattle prods on my body and a captain and chaplain, took a pocket knife and literally scalped me, saying they wanted an Indian’s scalp. They left me hanging like this in the winter for 3 days beating me every day. Still I would not sign any papers to change my religious beliefs or drop cases in court.

While I was in the solitary dungeon, naked, no bed, no lights, no windows, in total darkness, no sink, no toilet, just me and the concrete and steel. It was winter time with snow and frigid temps, and no heat. The guards used fire hoses to spray me with ice cold water so powerful it slammed me around with violent force. They left me half drowned and laying in water.

All the while I was starved so I wouldn’t have the strength to fight or resist them. My existence was a small piece of corn bread and small cup of water each day.

I was put in 3’x 5’ cell, so small I couldn’t even lay down or stretch out – day after day, month after month in total darkness.

I have been set on fire, had my testicles and penis beaten with a ball-peen hammer and squeezed with pliers trying to force me to sign papers that I would change my religion and drop my lawsuits in court against them.

They put me in the big yellow electric chair at Holman prison and hit me with 10,000 volts trying to get me to change my religion and drop my law suit.

They put me in a wooden chair, butt naked and chained, leg shackled, body chains and handcuffed to the chains and chained to the chair. Then they put alligator clamps on my tongue, eye lids, nipples, penis and testicles and had electric wires run to old wind up telephones hooked to batteries or electrical outlets and they repeatedly sent shocking electricity into me to break me and try to get me to sign documents to drop the cases in court and change my religion.

A bunch of goons dragged me naked and shackled out of my cell in the middle of the night, put me in a van and drove me out on an isolated road. I knew what they intended to do, so I fought for my very life by wedging my body in the van so tight they never could not get me out. If they had, I would have been shot on the spot and they could claim I had escaped thus justifying my death.

Cat Dancing, my poor sweet wife, heard and knew what was happening. My mom and family all knew this too. There was little they could do, but just knowing they stood with me gave me strength. How did they know? Other prisoners wrote to them, telling of the beatings and medieval torture they were doing to me. See, in those days there was a certain code of honor among prisoners in maximum security prisons, especially those on death row or held in solitary. We had many ways of communicating, like some of the ingenious things you might see in a movie like Shawshank Redemption are indeed based on real life. And all those around me knew who I was and what was happening to me.

I wish to say that I owe a lot of thanks to all the different prisoners who passed on my messages to my family, to Cat, all the Native resistance newspapers, Native organizations that I wrote for and sent updates to. They even sent information out to the courts for me when I was unable to. This includes all the guys on death row who risked themselves and their property and little exercise time or jobs to help get my info out or messages to the court or family or to my beloved Cat. For without them I would never have been able to work to get these laws passed and in courts.

These men helped me communicate when I was working with senators and congress people to get laws passed, even to communicate with foreign countries and United Nations personnel who were making our cause known before the United Nations. I was involved with organizations all around the world bringing forth our cause to them to gather support from their ambassadors to the United Nations Councils. The world needed to see the truth about our plight and how the justice system really was run here in this country. People in numerous countries held rallies and events to gather support for our cause. 

So yes, it is because of the guys in lock up and death row who stepped up and helped get these messages out and even back to me. Many times it took hours and even days to successfully get a message down to where it needed to get to, but what is time when time doesn’t exist in this world. 

These are things everyone needs to know. I have always had helpers. Spirit has always put people in my path who have helped me achieve what I was seeking and trying to do or learn. All thanks to Spirit for each one throughout my life.

All For the Right to Pray (16)

Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Chapter 16 – Treachery in High Places

By Ghost Dancer

On the day of my arrest, August 5, 1981, I had just dropped my so-called wife off at her aunt’s house in Pensacola with a rental trailer loaded with her belongings. I had never been to this aunt’s place before, so she showed me how to get there. Only then did I tell Sandy I was leaving her. I drove away with a plan to go on to Ocala, Florida. Back on the highway, I stopped to gas up, then parked so I could stretch a bit to relieve my leg cramps before continuing on the long trip.

This is what I was doing when the police pulled up. The cop asked me for my identification, and I gave it to him. He asked me if I had I ever been in trouble with the law before. I told him the truth; that I had just been released from parole in Alabama the day before and was headed to Ocala where I grew up.

He then ordered me to turn around and he handcuffed me. I asked him what he was he doing. He told me I was under arrest for robbery. I couldn’t believe this. I am in shorts and a t-shirt and I have no shoes on. I have nothing on me but my wallet and car keys. Needless to say I was not a happy individual. I had no idea what was going on so had to wonder if it was the fact that I told him I had just gotten off parole from Alabama?  I told him then that I had just dropped my wife off and she could verify where I had been. I told him I didn’t know the name of the street, but it was no more than a mile or so away and I could show him the way. He refused to even try to check this out. Instead he made me stand there barefoot and sweating for a long time in the summer sun on hot pavement.

Eventually they brought a woman in a sheriff’s car and asked her if this was the man. Now I’m the only one there handcuffed and the only person she is being shown. She said she was not sure. At this point I thought, okay they will take the handcuffs off and I will be on my way. They kept asking her to take another look at me. She walked up close and looked me over from every angle. She could clearly see that I had short, brown, naturally curly hair and a dark, heavy mustache. She said she didn’t remember the guy having a mustache. The cops kept talking to her for a while and pointing at me. 

Finally they led her to a car, and she left. I figured I was going to be let go, but the cop put me in his car and said I was going to jail. I asked, for what? He said you will be charged with strong-arm robbery for snatching that woman’s purse. I said to him then that was not right, the woman said it wasn’t me and you still are arresting me? So, I stayed in jail until I could get the money from my bank account in Alabama because the bail bondsman would not take a check, nor would he accept a credit card.

This bail cost me a lot of money, but I paid it. While I was on parole in Alabama I had been working as a mechanic and made good money. I had recently purchased a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo. I had money, a credit card and a bank account. Does it make sense to think I’m in this situation and I’m going to snatch some woman’s purse?

Once I was out on bond I got a job at Alterman’s Truck Lines as a diesel mechanic. My bondsman had no problem with me leaving the state to go to my mom’s in Alabama or anywhere else during this time. I made good money as a diesel mechanic. Now, while I was on bond, the prosecutor kept coming to me, offering a misdemeanor charge to plea and only six (6 ) months to serve if I would accept it. I turned his offers down every time because I was not guilty of anything and I thought that would be shown in court.

Then months later when I finally went to trial, the same woman who had seen me standing there in handcuffs and indicated she was not sure, testified it was me who robbed her. There was no other direct evidence, no physical evidence linking me to anything or to having ever been anywhere near her.  I did not testify because my lawyer said the prosecutor would bring up the fact that I had been in prison before and that I had just gotten off parole. He said this would prejudice the jury against me, so I did not testify for that reason only. The jury simply took her word for it and found me guilty. I could not believe this was happening, but there it was and there was nothing I could do about it.

On December 30, 1981 I was convicted of strong-arm robbery in Escambia County, Florida. I did not know until the day of the trial that Sandy and the victim of the purse snatching were close friends. There they were together all smiles in the courtroom. I went to jail. Sandy got my new Monte Carlo loaded with all my tools, my credit card, all my savings, clothes – everything I owned – even the settlement from a work-related accidental injury before we were married.

Another coincidence, my wife’s brother, the FBI agent who first made a complaint about me having “dishonored his family” — his direct superior was the very FBI agent who would manage the investigation of federal charges against me in 1995. This man, Joseph Tierney, was well known for his perseverance in going after Native Americans.

~~~

After I was found guilty at that crazy trial the judge ordered that I be placed in custody and taken to the Escambia County jail to remain until sentencing. This even shocked the bail bondsman who was at my trial and not happy at what happened. Even the bonding company knew this was all wrong. The bondsman knew the judge very well and wrote him a letter recommending probation while I was in jail. He stated he knew that I had not committed any crime and that was why he allowed me to travel while on bond to any place I chose to go. He visited me in jail and urged that I should be staying out of trouble, that I would be granted probation pretty soon and I could get back to working. My lawyer also came and told me that he filed an appeal. He said I would win this appeal, but I would be getting probation more than likely, so I would be free soon and my conviction would be overturned while I was out on probation. So I surely wasn’t looking for any trouble.

The county had been building a new jail at this time and I was one of the first to be moved over to it. Only problem was, the work was not complete and hardly anything was working there at all. It was winter and there was absolutely no heat in the jail or at least not in the cell blocks. It was so cold in the blocks that people were getting sick. Now in jail we didn’t get to have any clothes except what they gave you to put on, which wasn’t very much. After weeks of nothing being done, food being ice cold, late or told they couldn’t give us that meal, with no change of clean clothes and still no heat, the guys in the cell blocks were very upset.

So finally one day after most of everyone was sick with fevers, coughing and still being ice cold things came to a head. The air conditioner worked very well and it was on full blast in the cell blocks and units. They claimed they couldn’t get it to turn off. The guys in all the units bucked and refused to go to their cells. See they only let us out of the cells to eat or shower, but there was no hot water in the showers so most weren’t bathing either. I still bathed even though it is ice water. This new jail had all kinds of faulty problems and should not have been opened till they got all the problems fixed.

Anyway I did not buck or refuse to go to my cell. I was the only one who did not; I did not want any trouble. I had my blanket, so thin and way too small to cover much of me, wrapped around my shoulders trying to keep my upper body warm. Apparently to the guards this was a violation and I was told to remove the blanket. I told them I was cold and needed the blanket to keep warm and asked to speak with the Lieutenant or jail supervisor. They came back later and told me to come on.

No one else had even obeyed them at all and refused to go to their cells. I was asked to come to the sally port;  I did and they told me to drop the blanket. Once again I told them I needed it to keep warm. I got down on my knees as they requested with my back to them at the doors made with steel bars; they reached thru and placed leg shackles on me. Then they put a waist chain on me, cuffed me and secured it to the waist chain. I was told to stand up which I did and they opened the sally port for me to step inside.

They closed that door behind me and then opened the cell block door for me to step thru. Two officers held me by my arms on each side. They led me outside the door and turned the corner, then a ball bat smashed into my face. Another guard struck me in the stomach with a night stick, point first. While the two guards were holding my arms and keeping me upright more and more guards began to beat me. I fought back.

Using my body I smashed the guard on my left into the wall forcing him to let go of my arm. Then I head butted the guard on my right to get them both to let go giving me a better chance to protect myself. I kept telling them I was not wanting any trouble but they just kept trying to beat me with their sticks, ball bat and fists.  Finally I  got mad, really mad and I broke free from my cuffs. Yes, sometimes something will give you extraordinary strength and this was one of those times. Now I was fighting for my life.

Now more and more officers were coming at me with mace, pepper spray, and even a fire extinguisher to spray me and using their shields and sticks, the numbers were just too many. They got me down and began beating me till I passed out. They kicked in my face repeatedly with their boots, breaking my jaws; leaving their boot prints all over my face. They broke my ribs on both sides and damaged my kidneys so much I was bleeding inside. I was dragged down the stairs and thrown into the drunk tank where I lay bleeding on the floor till the next day when another supervisor came thru and had me taken to a hospital. At the hospital the doctor and staff were told by the guards that inmates had done this to me.

When the doctor got close to me I reached for his arm and pulled his paper from his hand motioning that I wanted to write. He handed me his pen and I wrote the truth – guards did this to me. He looked at what I wrote then looked closely at me and nodded his head. The doctor stepped away and was gone for some time; then returned with two hospital security officers and a camera. He took photos of me, my face and chest, ribs, wrists, hands, back and legs. He was talking the whole time he was doing this describing into a microphone everything he saw and had the officers he brought with him witness all this too.

He spoke to the guards and told them there was no way inmates could have done these things. First it was clear with all the boot prints embedded in my face; no inmates had any shoes on their feet. He said he had worked there for years and inmates only wear tiny flip flops or a soft slip-on cotton loafer. Second, his exam clearly shows that I had been beaten with round objects striking me all over and whatever that was smashed my nose and broke it and my cheek bone. The guards tried to play it off and say they were only repeating what they were told. Again they were lying; they were there that day. I didn’t forget their faces. My eyes were almost swollen shut and gashed open but I could see them.

After all this was documented and I was given only what treatment they were allowed to give me, I was taken to the courthouse and officially charged with assaulting police officers. I pleaded not guilty and was returned back to the jail and thrown into solitary. A little later on I was taken to my sentencing hearing where I was supposed to be given probation while I was waiting on my appeal. But now the judge denied my probation and sentenced me to three years in prison based on the fact that I was now charged with assaulting numerous police officers. The judge said he could not allow this and my actions showed him that I had no respect for the law or his court. 

I was returned to the jail where I remained waiting for my trial on the charges of assaulting police officers. I went to trial and was found not guilty and the truth of who assaulted whom was proven. Yes I testified in my own trial and told exactly what was done to me. I was returned to the jail where the word spread by the news of me winning in court. No charges were ever made against the six officers who assaulted me. I filed a lawsuit against the officers and the jail while sitting in the jail. I won this lawsuit and was awarded $6000.  

A couple weeks later I was attacked again by the lieutenant officer. I was just sitting at a table bothering no one and he just walked up to me and hit me in the face with his handful of big steel jail door keys on a steel ring. Yeah it cut my face, but this time he really messed up. My hands were already free and I was not chained anywhere, so he got body-slammed on top of a steel table. Then other officers joined in and there was total chaos. Other inmates joined in then until there was a standoff between me and the other inmates against all the cops. The Sheriff came up and asked what happened. Others told him what they saw and what happened. His staff denied any wrong doing naturally. He asked everyone to just remain calm and he would go check into it. He went and reviewed the cameras and saw what we said was true and came back and said as much to us.

He asked me to please allow them to handcuff me. I told him no way was I going to fall for that again. So he allowed me to walk unrestrained back down the stairs to my cell block and go to my cell where they locked me in. Then they brought down the rest of the prisoners and they went to their cells. No charges were made against any of us. I began washing all the blood off my face from cuts made by the keys when he struck me. A medical staff person brought some ice and I was allowed to wrap it in a washcloth to put on my face. I later filed another lawsuit against these officers as well. 

I was then sent off to a Florida State prison with big bold letters on my jacket: LOVES TO ASSAULT OFFICERS. Now you can imagine what effect that had on the prison guards and staff when I arrived. While doing my time I received a letter from the appeals court that my appeal had been denied. I had never even seen or heard when my lawyer filed the appeal. I never heard a peep from him.

After I had served most of my time and had not received a single disciplinary write up, I was transferred to the Pensacola Work Release Center on S street at the Salvation Army Satellite Center. I was given a job and recruited by Charles Land, a former U.S. Marshal and retired magistrate to serve as his personal body guard in 1983. I stayed at his house. Charles Land felt like he owned me and treated me as such.

Cat Dancing 1983

Despite all the treachery, abuse and heartache, there was one shining moment during this short time of relative freedom. Spirit answered my prayer for someone to love who would love me in return. The moment I saw her, this beautiful, tall, shy girl with the long blonde hair, I knew I had met the love of my life. She became my Cat Dancing, the woman who stood by me through all the hard times to come.

Cat Dancing 1983

I did not like working for Charles Land. So I told him I was quitting. He said I could not do that. He threatened me and even told my mom that he “owned me!” I told him no one owns me so I left his house and I never went back. I went back to the work release and told them I quit working for him and began going out to look for another job. A few days later I was told I could not quit that job and I had to return to working for him and staying with him. Charles Land clearly wielded a lot of clout.

I left and Cat took me to my mom’s where I explained everything to her and my family. My brother took me to a phone where I called the F.B.I. office in Huntsville, AL and told them my situation. They said there was nothing they could do. I went to see my dad and let him know what all was going on. He said he would talk to the police there. My dad was a fireman and worked at city hall right next to the police department so he knew them all and would see what he could do. In the meantime I needed to go back to the work release center and try to get them to do the right thing so Cat took me back to Pensacola. When I called they said no I could not come back there and that they were going to arrest me. I asked what for and they said I was supposed to be staying with Charles Land and since I wasn’t, they considered it an escape. Once again I was arrested and placed in jail. 

While in jail I called my mom and my dad. My dad said I should call him back the next day. I did and he said he had talked to some of his friends at the police dept and that they would help get me out of Florida but I would have to play along with them and do as they said. He said not to worry they would release me once they brought me back up there.

When the police from Alabama came they told me what they had planned and discussed with my dad; they would be charging me for crimes in Alabama and I would have to confess to these crimes. Once I did they could get Florida to release me to them and they could take me back. They would drop everything once I got back and I would be free. I knew one of the detectives, Freddie Day, personally. I had known him for years and  played on the same ball team with him so I felt I could trust him and I knew he was a friend of my dad’s. 

So I did as he said, only Florida refused to release me as they said they would and they kept me for almost five more months before allowing Alabama to come get me. When they did I soon found out I had been lied to. I never saw the detective who first came to see me again.

In November 1983 I was taken before a Florida judge and was told all charges of assaulting an officer of the law in Florida were dropped against me and I was being extradited now to Alabama. I was then taken back to Alabama by Chief Roy Woods, and his brother, Lynn Woods, both of whom I knew. I arrived at the Cullman City Jail and later my dad was allowed to see me. I do not remember too much after that other than the fact that I was taken to a mental hospital for evaluation.

The people at the hospital started drugging me and asking me if I wanted to stay there forever or did I want to go to court. I couldn’t understand what I was even doing in this place and just wanted out of there. I don’t remember much of what happened after getting back to the jail either, other than I kept telling my lawyers to talk to Freddie Day and get him to tell the truth. They had promised me the charges against me would be dropped when we got back to Alabama.

But here I was and they kept me chained and in the cell with two other prisoners and they weren’t chained. They made the two prisoners sign waivers that they knew I was dangerous, so they could not sue the jail if I killed them or hurt them. Neither of the other prisoners was afraid of me or wanted to be moved. Yes, I was agitated and anxious about what was happening and had terrible headaches but there was no reason for them to believe I was going to hurt anyone. These men could see that.

Now these cops here all knew me and knew about my athletic/martial arts skills and training. No doubt they had also been informed of the altercations I had with prison staff while in the Escambia County jail – but of course not the part about who assaulted whom or the fact that I had sued in federal court and won. So for sure they felt they had reason to be afraid of me and perhaps justification for the illegal management of my case by all involved in the justice system.

This is the real reason why they kept drugging me with Thorazine up to the maximum 1600 mg as well as Mellaril and Valium the same drugs they had used to keep me in a chemical straight jacket back in the 70ies. (See Chapter 14) Even when I said no, they forced the drugs on me anyway.

I remember my lawyers saying I would be out soon; that everyone knew this and if I would just sign a piece of paper I would be sentenced for no less than 2 years but no more than 20 years. They said that since I was cooperating they would see that I got about half of that. I refused it! I wanted to go to trial and kept arguing with them! Later they had me taken to a room. I remember my dad and my Aunt Mary sitting there and they had a piece of paper they wanted me to sign. I refused. I don’t know what they said to my dad and aunt, but I kept saying no! I just remember being taken back to a cell and they kept forcing drugs into me. I was chained to the max and could not resist much. 

Again, sometime later, I don’t know how long, I remember sitting in front of my dad and he was saying, “Sign this, please sign this.” All I could remember was my attorney telling my dad, “See, the judge has signed this, the D.A. has signed this, we have signed this, and if he signs this we will send him to a hospital for medical help and this will happen today.” I don’t even remember signing it.

The piece of paper they kept asking me to sign was actually two plea bargains for the two attempted robbery charges against me. The first should have been federal jurisdiction, but the FBI declined to intervene. They knew the maximum federal sentence was 25 years; the sentence in Alabama was life in prison, so the feds didn’t even bother. They had me where they wanted me. In both cases the plea bargain assured me of no less than two and no more than 20 years in prison.

I have a vague memory of sitting in a room with the judge whom I knew, and my attorneys, all the cops, and the D.A. They were saying I would see my family soon and then go to a hospital as best I can remember. Then I was taken down stairs, and out to a car. My mom and family were there. I remember they were crying. I was placed in a car and taken to Kilby prison. When I got there they placed me in a mental ward, put me in a straight jacket and said the judge ordered me to be there.

Only then was I informed that I had been sentenced to life in prison. All in the same day I was drugged and coerced into signing the plea bargains and given a hopeless sentence with no jury trial ever! I later learned that Sandy was there and prepared to testify against me if there was a trial. I guess her mother really meant it when she told my Mom I would spend the rest of my life in prison if I ever left her daughter. Sandy got a divorce after I went to prison. By then she had already taken everything I had worked for.

Not long after, I was transferred to Holman Prison where I was kept on tranquilizer drugs for years. If I did not show up to take them, the guards would come get me and lock me up in the hole again! I steadily fought to get off the drugs. It took me awhile but I was finally able to just refuse them all together.

Footnote:

It would take more than 30 years with many attempts by my mom and other outside friends to ever get copies of the actual records in this case. Time after time they were told there were no such records. Finally, in 2015 a court clerk suddenly remembered where the old records were stored. One of my friends was able to secure copies of old jail records to prove that I was being drugged as well as the two plea bargain agreements listing my crimes as attempted robbery and the promise of 2 to 20 years in prison. With the help of my friends I was able to file a Rule 32 Petition against the two illegal cases in which I received two life sentences for these “attempted robberies.” In 2015 both of these cases and the life sentences were vacated by the state court in Cullman County Alabama.

Nearly 40 years after my 1981 conviction for “purse snatching” in Florida I found out about changes in the Florida law that would allow me to retroactively seek post-conviction relief for the original wrongful conviction. After learning this, I again asked my friends to help me get the right forms and records and filed for what is right and just. Since I did not do this crime but was badly harmed by the conviction and the prejudice the record still carries, I would argue that it should be vacated even though I had already served every day of the sentence.

On February 18, 2020 I filed a Motion for Postconviction Relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal procedure 3.850 asking the court to grant me the justice I deserve in this case – to have it vacated and expunged from my record. After the court had made no ruling in nearly two years, I filed a Motion to Compel the court to make a ruling in January 2022. *To date the court has made no ruling.

I Won’t Miss It

Lights In the Distance. . .

Walks’ Outdate – 124 Days and Counting

By Steven Maisenbacher

You know it’s crazy when your time is almost up and you realize that you’re already trying to forget the stuff that goes on around you.  Like for me, I am trying to put my mind in the free world so I think about what I will do to make my way, the things I will have to do, all the questions and research, but I can’t seem to shake this damn prison crap. The more I try to focus on preparing for my freedom the more the administration seems to throw at me. There are all the petty little hoops and hassles of an average day, like the gauntlet outside the chow hall or the harassments about having on soft shoes, meaning anything without safety toes, when they know full well diabetics and people with orthopedic issues are exempt and can wear the medical shoes they give us or the tennis shoes we buy.

Personally I prefer the tennis shoes but I won’t spend seventy bucks on a pair of “seconds” that sell for $20.00 at any outlet and $69.95 is the cheapest they have. Yeah, they have them priced all the way up to 100.00 for better shoes but still “seconds.” Notice some of the other prices, you won’t believe them; just look at the list. It’s crazy, the Mp3 player they charge us $89 for, yep Walmart, $21.00.

Now they say they only mark up any commissary item by 30%, but I  know for a fact that this is BS. The 3oz bag of Keefe coffee they are selling for $5.35 is only $2.60 anywhere else. Ok, some places its $2.85-$3.00. but $5.35? No. That’s more like a 70% mark up. But that’s not really the whole of that apple. Let’s take a look at it from a numbers aspect.

If they have 800 inmates that spend $10.00 per week on commissary, that’s $8000 a week. So with the markup they are pulling in some serious bank. Now they used to try to tell the general public that these profits went into a trust fund for inmate programs, holiday prizes for contests, recreation equipment. movies, TVs, microwaves, ironing boards and irons and such. But in 1995 the inmate’s “trust” fund was appropriated by the DOJ and the BOP, to the tune of – get this – upwards of 6 (SIX) million dollars! They just took it, saying they needed it for “training facilities” to better safeguard the inmates and staff (again, more B.S.).

What they did was hit the mark in discovering they could gouge inmates and families for hundreds of thousands of dollars, then skim it off and steal from the proceeds. They systematically devised  plans and fancy sounding menus to seem as though they were feeding us adequately. But all the while they are basically providing the barest minimum of protein and far more starch and carbs than is healthy in any human diet. And even beyond that, basically refusing to provide a truly healthy diet for anyone incarcerated. That’s the reality and the prison won’t let you forget it. They will starve you on slighted portions then count on you to pay exorbitant prices for inferior products in the commissary, and let me tell you, as one who has eaten far more meals in prison than in the free world, this stuff we eat ain’t good for ya.

After years of eating crappy food, I am now a diabetic, requiring injections of insulin 2 times a day, and guess what? They do not have any such thing as a diabetic diet, in fact even the diabetic “snack” that they provide me at the evening meal to eat during the evening if my sugar levels go to low is wrong – a milk and some bran flakes. The several times I have mentioned this to the medical staff and or the wardens or health services administrator, my concern was met with aggression and negativity. Like I said, they won’t let you forget who you are.

Please believe, prisons are now big business in this country, where they can throttle every penny a person has while inside, then extort the taxpayers for what they call “cost of housing” with all these little variables based on inmates ages, medical conditions, levels of violent behavior, all sorts of made up fictitious add-ons to get more money.  It is also a fact that the money that can be saved from any department’s allotted budgets is split amongst the supervisors of said departments at the end of every single fiscal quarter. Pitiful. There is a special place in hell for these abusive corrupt “government employees” who have a license to steal your money and force you to comply with their every twisted corrupt plan.

One thing about being a long-timer, I have had the opportunity to witness changes over time. There was a time when although I didn’t like these cops, at least I did respect them for their integrity, or at least they faked. But as the years have gone by and I’ve lived these things I’m telling you I have found it harder and harder to have even the slightest semblance of respect for the staff at all levels. Basically they are liars, cheats, bullies, abusive, predatory and corrupt. They will play inmate against inmate just to see them fight then lock up all the inmates involved, scream institutional lockdown, all to wheedle yet more money in emergency operations funds and overtime funds from the region. They are pitiful and totally predictable.

so I’d like for you price some of these items on the store lists. You will see what I’m talking about. And get this: the 3 UNICOR units all have brand new microwaves, purchased by UNICOR for the inmates that live in those particular units, but inmates in the rest of the compound do not have working microwaves and are forced to use the 190 degree coffee water to get anything hot. This is wrong and discriminative, it shows favoritism by treating one group of inmates to better living conditions and standards, all because they are willing to go over to the factory and work for pennies (literally) on the dollar. it screams of favoritism, especially when the commissary markup is supposed to be for microwaves, TVs etc. etc. for all.

Now let me get back to this; I don’t want or need to be in prison anymore! I try to make a conscious effort to stay on positive things every day.

I try to work on my release plans and find out what I’m going to be facing when I walk out of these gates. But these animals in administration don’t recognize who I am and how far I’ve come. They just won’t let me do what I need to be doing. Every day they do something or say something to demean me or belittle me or take advantage of me, forcing me back into prison again, when I’m working on my freedom they are working on my captivity and oppression.

Kind of  sad when you think about it; how many decades is enough punishment? must I serve time up to the last seconds of incarceration?  Couldn’t it just be enough to know I’m here physically, for crying out loud. Let me plan a future, one where I can be a success, a benefit to society and mankind. After all, I never want to become the sick creatures that are my keepers. I just want to be all I can become, all I am and never, ever again what I was.

It hit me as I was riding the bike today on a beautiful sunny afternoon that I left out a few things the other day about the fact that before they locked us down over the Easter weekend, they ran us out to bring in the drug dogs, but first they strip searched us. Hopefully this will be the last time before I go home but thought I ought to mention exactly what “strip search” means. It goes like this:

“OK, strip, all of it!”  

You hand your clothes to the nice man (or woman), he/she feels em up good and thoroughly.

“OK, lift up your hair…open your mouth…arms up over your head…reach down and lift up your genitals… now turn around…ok squat and cough…spread your butt cheeks…OK get dressed…”

They make you do this every time you have a visitor too; makes me wonder if the guards ever have to go through this being as we all know how the drugs really get in here… humm…. Anyway, the funny thing is this doesn’t even bother me anymore, it’s crazy how I have become so desensitized and all natural modesty has been so debased it doesn’t even phase me. We all know exactly what this demeaning procedure is – by any other name, it’s still sex abuse – and it has been a part of my life for so long that it means nothing to me. In fact I believe I could crap in a glass bowl in the middle of Times Square at this point and after the paperwork, go right on about my business.

Crazy that I haven’t touched any contraband in so many years and here I am this close to getting out and I’m still being put thru this kind of humiliating abuse. Pitiful, but whatever, I refuse to let it bother me. I just have to laugh at them. They get all “prison guard tough” but the simple reality is all these years, I have stayed in prison because they made me with walls and fences and gun towers and such and they have left at the end of their shifts because I let them. I will never become the sick depraved sadistic animals that they so often are. I just won’t, not even butt naked and humiliated over a shakedown that has nothing to do with me.

By the way, I’m now up to 5 miles on the bike, first time today, jumped from 2.5 to 5 miles, and when I went to sit down on my bed afterward, gravity and spaghetti legs dropped me on my bunk. guess THAT shook me up a little. Smile.

All For the Right to Pray (15)

Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Chapter 15 – Power in the Law

By Ghost Dancer

Only twice have I ever been allowed to represent a case in court during a trial. Both times I won. The first was on my right to pray, wear long hair, have a pipe ceremony, and my general rights to freedom of religion. This first case was started when I was 18 years old and being held in a mental hospital. They would not give me an ink pen, so I wrote my pro se motion to the court on a piece of plain paper with a stubby little pencil.

I explained to the judge why I was having to do it this way and he understood. By filing a pro se motion I did not have to be exact in my style and the court has to allow me lee way and must not apply usual court formats. In addition, the court must be very lenient in interpreting my claims. I remembered this from my high school days when I was studying business law, civil law and international law. Since this law suit was under civil law, then I knew I could do this. In civil law you don’t have to have as much evidence to prove a case. 

I filed this first in 1976 against the mental hospital for denying my religious rights. Later when I was placed in a mental hospital again, this case was already moving along and when I was transferred back to jail, I amended the case to include the Cullman County jail and the Alabama Department of corrections. The fact of the matter is, at that time prisoners in federal and state prisons had no rights to traditional religious practices or ceremonies. At first the court was not going to allow this but I argued that since I was already convicted I was in all senses a state prisoner and was just waiting to be transferred to prison.

My inspiration and guidance to proceed with my lawsuit came through people I had come to know during my summers with AIM. At that time the publication, Indian Country Today, was deeply involved in helping incarcerated Natives across the country stay connected providing subscription information for numerous regional newsletters and articles with coded information embedded in them regarding specific abuses. There was also Arrows, Native American Radio out of Oklahoma that targeted state and federal prisoners. Their live broadcasts facilitated direct communication between inmates and their families. Of those involved in the fight for religious freedom I was the only one from the deep Southeast which was considered to be the most dangerous place of all.

There were five of us in all: Terry Bear Ribs, Lakota, Standing Rock Reservation filed in Lompoc, CA. Then there was me in Alabama; Eric Wildcat Hall, Cherokee, out of Qualla Boundary, NC and Allan Morrisette, Cree, from Ft. Belknap, MT and another man, Sean King, Apache joined us at the end.

Some AIM members such as my friend, Barbara Owl actually travelled the country visiting the different activists to personally collect and deliver communications. For instance she may visit me in Alabama and then take off driving to Oklahoma to visit another participant, then hop a plane to California.

Many people from across the world reached out to me with letters of support and encouragement for what we were doing. Support groups were formed and they provided all types of information by going to museums and getting them to provide me with copies of documents most people in America had never even heard of . Even students at universities around the world became my friends and sent me letters, photos, and information I was seeking.

For each of our cases, Big Tree, Nan-ta-shay, Lenny Foster, Jake Snake, and Art Solomon all filed Amicus Curiae, friends of the court, third party support. We also had Archie Fire Lame Dear, a spiritual leader and AIM activist from South Dakota to give expert testimony on Native American religions.

Ghost with Dad, Mom & brother Gregg Weil
1978 Holman Prison

The federal courts across the country consolidated all our similar cases. We received support from the Native American Rights fund and legal assistance from attorneys, John and Walter Echo-Hawk out of the Law Center in Washington, DC.  The combined case was filed in federal court, Lompoc CA in 1977 & won. Our win for freedom of religion was not only for incarcerated Natives, but for all Natives on the outside as well. The Native American Freedom of Religion Act was passed by congress and signed into law by President Carter on August 11, 1978. Archie Fire Lame Deer Built the first prison sweat lodge at Lompoc in 1977.

American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) 
Became law on August 11, 1978 to “Protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” 

Of course the prison officials were not happy about the legal action I was taking and the guards consistently gave me a hard time over it. But after winning in federal court, all my disciplinaries for disobeying a direct order, failing to obey prison rules, assault on correctional officers, creating health, safety, and security violations were all expunged by Alabama Prison Commissioner, Morris Thigpen. All my good time was restored and I was transferred to a work release center where I was assigned to work at the Hamilton, AL State Trooper’s office as a mechanic, gas attendant and clean-up person. Things were going along well until one day I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently there was someone with a grudge against law enforcement and while I was on the job, a sniper opened fire on the compound. I was hit in both eyes with shrapnel. The officers rushed me to the Helen Keller Eye Clinic for treatment. I stayed there for some time and recovered my eyesight, but to this day still have scars around my eyes.

After that I was given a job at a window factory. I was an expediter and helped my whole line work faster and more efficiently. When I went to prison my ex-wife divorced me and kept everything I had including all my personal things: clothes, fishing equipment, religious items, and all my tools and equipment. We also never had a child, so basically I had nothing except what I had in prison and no obligations to anyone. Knowing my sentence would be over soon I worked hard and saved my money. Each week I bought clothes I would need and put more money in savings so I could get on with my life.

What happened next makes it very clear to what extremes the Feds went to make sure my life would continue to be controlled. One day, out of the blue, I was ordered back to the work release prison and called into the office of the warden and assistant warden. With them was an FBI agent. Now I’m told I have two options because I have truly messed up. I couldn’t imagine what they were talking about because all I did was work and come back to the facility at the end of the work day. I said to them that I don’t speak or mess with anyone. “You all know I’m a loner and the only time I interact with the other inmates is when we are training for the football game.”

The warden indicated the FBI agent standing there, said the man was his childhood friend and they were very close. Then he tells me the man says that I have dishonored his family and his sister. I had no clue what he was talking about. Then came the real shocker; he went on to say I must marry his sister or be sent back to prison with a new charge and more time. This could not be! What was happening here?

I told the warden this was not true and he knew it couldn’t be, pointing out that I was never allowed any time alone at work and the prison provided all my transportation back and forth to work. On weekends I was supervised at all times unless I got out on a pass to spend time with my family. So everyone knew this could not be so.

The warden asked me if I knew that not only was the woman’s brother an FBI agent but her grandfather was a judge there. “So what do you think will happen to you? You will marry this woman or you will pay dearly for this.”

All I could say was, “I’m not going back to prison!” 

Nothing happened for awhile. Then two weeks later I get a letter from the prison commissioner stating that I had been granted a release into the custody of my mother. No I was not on parole, I was released as a way of making more room at the work release for more prisoners. At least that is what I thought and was later told. Later I found out that strings had been pulled by the judge and FBI agent and the warden. I thought I had dodged a bullet and now was free from them trying to force me to marry someone I had never even met. Boy was I wrong!

Mom came and picked me up and took me home with her. Finally the wolf pup was free again. I ran into the woods, and up and down the mountain and into the river and creeks. I was free at last. Even though there was an invisible chain still hooked up to me, seeing my family and being with them meant everything. Now one of the requirements was that I had to have a job, so I went to work the very next day at a garage in Hartselle as a mechanic.

I saved my money and for $90 bought a box of parts and pieces in a junk yard and build me a triumph 650 Bonneville motorcycle chopper. I built it from scratch and painted it, chromed it out and painted Yosemite Sam on it with his pistols drawn saying you better back off. I later traded this motorcycle for a Chevy Vega and seven hundred dollars to boot. Yep that youngster wanted my bike real bad. He paid me the boot and drove away on my chopper and left the Vega with me. I went and bought a dodge in a junk yard. Dad and I worked on it at night and fixed it up. I was doing good and helping dad around the shop at the house where he worked.

Later my Step-dad and I went to get a job together at the Chevy dealership in Hartselle. We worked good as a team there and everything was going great. A few months went by then one Saturday while I’m at the house working with Dad on a transmission for a customer, a strange car pulls up. Out gets an older woman maybe in her 60’s followed by a middle-aged woman looking to be in her late 30’s or early 40’s and a little girl about 5 years old. I’m thinking maybe this is someone looking to get their car worked on so I ignored them and kept on working in the garage while Dad went to see what they needed.

When Dad came back he was not happy and told me they were there to see me. Long before I had told Mom and Dad what happened with the warden and FBI agent and what they said I had to do. We all thought this was over when I got out and was living with them. Oh how wrong we were. I went on in the house where they were talking with Mom and I could tell she was upset too.

The woman’s name was Sandy and I guess her FBI agent brother or the warden had told her where I would be living. Now Mom’s house was not easy at all to find back then. They lived on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and more mountains. So someone surely had to do some digging to find me. Also my mom’s last name was different than mine and I got no mail there.

After that encounter, I left and went to work in another county. At first I lived in the woods and worked at a furniture plant. There I met a pretty young lady named Robin and we started seeing each other after work. After a couple weeks I found a place to rent and started fixing it up. About a month later, thinking I had gotten away from the situation with Sandy, she and her mother show up at the furniture plant. The plant manager came to get me from my work station and escorted me to where they were waiting. The mother tells me this “running bit” is over; said she had talked to the parole officer and they would be sending me back to prison unless I married her daughter by the next week! By this time I had gotten off of release status in Mom’s custody to being on parole. My parole office was in Morgan county and I’m living in Winston county where I worked.

Ghost about 1980

I drove home and told Mom and Dad what had happened. Dad said he would go with me to the parole office in Decatur and we would get this straightened out. He did not believe either that they could force me into a marriage with a woman I didn’t even know. Well it turned out I still had only two choices – marry her or go back to prison. Dad whispered that I could always leave her once I was off parole, so that was my plan and I made the impossible choice. Later the woman and her family showed up at Mom’s. The woman’s mother told Mom that I would marry her daughter and if I ever tried to leave her or do her wrong I would be put in prison forever. This was in late May 1981. I had just turned 23 and here I was married to this strange woman who was 17 years older than me. Still I was optimistic. My parole would be up soon, I would leave her and this nightmare would be over.

The same day we were married I was required to move to Hamilton, AL where her family lived. I was to finish my parole there with a parole officer who was a family friend. On the way there I threw the wedding ring she had given me out the window into a river as I was driving over a bridge and told her just exactly what I felt. There would be nothing between us ever. Not ever. She had forced this to happen, she lied and her family lied and I meant every word. The day my parole was over and I got my papers that evening from the parole officer, we packed the new Monte Carlo I had just bought with all the mechanic tools my Dad had given me and more I had bought so I would have tools to work with and we headed to Florida where her children were living with their father.

Turned out he had custody of all three children; the Florida court had ruled she was an unfit mother during the divorce her ex-husband had filed. In addition to the little one I had first seen with her, she also had two teenaged children. Little did this woman know that my intention was to leave her the next day after I got her to her aunt and uncle’s home.

All For the Right to Pray (14)

Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Chapter 14 – When Life Came Undone

By Ghost Dancer

When I was 16 years old my dad signed for me to enlist in the U.S. Navy. A big part of this decision was to get away from the woman I had been forced to marry at age 15. The marriage was a farce, we shared no love or children, so I saw this as the only way for me to get on with my life. I thought I might be able to use my natural skills and knowledge and gain even more. This would be a fateful decision with a far-reaching impact.

While I was in the Navy something very bad happened to me; some kind of terrible accident. I have no memory of the incident, only that I woke up in the naval hospital with a terrible headache and a busted head. I had serious neck and back injuries and loss of hearing as well. Though I had no conscious memory, I did have recurring bad images flashing before my eyes. After a long stay in the hospital going through their treatments, I was given an honorable discharge for medical reasons.

To this day I have no memory of what happened before or after that incident. All I truly know is I was not the same person afterward. I have walked in the Spirit World all my life, thru ancient times, distances, dimensions, and I’ve seen many things. But what I was experiencing after the accident in the Navy was something totally beyond that. I could not determine what was real and what wasn’t.

Later I was diagnosed with PTSD which I had never heard of before. When I came home I kept having seizures or blacking out with no memory of what happened or where I had been. During these time I would literally go berserk, lashing out and even fighting walls, buildings, cars, or whatever. Afterward, I never even knew what happened or remembered anything. Each time I had one of these blackouts that caused a big scene, I was taken to a mental hospital. This happened 4 different times. While in the  mental hospitals I was never told what they were subjecting me to with their tests and psychiatric drugs but I was declared to have a mental disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, that I was delusional and extremely dangerous. Each time I left the hospitals against medical advice. 

Not too long after I found a job working in a dogfood plant. Only a few days on the job, I suffered yet another serious head injury when a sledge hammer accidentally fell on me. That sent me back to the hospital. After being treated for the head wound I continued to have the blackouts. They kept transferring me to different hospitals until I was placed again in a mental hospital where they deemed me insane and kept me sedated. My mother got a lawyer and got me released. Slowly I recovered and went on with my life though I was left with occasional seizures. I worked all week and spent most weekends setting up at local flea markets where I loved trading, buying and selling all sorts of things including guns just like I had grown up doing with my dad.

Late in the winter of 1976, I was on my way to visit my sister, Jackie, who was living in a trailer park. I made a mistake and went to another trailer that looked exactly like my sister’s place and knocked on the door. I was dressed in my usual fringed leather jacket and boots. I guess the woman panicked and thought she was being attacked by “injuns.” She shot me right through her door. My sister rushed me to the hospital ER where they treated the gunshot wounds in my arm and dismissed me. The doctors reported this to the local sheriff. In the end, neither of us were charged in this incident but I was locked up anyway.

The sheriff’s deputies arrested me at my sister’s in-law’s home and told my mother that it was over stolen guns. When my mom and step dad came to visit me in the county jail, they were appalled by the conditions. The cell they put me in had no bed or mattress and no access to a shower. I was still wearing my Indian jacket and boots and sitting on the floor. I even had to eat sitting on the floor. Worst of all they had not taken me to a hospital for my gunshot wound that was already getting infected. My mom raised sand to the sheriff about this. He acted like he hated me and nothing was ever done. My wounds festered and every day the deputies would take me out driving around telling me they would take me to the hospital but first they wanted to know who I got the guns from they found in my car. I wouldn’t cooperate because I felt it was my responsibility not to tell so they denied me medical care.

During this time a man named Larry T. Lucky, who identified himself as a federal agent came to see me. He said if I would tell what I knew about the people at AIM he could make all my troubles go away. There had been a connection made between the stolen guns confiscated at Wounded Knee and a gun-theft ring in my area. They all knew I was not the thief but were pressuring me to give up information. I refused.

Finally when I had become seriously ill, a couple of deputies took me to the hospital. My mom and stepdad came to see me. Mom remembers that I was very sick, delirious and talking out of my head. The doctors there told her I had blood poisoning and possible gangrene in my arm. It took awhile but I finally recovered and when I was returned to jail they put me back in the same bare cell. Never at any time was I read my rights nor did an attorney ever come to see me. Eventually charges were made against me for the stolen guns.

While sitting in jail awaiting trial, I was plagued by headaches, anxieties and seizures. The Court sent me to Bryce Mental Hospital where I was given electric shock and powerful drugs which literally put me in a medical straight jacket. Eventually they deemed I was ready to stand trial and sent me back to jail with a standing prescription for Thorazine, Mellaril and Valium. According to records these were administered in large doses by the jail staff every day right up to the very day of the trial. Witnesses have testified that I was like a “slobbering zombie” in the courtroom.

~~~

In the world of psychiatry, many things that were done in the 1970’s are no longer considered safe, appropriate or acceptable. But most certainly the law was very clear about the mental state or drugged state of a person pleading guilty to a crime. To put the situation in perspective, here is some relevant information:

Mellaril, Thorazine and Valium – their side effects, interactions with other drugs, and their contraindications.

Chlorpromazine, more commonly known by its proprietary name Thorazine®, developed in the 1950s was the first of the antipsychotic drugs and is described by some as a chemical straight jacket.

“The blunting of conscious motivation, and the inability to solve problems under the influence of chlorpromazine (Thorazine) resembles nothing so much as the effects of frontal lobotomy. . .

 – Peter Sterling, neuroanatomist, article Psychiatry’s Drug Addiction, New Republic magazine (March 3, 1979)”

From https://www.drugs.com/mtm/mellaril.html:

Mellaril (thiordazine) side effects: tremor (uncontrolled shaking), drooling, trouble swallowing, problems with balance or walking; headache with chest pain and severe dizziness, fainting, fast or pounding heartbeats; confusion, slurred speech; seizure.

Major (serious) Interactions: Thorazine (chlorpromazine) and Mellaril (thioridazine)

Using chlorpromazine together with thioridazine is not recommended. This can increase the effects of either medication: extreme drowsiness, confusion, agitation, vomiting, blurred vision, feeling hot or cold, sweating, muscle stiffness, fainting, seizure or coma.

Contraindications:  Mellaril is contraindicated for anyone who has suffered a head injury.

In the words of renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas S. Szasz, author of The Myth of Mental Illness:  “Mental Illness is a myth whose function is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations…The young and the old are defenseless against…psychiatrists whose livelihood depends on defining them as mentally ill.”

So I sat in court wearing a “chemical straitjacket” and pleaded guilty to crimes I never committed and everyone knew I never committed. I was sentenced to 8 years in the State of Alabama prison system. I was 18 years old.

While awaiting sentence I was not allowed to have prayers or any religious practice or ceremony. After sentencing, I was taken directly to Kilby State Prison mental hospital. On my very first day, I tried to tell them that I was an American Indian and it was against my religious beliefs to cut my hair. When I refused to cut my hair, they said, “No, you are a convict and you don’t have any religious rights.” Then they sent the goon squad in with pepper spray. After they maced me, they used clubs and boots to beat me down until I lay face down, naked, and handcuffed. While one guard sat on my back, holding my head up with a night club under my throat, and two more sat on my shackled legs, they shaved my hair off. Then they beat me unconscious. I woke up in the hole, naked, eyes swollen almost shut, my body bruised and battered all over. This was my introduction to prison and the way my life was going to be for many years to come.

Life has not been easy for me since I first started walking the Sacred Red Road. I was still in my teens when I was first sent to prison. The FBI investigated me, but they wanted the state to prosecute me for the stolen guns I had purchased and taken to Pine Ridge. That way their hands would be clean, and the state could give me more time than the federal court would have.

This legacy stuck, and corruption, both inside and outside, engulfed me like a web from which there seemed to be no escape. I would be in and out of prison for years to come. I quickly learned that being put in prison in the south would be a huge challenge. Back then, only two races were recognized. You were either white or black, and in prison when they did their counts, you would be counted as white or black. I’ve been listed as both and counted as both. I’ve been housed in all-black dorms, units, or cell blocks, and in all-white cell blocks, but one thing to remember, here in the south there was no freedom of religion for any minority. I guess Spirit really was going to test my vows and promise.

Big Tree

Big Tree was a special person Spirit placed in my path. He was a Lenape tribal chief. At the time, his tribe didn’t have a reservation, so he and others lived on other reservations. When I first met him, he was living on the Poarch Creek Reservation. He had lived a hard life. His face looked like a road map of wars. Yet it was gentle, and you could see his heart through his eyes. He helped me learn many things. One is to choose my fights carefully. He told me he could see in me that I was one who has the urge to protect and stand up for our people. Then he warned me that I cannot save the world. He said, “Do what you can for those around you, otherwise you will be spread so thin you will fade away.”  He warned me, “People will let you help them because you offer, rather than help themselves. Use your energy and time for the best for all.”

Even when I wasn’t around Big Tree, he sent me letters telling me his thoughts, and answering any questions I might have written to ask. He stood beside me and spoke up for me always. He helped open doors to other elders and spiritual teachers that I needed to guide and shape me. What was amazing to me was that no matter when or what was happening in his life, he always took the time to teach and counsel me.

I was so happy when Big Tree’s people got their own reservation. He was so full of life and went to work on all the things they had planned on all those years waiting to get a place of their own. 

When I was thrown in prison and being beaten for standing up for my religious rights and the jailer’s fear of all Natives, he was there counseling me. He told me to never let them see you hurt, never let them see that they are getting to you, this will give them fuel to do it even more. “Silence, silence your cries of pain, swallow them, go deep inside and let your spirit stay free.” He said to remember they must defeat your spirit to win, not your body. Our bodies are weak, our spirit is awesomely powerful. Walk in your spirit and they will never defeat you, no matter what torture or pain they do to you. These words I still carry with me every day. I live to always honor Big Tree’s teachings to me.

Note: There were actually three courts involved in this conviction because there had been guns stolen from three counties. In 2020, using the Alabama Rule 32, I challenged the legitimacy of each of these convictions. In each case, the state could not deny the wrongdoing; the courts simply ruled them to have been time barred.  

Under Construction

Lights In the Distance. . .

Walks’ Outdate – 132 Days and Counting

By Steven Maisenbacher

Walks On The Grass

Geez Louise, will somebody please give me some Ibuprofen. I got muscles where I didn’t know they still were, however, I do in fact now know they are there, not only because they are killin’ me but also because I did it to myself. See we all know I’m on the way to getting out, and over the years since 1999 I have gained a good amount of weight. So a month ago I decided, “Hey Walks, let’s start an exercise plan to get a little fitness back in the old bod!” (it gets worse)

So I decide to start riding the recumbent bike, where you sit in the seat, legs in front pedaling forward, the machine has a cool screen and all these programs (designed to kill you) that let you ride courses, like “cross country” or “hill climb” or “basic program” where it’s pretty much just resistance with levels 1-10. So my first time out a month ago I get on this thing and what do you think I did? Yeah, hill climb level 8. WRONG!

Bonehead move Walks, it’s a 20-minute program at that level and while I did finish it, I will never, ever, do that to myself again. The next morning I woke up, sat up on the bed and threw my legs over the side and went to stand. Again, WRONG! I felt like someone had beat me with a bat, fed me to a pack of coyotes who proceeded to poop me over a cliff.

See, I hadn’t really done anything in a few years since 2018 when I last played softball, and unlike Tom Brady, I did in fact finish the career with the first place “Kansas City Royals” softball team in Yazoo Mississippi Correctional Center and then I came here. Not long after that I underwent surgery on my back. That’s when all hell broke loose and my athletic days were abruptly ended by unrepairable nerve damage to my spinal cord, so the first bike ride was the last at that moment.

But no… me being me, I wasn’t gonna let myself be left as a pile of coyote poop at the bottom of the cliff, so I decide to give it another shot…a realistic “doable” shot, where in I decided to start over, on the bike of course cuz as everyone knows,  criminals always return to the scene of the crime. I devise a scheme and a program where I ride for 5 minutes on level 5 and will do that for 2 weeks then go to 7 minutes on level 6. My thinking was that certainly I would be ready for a little ole 2 minute, 1-level graduation after 2 weeks. Again, (yea, you guessed it) WRONG!

Remember that thing with the coyotes? Yeah, that, well it struck again this morning, but this time I’m not gonna fold up like a cheap suit, I’m gonna take my round self back out there tonight for another ride. Yep, 7 minutes level 6. OK, maybe I’ll drop back to 5 for the last 2 minutes like “Sings Many Songs” suggested.

But the point is this, all my life till I injured the rotator cuff in my left shoulder in 1999 doing a negative bench press workout, I have been pretty well built, with the washboard stomach, and a lot of muscle. Then that happened, and I was out of commission for almost 11 months dealing with the injury and slowly, pound by pound and month by month I gained weight…a lot of weight. I went from the 6-pack abs I used to have, to the pony keg stomach I now have, and while I am in shape (hey, round is a shape) I’m not in as good a shape as I could be. I wanna get a little more strength and a little more stamina before I get out, so I had to do something cuz I just can’t accept me as a fluffy/cuddly/round shaped guy.

So I’m on this self-betterment mission to coincide with the spiritual/ emotional/ intellectual remodeling I have been undergoing since a couple decades ago. So, let me tell ya, while the coyotes are still very much hungry and just waitin on me, I will not be deterred in at least trying to keep from the trip thru their digestive system and then over the cliff. I’m gonna ride that dang bike for 2 more weeks and then who knows maybe level 7 for 8 minutes… but let’s not make that call at this moment, cuz as I found out the first attempt, sensible will get it completed, jumping in will make me jump out. And since I wanna do this I’ll just take it in 2-week increments. After all, I ain’t in a race, it’s for me and no one else, so I can stay where I’m at level wise and time wise if I want. No one is gonna get on me for trying to do better by my own health and maybe, just maybe, those coyotes will starve to death waitin’ on me to get in a hurry and bite off more than I can chew…

All For the Right to Pray (13)

Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Chapter 13 – The Spiritual Reawakening of the People

By Ghost Dancer

Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer

Today, if you asked most people what they know about the American Indian Movement or AIM, you would most likely get a blank look.

For those who have heard about AIM, their impression would most likely reflect the characterization of federal authorities as militant radicals, even terrorists.

Only the most informed would recognize AIM as activists fighting for survival in a world that had been determined to annihilate them for hundreds of years.

AIM members, Laura Waterman Wittstock and Elaine J. Salinas, in their 2003, Brief History of the American Indian Movement give a clear picture:

“In the 30 years of its formal history, the American Indian Movement (AIM) has given witness to a great many changes. We say formal history because the movement existed for 500 years without a name. The leaders and members of today’s AIM never fail to remember all of those who have traveled on before, having given their talent and their lives for the survival of the people… The movement was founded to turn the attention of Indian people toward a renewal of spirituality which would impart the strength of resolve needed to reverse the ruinous policies of the United States, Canada, and other colonialist governments of Central and South America. At the heart of AIM is deep spirituality and a belief in the connectedness of all Indian people.”

What is not generally known is that the seed of the American Indian Movement was planted in Stillwater Prison in Minnesota in the late 1960ies by the two primary founders, Clyde Bellecourt (Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun “Thunder Before the Storm”) and Dennis Banks. The purpose was to re-awaken the traditional spiritual practices, languages, culture, and honor back to all the people. To revive all the old ways and instill this in all members to help all Native peoples.

Back in the day the government came up with many ways to kill the spirit of Native American people. Separating children from their families and sending them to boarding schools is very well known. Another was the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 which was designed to encourage Native people to assimilate. As a result, many Native families were sent into the inner cities where they lost connection to their extended families, elders, tribe, culture, language, and especially to their traditional religious beliefs and customs. This continued for years and many Natives wound up in prisons. A major problem in the prison system was that the Native population was such a minority that many were being victimized by the other races and gangs. 

Dennis Banks, Russell Means, Clyde Bellecourt

As prisoners themselves, Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt decided that this had to end. They called all the Native brothers to become united and to protect each other no matter what tribe they were from. They also put forth that all members must strive to learn their own tribe’s history, language, culture, and specifically, the traditional religious beliefs. United, they all would become spiritual warriors and walk a sacred path.  This was the very beginning of what would grow to be the revival and spiritual awakening for all Natives nationwide.

This spiritual movement spilled over from inside the Stillwater Prison to the outside world, to the reservations, to other prisons. This was the motivation that all Natives needed to lift their spirits up and give them something positive to focus on. Being inside a prison, with little hope of any better life on the outside, most Natives didn’t care. But with this new spiritual awakening they all had something to look forward to and to be a part of something that could help so many of their own tribal members and all Natives. The movement began to grow rapidly, bringing back respect and honor to all the spiritual teachers, elders, and pushing for better education and better health care for our people.

Clyde Bellecourt speaks to the heart of the American Indian Movement:

“This generation of little children is the 7th Generation. Not just Indian children but white, black, yellow and red. Our grandfathers said the 7th generation would provide new spiritual leaders, medicine people, doctors, teachers and our great chiefs. There is a spiritual rebirth going on.”

The deeper motivation of A.I.M. was to lift the people out of poverty and to restore the pride of heritage and traditional way of life. Most people today do not know about the Red Earth Survival School in Minneapolis, MN, or what it was put there for. Many Natives were dropping out of school so early that the lack of education was hurting our people. These schools and programs were, and still are, vital to helping Natives get their education and to stay connected to their cultural traditions as well.

Drug and alcohol addiction ran rampant. Members of AIM formed the PIPES Programs (People in Prison Entering Sobriety) which has been extremely successful by introducing Natives in prison to the spiritual ways and responsibilities of their traditional ancestors.

AIM was formed in the 1960’s and what most folks fail to give recognition and respect to is that if AIM had not come along, none of the following would have been accomplished or addressed or won for Native people:

  • The first AIM patrol was created in 1968 to address the brutality by police to Natives in Minneapolis, MN.
  • In 1969, when AIM activists reclaimed and occupied Alcatraz Island for 19 months, they symbolically reclaimed federal land in behalf of all Native nations. The very first Indian radio broadcasts – Radio Free Alcatraz – was heard in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
  • In 1970 AIM founded the Legal Rights Center, giving Native people legal representation for all our legal issues.
  • In 1971 AIM took over property on the Naval Air Station, drawing attention to Indian education, which led to getting grants for Indian education.
  • The first takeover of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) office in Washington, DC., the citizen’s arrest of old John Crow: 24 members of AIM were arrested for trespassing and later were released. The BIA commissioner became a member of AIM.
  • The occupation takeover of the Northern States Power Plant Dam in Wisconsin in which AIM gave support and assistance in helping the Lac Courte Orieles Ojibwa. This dam flooded much of their reservation. This takeover drew attention from the media and government alike and eventuality led to the return of over 25,000 acres of the tribe’s land back to them, also giving them settlement monies and job opportunities and business opportunities.
  • In 1972 the Heart of the Earth Survival School, K-12 opened to teach educational and cultural programs as well. This school serves as model for other schools to come.
  • Red School House was the second Heart of the Earth Survival School to open, offering K-12 education and cultural based programs.
  • The Trail of Broken Treaties March on Washington DC, a caravan of Native nations was led by AIM and ended with the occupation of the BIA Headquarters from November 2 to November 8, 1972.

At this time, AIM put forth the following 20-Point Resolution Paper to President Nixon

1. Restoration of treaty making (ended by congress in 1871)

2. Establishment of a treaty commission to make new treaties (with sovereign Native    nations)

3. Indian leaders to address congress

4. Review of treaty commitments and violations

5. Unratified treaties to go before the senate

6. All Indians to be governed by treaty relations

7. Relief for Native nations for treaty right violations

8. Recognition of the right of Indians to interpret treaties

9. Joint congressional committee to be formed on reconstruction of Indian relations

10. Restoration of 110 million acres of land taken away from native nations by the U.S.

11. Restoration of terminated rights

12. Repeal of state jurisdiction on Native nations.

13. Federal protection for offenses against Indians

14. Abolishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

15. Creation of a new Office of Federal Indian Relations

16. New office to remedy breakdown in the constitutionally prescribed relationships between the U.S. and Native nations.

17. Native nations to be immune to commerce regulations, taxes, trade restrictions of states.

18. Indian religious freedom and cultural integrity protected.

19. Establishment of a national Indian voting with local options: free national Indian organizations from government controls

20. Reclaim and affirm health, housing, employment, economic development and education for all Indian peoples

The Legacy of Wounded Knee

Traditional elders and religious leaders from Pine Ridge, S.D. contacted AIM and asked for help because of overwhelming brutality and killings on the reservation against any who resisted the totally corrupt tribal chairman, tribal council, and the BIA which supported them. These entities had formed a group called the “Goons” which was provided support and weapons by the U.S. government.

This is what led to the second Wounded Knee, as it came to be called, a siege that lasted 71 days. Civil rights activists from AIM battled the armed forces from the U.S. government, as well as local law enforcement and outside glory hunters who were racially prejudiced.

In the words of Dennis Banks:

                                                                                                “What we did in the 1960s and early 1970s was raise the consciousness of white America that this government has a responsibility to Indian people. That there are treaties; that textbooks in every school in America have a responsibility to tell the truth. An awareness reached across America that if Native American people had to resort to arms at Wounded Knee, there must really be something wrong. And Americans realized that native people are still here, that they have a moral standing, a legal standing. From that, our own people began to sense the pride.

In 1974, the Wounded Knee trials began in Minneapolis, MN, home of the AIM movement and the principals involved in the 71-day siege. To this day, I believe this was the longest federal court trial in U.S. history. So many issues of government misconduct were presented and revealed in this trial that the federal judge dismissed all charges against AIM. The judge stated that the whole case was polluted by the government’s own misconduct.

Following the resolution of the Wounded Knee incident, AIM continued its activism for the civil rights of Native peoples:

This is just a small list of documented facts about the mission, goals and accomplishments of AIM.  But there are so many more successes that AIM is directly responsible for. Throughout the 1970’s, AIM’s message was being delivered and taught in prisons. For the first time, Native prisoners began educating themselves and organized to stand up for their cultural and religious rights. A handful of prisoners from across this country filed suit in federal court.

The first was Bear Ribs, who filed in California from Lompoc Federal Prison. In 1977 he won the right to practice his religion as did others across this country. These cases expanded and brought more attention to the discrimination towards Native peoples. On august 11,1978, the president of the United States signed into law the Native American Religious Freedom act.

Later more cases were fought and won, including, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons act of 2000, the Native American Languages Act of 1990, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, Recognition of Native American Sacred Sites, and even the return of artifacts and bodies which had illegally been taken by museums, schools, etc.

None of this would have ever come about if not for AIM!

The message and spiritual awakening that AIM brought has inspired Native peoples everywhere and proven that they can make a change, they can win, and they can find justice.

AIM has awakened the hearts of all Native women, allowing them to pick their hearts up from the ground and bring back our sacred hoops for our people. In Native cultures, the women are the key to bringing in the seventh generations. Just as the messengers were female: Redbird, Daughter of the Sun (ani-yun-wiya) Cherokee, Apache Fire Princess, Snake Woman, Hopi Corn Maiden, Dineh (Navajo) Corn Maiden, Anishinaabe Corn Woman, Lakota White Buffalo Calf Woman, Rainbow Serpent Woman (Coweta, Cusseta, Hitchiti, Iste, Biloxi), and so on and on. Women are the guardians of the heart. Heart of the Mother Earth, and heart of all life.

I was young when the standoff at Wounded Knee was going on and not at all important, but I was an avid learner and I well remember how special it was to everyone when a young woman, Mary Crow Dog, gave birth to a baby amid the turmoil. Warriors all know that the love of a woman will give them strength beyond anything else except Spirit. The AIM song was given to them by the wicasa wakan (the holy men). It is a song for the morning sun, and in its original form as it was sung, we are thanking Grandmother Sun for sharing her love with us and her daughter Mother Earth. As we all know Grandfather Moon is always chasing one of them. He loves them both and whenever he is closer to one than the other, we all feel it too.  If you listen to the vibration of the song you will truly understand the meaning of love in your heart.

The Spiritual Awakening was the opening and rebirth of our people!

Now when I speak of the Rainbow People or Rainbow Children or Nation, I’m referring to the prophecy that was made and given hundreds of years ago and has been the repeated message of all the special awakened holy ones. The prophecy is referring to all the different children or peoples of all nations who come together because Spirit has touched their hearts to come back home to the sacred circle of life. They come to heal their hearts, and the hearts of all and Mother Earth too. It is through this awakening that true understanding of love and beauty can come forth.

So many of the people have been mixed in different races, that it is like a rainbow. Yet all these people know in their hearts that what they have been living, what they have learned, or even been experiencing in their spiritual life even, isn’t working for them. They feel this yearning inside to be connected; wanting something more; to understand why the stars, forests, oceans, mountains, animals, and birds all are calling to them.

Rainbow people don’t understand why they have dreams about things they don’t understand. They don’t fit in with what other’s lives or society say it should be. They feel that society has lost its honor, respect, truth, generosity, compassion, humbleness, loyalty, and love. To them the beauty of life means the beauty of family, the beauty of friends, the beauty of helping those in need, the elders, handicapped, sick, or injured. They see the beauty of children and the importance of protecting them and helping them in every way, especially in providing them lots of love and support.

 Being a Rainbow person means caring for all nature: trees, plants, rivers, creeks, lakes, oceans, animals, birds, mammals, reptiles, forests, mountains, deserts, swamps, grasslands, and prairie. It means caring about breathing fresh air, drinking clean fresh water, and about being able to see the stars at night. If your heart feels a longing a connection to any of these or to anything that is connected to the Native American way of life, then you are a Rainbow Child.

Somewhere in the past, no matter how long ago, an ancestor was a guardian of our Mother Earth and a Native person. The vibration in your body, your spirit, is different than those others who are content with the chaos and destruction of love from all around. Are you emotional? Can you hear a song and it will bring tears?  Can you watch a movie and find yourself tearing up? Even though you know it is just a movie or just a song, still, you feel it touching your heart.

You watch the news and are sickened by all the violence, chaos, greed, lies, and destruction all over. Tears flow again, and you feel this in your heart. Politicians and leaders, even religious leaders, prove to be so caught up in the lust for power and money that your heart turns away from them. You feel so alone, yet you have no clue what to do. What is wrong with you? Your heart is telling you to wake up! Your life isn’t supposed to be like this. It is not living when you just go through the motions and are miserable most of the time; filled with worry, insecurity, doubts, fears, and surrounded by overwhelming negative energy.

This is the way I felt all those years ago. I so wanted to change; to hold my head up and begin living. I wanted to feel loved and appreciated and respected in every way. I was so ready to open my heart to the heart beat of Mother and my ancestors’ spirit; to come back to the Sacred Spirit and begin walking the sacred red road.

Clyde Bellecourt and Dennis Banks paved the way for me and everyone to come to the circle. Leaders like Russell Means, Crow Dog, and so many others, all were messengers passing on the flame of the awakening of our inner spirit. When I first heard the message and saw these individuals, I knew, I felt this was what I had been looking for all my life. Learning the sacred traditions touched my heart then and still touch my heart today. I felt the true power and meaning of their words as they pierced my heart. I knew then I would walk this path forever.

No matter what people thought about me, or what society said, never again would I be silent. Never again would I stand by while atrocities were done or those who need protection would have to worry. I knew also that I needed to learn more, understand more about all the different practices of Native religion and customs, for every act, every song, every item, every prayer requires an understanding of a higher meaning. Just as I am made of billions of cells connected, so too, is all life connected and to learn all the universe, I would first need to learn myself; who I was, what I was, and what am I to become. Because I am part of everything in the universe, to know myself was the answer to knowing the universe.

In my years of traveling to reservations, I saw how our people had given up hope, living just in mere existence, but not really caring what happened to them, or if they live or die. All around, there was so much alcohol addiction and domestic abuse. What happened to our people?

After four trips to Oklahoma, I didn’t want to go back; it hurt too much seeing the spirit dead in everyone’s eyes. Until AIM came into our lives, we were silent, wallowing in what could have beens and what ifs.  My own family had been scared to even let outsiders know they were Native Americans. They always told folks we were Black Irish, or such. Especially for the ones with darker complexions. The notion had been so beaten into all the Southeastern Native people that if they found you, they would hang you, kill you or worse. So for generations, we all lived by a code of secrecy.

Now days almost everyone you meet from the south will tell you they have Native blood from their ancestors. They can say that now because of AIM It was the leadership and determination of the warriors in the American Indian Movement that made Natives proud to be Natives again. This is what I’m saying about awakening our spirit.

How many people feel the urge to connect to their Native heritage at the deepest level; to truly feel life has purpose; that you have a destiny, a real life, beautiful, rewarding, and fulfilling. How many long for a life that you know you belong in and you fit in; where you aren’t judged by how you look, but how you are inside. What you do does matter. Your heart is the key. AIM opened the door for us all. We just need to step inside, let our true spirits come to life and take control.

Ancient Ceremonies & The Importance of Adoption

By Ghost Dancer

For every problem, every situation, every need there is a ceremony for that. Just most people have no clue anymore; so much has been lost to all the people. By destroying the elders, holy people – which was the goal of the government – and outlawing the very practice of our traditional beliefs and practices, even those that seek have lost the true meanings and understandings of these ways. Many traditions I have been taught by elders. But most of the ancient, ancient things I have been shown have come by fasting and vision quests – spirit walking or dream walking into the spirit world – and asking for guidance and help to learn so much more and help bring back what has been lost, not only the ways of my people but of all native peoples. I also go there to learn the ancient languages and songs as they are actually done.

 I will always be seeking to learn more and bring back more for each and every tribe.  This could be done by so many, but most don’t want to push themselves through the sacrifice of no food or water and staying in constant  prayer.  There are no short cuts to learning these ancient lost ways,  but the effort is all worth it, and each ceremony, song, or language is so special and so important.

If more people would adopt someone, there would be no child or person left behind. There would be no elder left without someone being there for them. There would be no lonely adolescents or young adults, and there wouldn’t be middle-aged folks who don’t have someone to listen and counsel them as before and now as well.

Many times we lose those who have guided us, or we have needed in our lives to help us each day, or we choose to stray away from them. We all need to feel the love of belonging and having those we can turn to for anything. If we need help in cleaning up something, repairing something,  learning something or just to sit and listen. The Hunka ceremony helps in all these areas from the oldest to the youngest. We each help the other or others. We all have something to offer that someone may need or does need. Our love, our time, our knowledge or skills, or just our acceptance.

As any parent who  truly sees the child knows, children have a habit of having their own minds and desires, and some will rebel on you if you push them. I’m speaking from a personal  perspective. I was born to rebel! Ask my mom, she will tell you that quickly. So was she a born rebel!  No one likes to be forced into something or told that what they want is not possible. No one, especially a child, likes to be told you don’t have the time or that you have more important things to do. When saying these things, you hurt the child’s or adolescent’s heart. We all need that special attention that helps us become more than we thought possible. This was the ancestors’ thought and purpose behind the Hunka ceremony, and every tribe has this type of ceremony.

Now I ask, how many of you can help someone? How many of you need help? Your knowledge, skills, love, and time can help make a difference in someone’s life. It is up to you to do what is right by your heart and conscience.

 Aho, Ghost

All For the Right to Pray (12)

Part Two – The Making of a Warrior

Chapter 12 – South Dakota Summers – AIM

By Ghost Dancer

By the time I reached my early teens, I had been working all kinds of jobs for years and always saved my money so was able to buy a good motorcycle. None of my family knew this at the time, but I learned from news reports on TV or radio about events going on at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. I quickly decided on a goal to go up to South Dakota during the summer of 1972 after my 14th birthday to be with my brothers and sisters in the American Indian Movement. My parents would never have understood this, and had they known my intention, they would have thrown a fit, so I decided to sneak away and that is exactly what I did.

Starting out on a 1,300-mile journey alone on a motorcycle didn’t bother me at all. I had money in my pocket and skills in map-reading and route-plotting from taking trips with my family and working for my dad who had a taxi cab company. The trip took me three days. I camped the first night in Missouri, the second in Nebraska and the third in South Dakota. I left home with a back pack of beef jerky, biscuits, apple fritters, smoked sausage, and dried corn. Along the way, I would find places to camp in the forest, so no one would see. Then I would build a fire and make a soup by adding water to some dried corn and cut up sausage and let it slowly cook. Eventually I made it to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

I didn’t stand out too much. I had dark hair and was tanned from working outside on the farm and doing construction, but trust did not come easy. At first people were nervous about who I was, but I offered to help every chance I had, and soon found acceptance. I met several people who would play a significant role in my life.

My Muskogee Mentors, Phillip Deere and Billy Proctor

Phillip Deere

My brother, my uncle, my friend, my spiritual teacher – Phillip Deere was all these and more. I only got to meet with him a handful of times there at Pine Ridge, but those times were special for here was a Creek spiritual teacher who was special.  There were times when he spoke to a large group of us from various backgrounds, teaching and shaping us, and those were the best of opportunities.

But the times when Uncle spoke to me alone were the most awesome, for in these times he gave me Creek spiritual teachings and then had me figure out the understanding of these things. From Uncle I learned that knowing a teaching is one thing; truly understanding the meaning and purpose of it is what makes it powerful. He asked the questions, “How can you teach what you truly don’t understand and how can you live it if you don’t understand the deeper and true teaching that is there?”

Learning these things from one of my true own people who was highly respected as a spiritual teacher, was truly important to me. Here was a teacher from whom I wanted to learn as much as I could. Phillip Deere also helped me understand that I must learn not to fight my own self.  He knew the struggle I was fighting was my own illusion. Being a mixed breed always bothered me because I thought others judged me by how I looked. He laughed at that and said, “See! This is what I’m talking about. People who are true to our ways will truly see the real you. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone but yourself.” 

In my mind, I can still hear Phillip Deere’s words: “Just like this thing we are all doing. (AIM) Most see us as radical and the media and the government portray us as evil and trouble. But we are only a spiritual awakening that is now arousing the spirits of the people to step forth and claim their spirits back; to hold their heads up in honor and respect.

“See, they fear us because they do not want this. They can control a broken person, they cannot control a spiritual person. We are here only to protect those who have asked us to come and help them. We follow this spiritual path in a sacred way every time.

“So, you see, this is how you must see everything. Sure, there will be many who doubt you, many who even attack you, but they only win if you let them.  Remember a warrior is judged by the strength and power of his enemy.  When you are doing right, you will always be attacked that much more. If you were wrong and foolish, people would sit back and laugh and say nothing because your words and actions have no power. All who walk this path have battles, have those who attack and say all kinds of things about us. It makes no difference if you are full blood or mixed blood. Even members of our own tribe attack us because we teach or walk a different path than they do. They have forgotten the old ways. They have forgotten that we are to accept each person’s own path and what Spirit reveals to them. We are not to attack them for it.” 

“It seems they are witch hunting again.” Uncle said, “Just stay to who you are and you will always have those who step forth to help and guide you. For they will see your true spirit; your true heart.” These words spoken to me by Phillip Deere have always followed and guided me. I still live by what he taught me all those years ago.

Phillip Deere, helped open doors for me to have access to many well-known spiritual people and elders. He was also Muskogee and loved that I was there, not only to learn our people’s sacred ways from him, but to learn other people’s ways as well by being there with A.I.M. members and elders from the many tribes and nations that were represented.    

Billy Proctor was another Creek who touched my life there at Pine Ridge. He was a member of the tribe in Oklahoma and Phillip Deere introduced me to him, saying, “Billy, here is one of your family members from Alabama.”  Billy wanted to know who my people were, so I told him the names of all my great aunts and uncles on my father’s side. He was familiar with their names and told me there had been marriages that would make us related through the Wind Clan and Bird Clan town people. Billy’s family had moved to Blount County, AL from southeastern Georgia generations before and his grandparents and great grandparents had all lived there.

We all did ceremonies together, but Billy Proctor was more than a friend, or Uncle. He was someone I could talk to about anything; my dreams, my life, my problems, just anything. He would sit there and listen and then light his corn cob pipe and smoke it for a while before speaking. He always did this. Sometimes at first, I thought he was falling asleep or already asleep. But he was thinking and dreaming on his answers. When I asked him about this, he told me we should never rush an answer, ever. Even if you know the answer to a question, wait because a better one may come to you that will work so much better. He said he always wants to either ask his spirit helpers or dream of what the question was, then see it and see the answer as best would work for that person.  We are all different, he would say, and we each may have the same question, but the answer for each may be, and generally is, different because we all have different paths to walk.

Many of Billy’s ancestors, family and relatives, were considered medicine people and did many different things.  Billy didn’t consider himself to be a medicine man or holy man. He said he was just a man who tries to walk the path that is his. He just accepted the gifts that he had and would help and teach you if you asked. As he told me, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.” So I learned if you want to know something you must ask. If you need help you must ask. He taught me too, that before you do something for anyone else, they must ask first. Never use any gift you have on anyone or for anyone unless they ask first. We live by our own sacred laws. This you must always follow. Ever since, I have always followed these laws.

Billy was a man who lived the old ways; he didn’t like the modern world. He would not even allow anyone to take his picture and would have fainted seeing today’s world. He loved his sa-bias (crystals) and worked with them all the time. He never accepted or even went to get anything from the tribal offices. He lived strictly off the land and his connection to it.

Through my Muskogee mentors, I met several Lakota elders, and these were the ones who truly taught me many of the Lakota ceremonies and songs. Sun Dance Chief Swallow and Grandfather Ghost were both wicasa wakans or holy men. These were very good men who took the time to teach all the young people there. They both had gentle hearts and I could literally see and feel their spirits!

Leonard Crow Dog was the spiritual leader (wicasa wakan) who was so instrumental in developing the AIM movement. There were others as well, such as Art Solomon, teacher of the Prophecy of the Seven Fires. He was one of the spiritual leaders who led the Caravan of Broken Treaties across America. Art was an Ojibwa from Canada, around Ontario, I think.

I love learning and while in South Dakota I met many elders and teachers who taught me some of my most valued lessons. My attentiveness and willingness to listen and learn caught the attention of the teachers, Swallow and Ghost. They took time and worked with me in learning the seven rites of the Lakota and the meanings of all the songs. Many don’t understand how very important it is to know what the words to the songs mean. To know the meaning and believe what you are saying, gives the song power; you can see and feel the power coming into being.

One of the highest honors of my life came when Grandfather Ghost did a Hunka Ceremony for me. This is an old-time adoption ceremony of the Lakota. In the old days, if a young person had no status or was orphaned, he could be adopted by someone who had lots of status or honor.  This provided the young person with a new family and helped him to have a better life and a chance to be elevated in rank.

I would return the following summer and again the next. During the course of these three summers, the world of the Lakota was my world completely. I learned so much more in many Lakota ceremonies, from elders such as Kenton Fast Horse, Old Man Blue Horse, Grandfather Charging Hawk, Eagle Thunder, and so many more.

I still remember every word, every song and every ceremony I learned during those long-ago summers. I have a natural gift for learning things that are important to me because I put my whole self into the experience. During those summers in South Dakota I wasn’t taught from books. The elders taught me by being there, doing the ceremonies and I learned by paying attention and asking questions about things I didn’t understand, always wanting to know more. I found all the elders to be very patient and openly willing to teach me so long as I was respectful and sincere.

Leonard [Crow Dog] always thought that the dancers of 1890 had misunderstood Wovoka and his message. They should not have expected to bring the dead back to life, but to bring back their ancient beliefs by practicing Indian religion…dancing in a circle holding hands was bringing back the sacred hoopHe also thought that reviving the Ghost Dance would be making a link to our past, to the grandfathers and grandmothers of long ago.” – Mary Crow Dog

It was here at Pine Ridge, in 1972 and 1973 that I did my Hanblaca (vision quest). I participated in the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance, all of which led to my Hunka Ceremony and my rightful name, Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer.

During this time, we were all learning from each other and standing together as one; healing the sacred hoop which in turn, would heal us. Most members of AIM were mixed bloods and came from the cities to return to the reservation. Most of the families there had been relocated under the government’s relocation act and many had lost touch with their relatives during those years. The catalyst for coming back to the reservation was a renewed spirit of wanting Native rights and freedom. Many of the elders and women there were crying out for help and protection, and AIM was there for them. Many in the government and the press called this an uprising. But that was not true. The movement at that time was a Spiritual Awakening; and awakening the spirit within all of us.

Because of mounting tensions and open conflict at Wounded Knee in 1973, when I returned to South Dakota that year, I brought several guns with me in my car. Much later, when all the AIM guns were confiscated, and authorities ran checks on them, it turned out several of these guns had been stolen. Eventually, charges were brought against me for buying and receiving stolen property, grand larceny and burglary. For that I went to prison in Alabama. Art Solomon stayed in touch with me while I was in prison and was a witness for me in federal court in my Native American religious freedom case.

Over time, I brought home many treasured photos taken on these journeys: photos of many of the elders with me and even photos from the siege of Wounded Knee.  Years later, after my release from prison in 1994, my wife Cat and I looked forward to building a life together. My mom suggested that I let go of the past and begin anew. So Mom, Cat, and I dug a hole and burned the photos and everything I had from back then. Mom has always understood that I had to live my life and walk my path, so she just advised me the best she could. This time I listened to her wise counsel.

Still, these people, elders and teachers I met during those South Dakota summers, changed my path forever. Never again would I be silent or sit back. I would be vocal about our rights and freedom; our right to be who we are. We aren’t extinct, but very much alive and keeping our cultures, languages, and religious beliefs alive and going forward.

Chief Leonard Crow Dog 1942-2021

Chief Leonard Crow Dog was born in 1942 on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was a descendant of a prestigious traditional Sicanju Lakota family of medicine men and leaders. Crow Dog was dedicated to keeping Lakota traditions alive and was a significant spiritual leader in the American Indian Movement where he conducted traditional healing ceremonies and led the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance.

Art Solomon, 1996 – Photo by Jody Freeman

Years later, his great man would stand strong in support of Ghost Dancer when he most needed help in his battle against religious persecution in the State of Alabama prison system.

~~~

Next: Part Three – The Legacy of Wounded Knee – Chapter 13 The Spiritual Reawakening of the People Here

Astounding, Baffling and Irritating

Lights In the Distance. . .

Walks’ Outdate – 137 Days and Counting

By Steven Maisenbacher

Walks On The Grass

Talladega Prison, April 8, 2022

If we all were to be reasonable about the math, we’d agree, the average federal correctional officer makes a whopping 50k annually. Now it’s amazing to see this when the primary job description is basically babysitting a bunch of wayward adults.

Let me tell you about my week thus far… So a few weeks ago the warden posts a memo to all inmate population in regards to “excess inmate personal property.” He says we have a month to mail home all items we want to keep that do not exceed the limits that are set forth in his memo. Wish I had a way to include it all, but it’s got such notable things like we are allowed to have 1 cup, 1 bowl, 5 books (of any kind), 4 pair of underwear, 4 pair socks, 2 sweatshirts, 2 sweatpants. The list is exhaustive and ignorant in its conception, but hey we are in a system that pays 50k annually for 10 cops to stand around and talk for hours to each other while keeping a sharp eye out to confiscate an apple someone is trying to take out from the chow hall, or an extra milk. They will pile up on both sides of the sidewalk like it’s some kind of gauntlet and act as hateful and despicable as they can figure out how to be, talking crazy to people who, all in all, just don’t want to go to bed hungry, so they chose to take the apple or banana or a couple slices of bread back with them to eat later. See it’s a long time between supper, if you can call it that, and breakfast which is even more meager than supper.  

So with this edict hanging over our heads, I want to tell you a bit about the reality of this prison. There are more drugs and contraband cellphones here than you would ever believe, as much dope as in the free world per capita, and the same with tobacco. Cigarettes can be purchased for $150.00 to $200.00 per pack and are available all over this compound. Drugs like cyboxin, a synthetic heroin replacement drug, weed, methamphetamine, ice, or the worst of the bunch, K-2  which is bug spray on paper that these idiots smoke and then flip out or vomit all over or freeze up like zombies and then become combative, truly the most dangerous due to its unexpected effects on the users is all right here.  Now let me be specific here, you can get this stuff anywhere, and lest we forget the cellphones, touch screens, flip phones, thumb-sized phones designed to be easily hidden.

Now I’m just saying, like the Covid infections that got in here, guess who brought THAT in? And guess who brings all these other dangerous narcotics and devices in?  That’s right, it ain’t jumpin’ over the fence into this place, and it ain’t comin’ thru the visiting room, not when you can get these things in the quantity that they are readily available for the right prices. It’s sickening to me in that these sleazy people want to punish me for other peoples’ behaviors, all the while the cops are the ones facilitating the very things they are turning around and busting (or not busting.) Simply put, this facility is the most corrupt and hypocritical place I’ve ever seen, you walk into the units and smell smoke, tobacco, skunk weed, or the burnt chemical smell of the k-2.

Its pitiful, so here I am waiting for the goon squads to come thru and rifle thru the things we have. I have thrown away or given away a ton of stuff, things I don’t need, extra clothes, especially winter clothes since I won’t be here for another winter. I’ve got my books down to 5, everything of a commissary nature is in my locker, it wasn’t hard to do since I don’t have any store to speak of; just went and spent my last $8.00, needed coffee and soap, now I got ‘em. when everyone started piling their excess books in the commons area, I even bagged them up and took them to the library, knowing full well all these guards would do was throw them in the garbage. Saying these things may rub some people the wrong way, but it’s the truth, I no longer care and I’m tired of being bullied by an administration that is corrupt and out of control.

See, at this point it’s not about sound principles in penology, but abuse, oppression, humiliation and vice.  They want to have their cake and eat it too, see to treat people like this is just wrong and there is a word for people who enjoy, no, go out of their way to see and relish the suffering of others. In fact there are several words for this type of jerks, but I’m not gonna deviate from my path to get into name calling. I’ll just say this and leave it at that, today at lunch I watched over a half million dollars of the taxpayers money, all hanging out doing nothing more than trying to catch a man with a banana and you wonder why this government is trillions in debt? You wonder that men come out of prison, not rehabilitated, but bitter and resentful at having been victimized by these people for years, sometimes decades? If there is one thing I have had said about me that was asked of me is this, “How did you ever make it thru that without losing your mind?” My answer is the same today as it was 20 years ago: the Creator, my faith and the fact that I never want to be as corrupt as my so-called keepers. Amazing, astounding, baffling, and definitely irritating, but absolutely the truth.

Then the hammer fell. . .

Thursday April 14, 2022

YOU CAN’T PROVE IT! This is what I was told when I went to see the lieutenant about my broken radio (that I can’t replace) and the coffee cup that had been taken and the brand new book that one of my friends had spent her money on to send me, a Conn Iggulden novel that is really good! I managed to get the book back by pushing the dust cover thru the crack in the door and running it up and down like a flag to get the attention of one of the staff that was having so much fun acting like thugs and bullies, taking property from people just because they can.

All this stems from that assertion by the new warden that “we have too much personal property” when the simple truth is that we have barely what we need to get by. The warden instructed staff to come in and take things like books and bowls and clothes and personal papers and radios, almost anything that is kept out in sight they took. Some people got “confiscation notices;” most didn’t and when you complain the line is this “you can’t prove we took it/broke it.”

Here’s how it went down for me. At around 1pm yesterday afternoon, I made a cup of coffee, went into my cell, put my radio on with headphones, got my book off the bed, opened a pack of peanut butter crackers to snack on, and sat at the desk reading, quietly minding my own business. Suddenly, in thru the door comes a correctional officer who says something to me. Now I can see thru the open cell door now that there are at least 20 cops out there. I pull my headphones off and say, “Excuse me?”

He says, “Personal property shakedown.”

I said, “OK, the locker is open.”

“NO!!! You need to step out.”

So I toss the radio on the bed, turn the book over on the desk, take a sip of the coffee and step out where I am herded to the sports TV room and told to get inside. Lovely.

So 15 minutes or so go by and they open the door and call out “cell 1-1,” That’s me.

“Step out, OK get in the cell.”

“Wait officer, that is my book there on the ground, that is a brand new book that I am reading and I was reading it when you came in. Can I please have it back?”

“NO! Get in the cell.”

So in the cell I go. I quickly discover my coffee is not there. I see that it had been poured into the sink, but the whole cup was gone. Now this particular cup I have had for 17 years. It was a thermal cup and I had stuffed it full of feathers. Most guys put pictures inside or stickers or whatever, I filled mine with feathers, not only for spiritual reasons, but practical as well since feathers are excellent insulators. So I’m all warped out about my book and the fact that these cops had done this at the instigation of the warden.

This warden is new here and in my earnest opinion is way too much into punishment and not enough into prevention. This is readily observable in the fact that there are so many drugs and cell phones and tobacco here in this prison that are brought in unchecked by the cops themselves.  When the warden is more concerned that I have an extra book or a banana from the chow hall than he is about his own corrupt staff and the threat they pose to his institution, then there’s a problem.

I would love to name names, but I know they would retaliate and I am not looking for more trouble, just a little peace of mind. Anyway, I still had the dust cover off the book they took and I put it thru the crack in the door running it up and down the door until I got one of the cops to come over. I told him what happened, that the book was mine and I was reading it when I was rousted out of my cell. At least he was humane enough to pick it up and set it on the seat of my walker, so there was a smidgeon of civility.

After they left I discovered that the alarm clock I kept sitting on my desk was gone and they even took an elastic band they issued me in medical to exercise with. Then I found my radio. It was on the floor behind the bed and sure enough, it’s now broken!  After we went to dinner I went to see the lieutenant about the situation. He suggested I go see the warden about it.  So this morning I saw one of the lieutenants that was actually here when all this went on and he told me…and I quote: “You can’t prove it happened or that my officers did it.” Isn’t that nice?

Now I have no clock, and no radio/head phones to watch television or listen to the late night talk shows on. Fortunately, Big John, one of the truly good men I know in here gave me a coffee cup so I can drink my coffee now, but the radio thing is really upsetting me. These things are expensive and here I am trying to save what little money I have for when I’m released.

But here’s the thing… See, I refuse to ever again be the monster that I once was and I refuse to let these people have the satisfaction of pushing me to become mean and nasty. I refuse to go on a tangent and lash out because they have mentally or emotionally brutalized me and or deprived me of my personal property just because they can.

The whole herd of them, from the dumbest, cruelest sadistic “correctional officer” to the most disturbed executive staff member decides to be cruel and inhumane and to torture the prisoners by taking what we have and value or that we can’t replace for whatever reason. This is just what they do. But nope, I refuse to be what they create. Rather I will be what The Creator has allowed me to become. That doesn’t mean I gotta like it, just that I gotta do it and with strength and personal fortitude, morals and integrity, I’ll keep pushing on.

And one more thing… it won’t stop me from telling you…

And one more thing… the very next day was the beginning of the long Easter weekend. I had a short email early in the morning saying they were going on lockdown. Didn’t know why… Bet I can guess… Sings

%d bloggers like this: