Ending Violent CrimeIntroduction | Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Epilogue
Letters from Prison
Here are some of the words of the prisoners themselves:
I have been involved with the Native American services and the Open Circle at Somers Prison [CT] and now with the Four Path's at Enfield Facility. I am currently serving time at Willard Correctional Institution. The Circles are so strong in me now that I must fight to get to the Circles as we do not have them here in this facility.
My roots are strong into Earth Mother and my heart is solid like an oak tree for the people. I came to the circle first in prison, and I've been on the red path now for the last 9 years. By no means have these years been easy but they have been well worth the effort that it has taken me to get this far.
From the circles I have learned that I am all right even thought I've made a big mistake in life and for that I am paying now. I've also learned that once I can love and help myself I can love and want to help others through life. I have learned that if we are to survive on Earth Mother that we as a people must put all the racial hate aside and live as a people for one another as we are all brothers and sisters and have great gifts to give each other. The Creator didn't create bad people to hurt one another and yet we hurt the people we love as we've been hurt by others.
One of my elders told me one day "we only come through this life once so don't bother to waste my time with a lie or not speaking from the heart." I learned respect from a piece of wood called a talking stick. This stick I was scared of for a long time as I'm not one to or was able to speak in front of people and tell them the truth about the way I really feel about something or myself, only with the strength of the circles and my brothers and sisters love in the circle I came over my fears and now I have no problem telling someone the truth as long as it is in the heart. I also learned: say what you mean but don't say it mean.
While being in the circles I also got involved in an RC class and there I really learned what it was like to be human and feel good about it too. Without having someone like my elders (Medicine Story, Slow Turtle, Ed Sarabia) most likely I would be dead or wishing that I was dead from hating the person I was and not
knowing how to change the person. I do know that it is up to the person him or herself that wants the change that makes it happen, but sometimes we all have to have someone around letting us know that they do care and willing to take the time to help someone.
My goal in life is trying to be like my elders, the greatest honor and respect I can give any of my elders is to pass along the things that they have taught me over the years.
I would love to start a circle when I get out of prison, and I've been looking forward to the day to do just that. I feel that we should take more heed to Earth Mother, as she gives life to all that live upon her, no favorites, no racial war, everyone the same.
I used to think that every day was a good day to die, as my heart is right with the Creator, but lately I'm finding that it's easy to die, but every day should be a good day to live! Living is a hard and scary thing to do every day. The Red Path is a hard path to walk, but it is honorable and respectable and one that is work walking for all the days to come.
Walk in Beauty,
Oakheart (D.C.Underwood), Enfield, CT
Looking back over the last couple of years I can see a definite change in my life. I am not the angry, bitter person that I once was. I attribute this change in my life to my new ability of opening up to others. Our circle allows me to do this because of the absolute openness and confidentiality that is within it. There is no other place in which people hated and mistrusted by society can get together and break the ice, really open up and talk, and more importantly to listen to what is spoken by others. There is so much good within the circle if only given the chance by others from the outside. The longer I am within the circle the more of the old me is melting away. I realize that I have a long way to go, but as Grandfather Medicine Story reiterates again and again, "Your walk starts with baby steps." I have made great bounds in changing the inner me. On second thought, changing is such a harsh word. I believe now "re-discovering" is the more appropriate word.
There seemed to be a lot of pain, anger and mistrust in my life. Now I can see that most of it was self-imposed. I had a lot of resentment of family, friends, loved ones, and how my life ended up. I have come to the realization that the problem was not the "other guy's" fault. I have found that if I do not reach out for help, no one would know that I needed help. It has taken me thirty years to find this out, and I did it the easy way. I was arrested and sent to prison. This was only the first step in my re-building.
I felt my life was in a fast spiral downward to nowhere.
Prison was not a bad thing for me, in fact, believe it or not, it has been one of the best things that has happened in my life. Coming to prison has given me the chance I needed to stop and look at me. Coming to prison has given me a long time to think, allowing me the opportunity to really learn about myself and to really see how my actions have affected the true people that really cared for me.
Soon as I started to come to grips with my problems a whole new world opened up to me. The Creator saw fit that my path crossed with Stock Waan (Ed Sarabia) and Grandfathers Manitonquat (Medicine Story) and Cjegkitoonuppa (Slow Turtle). I have found the true love that they share with me and others. They do not take you by the hand and tell you that this is what you must do. Rather through stories and personal experiences that have allowed me to open up my eyes to what needs to be addressed in my life. They did not force anything down my throat. They only offered the "food", and it was up to me how far I was going to open up my mouth and how much that I was willing to ingest. True love in the purest of forms.
As I grew, I reached out to others that I thought were gone from my life. My father and step-mother are now a very important part of my life. My sister that I thought I had lost so many years ago is now a special part of my life. Finally my wife that I alienated to such a degree that I still do not know why she still loves me is still in love with me. I reached out and they grabbed my hand. See, life is a full cycle. Once I was back in the circle with Creation my life changed for the better. It is never too late to reach out for help.
So I now know that I am not alone, and I am not the misfit that once dominate my thoughts. It has been a hard struggle. I still deal with my problems and my own misconceptions daily. It is helpful - struggling is a way of self-preservation for me. I love all those who are and were willing to share themselves with me. I love my Grandfathers and Elders for taking their precious time to spend with me. I love my parents and sister for leaving a line of communication open for me despite my actions. I love my wife for being a dear friend and lover. Above all I love everyone who has touched my path for allowing me the opportunity to truly realize that I love myself.
- Tall Badger
I write this letter in honor and respect for the Indian Circle at Somers Prison. I have gained and learned so much it is hard to say. I have been in many places through my childhood, hospitals, foster homes, group homes, half-way houses and so on until I reached jail then prison. When I first went to Indian meeting here, I only went to get out of my cell when I was on lock-up. My first surprise was when the talking stick came to me no one said, "you must talk." It was up to me. I was happy for the first time to be able to choose for myself. I know to some this might seem a small thing, but brother, if you lived the life I have, this small act will make you feel like somebody.
In Indian meeting I found guidance, not force. No one said do this and that. They said "well, I feel the best way is..." Now it was up to me to take that or not. I also find a self peace there. I see people reaching out to help each other, I see good people, and I find true friends. However, to me most important, I found myself. I learned so much about me. Every time I go I learn more.
There is to me a oneness each time we meet, a bond that must never be broken. And if you make yourself a part of it, the bond cannot be broken, not now, not ever.
I have learned to understand people better. I have learned to deal with things better. I see things as never before. I keep with me what I have learned at Indian meeting. And what I find that helped me I tell others in order to help them. However, we all feel the greatest moment of our help is when we all are together as one.
I must confess I have a long way to go, but I can also say with a smile, I have come a long way. What I have written here came from my heart. I only wished we would have met sooner in life when I was young.
Sincerely, Brian Wright, "Silent Water", Somers CT
Interviews in Somers CT state prison
RC has taught me how to deal with a few problems, taught me how to see my mother's death - I don't hold myself responsible for my mother's death as I used to. I don't hold my father responsible for it now either. I did for a long time. Actually I don't hold any of my family responsible now. And I'm not responsible for any of them. I've managed over the years to build myself a whole new life, and I could never do that for a long time. And I'm more at peace with myself. I think that during my youth when I lived with my mother's sister, I took a lot of anger out because it seemed that nobody really wanted us, and my aunt and uncle just got stuck with the three younger of us. I was only six, but I hated that - when I had to call them mom and dad I nearly choked on the words. I carried a big chip on my shoulder. For a long time I was always the class clown. I never took school seriously. I didn't value anything, let alone my life. I did my share of speed and coke, reefer and hash, acid, I really tried to kill myself that way, tried to burn myself out - see how much I could take. I wound up in the hospital a few times. I've landed myself in the nut-house a few times. All my life everything has been a mind-game.
Before I came to prison I was always in and out of foster care and group homes and boys' institutions, so I really don't that much street time - from the time I can remember I was in and out of shelters and boys' prisons and so on. And then I started getting involved in female relationships. I never held a good relationship, I mean totally up-front, honest. I just tried to get what I could get - probably a lot of those relationships would have been good for me, but I just screwed them up. Some of them had good families, money, and they accepted me, but I just didn't know how to deal with relationships. I probably messed up a lot of good friendships.
Since I've been on this bid I've met a lot of good people that deal with a lot of my garbage, and I shell out a lot. I've always said that this bid saved my life. Because I wouldn't have lived to see thirty two years. I was a heavy drinker, liked my speed and my coke. I was a border-line nut case. But this prison saved my life, because it dried me out. I cheated myself out of fifteen years. I've got two daughters out there, one I've never even seen, and one that will probably graduate by the time I get out. I don't want to go in there and disrupt the kids' lives. I just want them to know that I'm there for them. I don't want my kids to walk around thinking that someone else is their dad. I have no problem with letting them know I was in prison.
I'm not saying I'm perfect, and I know where I screwed up bad. I never wanted people to understand me or get close to me. And I never really cared about what people thought. When I was out there I could hang with you and everything else, and you jerk me once I would have no problem with burning you. And now because I'm here and with RC and the Open Circle, the sweat lodge, I can actually hold a conversation and really care. I wrote a letter to my father, an intelligent letter, from a human being and not an aggravated person.
When I get on the streets I don't want to put a gun in my hand and stick nobody up, because I was lucky this time and only got a twenty-five year bid, but with my next shot I'm out of the box - I'm not going to get a second chance. I'll be almost forty when I walk out. Family is the important thing right now. I may have, what, thirty years, forty years left when I get out - I need to think about what's right for me when I walk out the door. If it wasn't for RC and the Indian services I think I'd be worse than when I came in. I know what I'm capable of doing and that scares me. It never bothered me before, because I never cared. The sweat lodge has taught me patience. I can last a little bit longer in lock-down that I used to.
I'd be happy to get out of here, live on some land, with a McDonald's job or something. People think that's funny, but material things are not important to me any more. My life has been one screw-up after another, and it took this bid to make me realize something's got to change. I've seen too many people die in here, of AIDS, and lack of medical treatment - I don't want to be a statistic. I worry about things like, where am I going to stay when I get out, can I be legit - I've never been legit -I'm not going to walk into nothing when I walk out the doors - it scares me. I don't know, but I'm a survivor. I always feel now there's a purpose to my life other than being in prison. There's something for me to do. Before I wasn't even thinking about going straight. It's time for me to grow up. I have common sense and I want to use it.
RC has taught me a lot. I respect you as a human being, as my grandfather, and I thank you and Stacey very much for taking me into this class, and I think if it wasn't for you and the circle bringing out a lot of my feelings I would be one miserable _____ up here. And I think about you and Slow Turtle and Stacey giving up your time to come here - you don't have to do that - it's not like you're getting paid, you just do it for us. I think about things like that.
I listened to my brother Mark talk tonight and he blew me away! When I think about what he was - how he's grown! I know what he's talking about. It used to be the liquor, the women, the cash - hey, that was what's happening. But now I have brothers and family and - mentors - that's the word - everybody needs a mentor to show them the road-map of life. And I appreciate you and Slow Turtle and Stacey and Emmy and everybody else that sacrificed valuable time to come here. It's like all your life people blaming you, the someone comes along and says it's not your fault, but now you gotta change it, and gives you a hand to pull you out. And it's like - what's in it for him? That kicks around in your head. And I think - just doing right is enough for that person, to live a good life is enough for that person. Then you think maybe you can grab someone's hand and pull them out too. That's what's important.
I don't ever want to forget this time. I made the statement before: as long as I know where I'm at I'll always know where I'm going. You look to the next plateau, and when you get there, the
next - and just maybe you can be a decent human being. The wise guys in New York and Boston fifteen years ago, if they heard me talking like this, they wouldn't believe it was me - that ain't the Vinnie I know - they'd say I'd gone soft - but you know something? I really don't care because I know what's right and I know what's wrong.
RC has worked miracles. The circle works, it works a lot, but it doesn't have the basis that RC has. A circle works in a tribe of functioning, loving, caring people - you don't have that here. You have tribe of people, half of them aren't functioning. In this small RC group we have people that care.
Medicine Story: The way I see it, Vinnie, everybody is a good human being, and everybody is buried under a load of distress, and the difference between the circle and the class is that - what it takes to be able to find the person under all that distress is enough safety to be able to sneak out from underneath it every now and then and be real. There's more safety here in this small group than we can get in that large circle that keeps changing, new people you don't know coming all the time.
Vinnie: Well, I've got to tell you one thing. There isn't a person in this room right now that doesn't know the sacrifice you and your people make in coming in here every week. Out of love - I know it's got to be love, because I don't know if I could keep riding down, two hundred miles down and back for years for a few hours every week, sometimes twice a week - that's a passion that's unbelievable. That someone could be so good to me - I thank you.
Medicine Story: It's just about whatever makes people happy. It happens that what makes me happy is not a big bankroll, but just being here with you guys and seeing you doing something, finding yourselves, making your lives. And when you get out, like Mark says, it's not going to be easy. What it is - you don't let go of the string so you don't get lost out there. What you've got to hold on to is what we've got here - each other. It's not just me - there's a whole maybe half a million RC people out there that understand what I understand and what Stacey understands.
Vinnie: And I've got to come back - if that's what it takes to pay back what I've been given, I've got to come back in and give as you do. I hate the idea of coming back to this place and seeing all this, but I like the idea of being an example to my brothers, showing them that they can make it - you don't have to put that gun in your hand, you don't have to put that needle in your arm.