Reservation Black Hole
In Matthew 18, Jesus, responding to the question "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," calls a little child to his side, and says to the disciples that those who can humble themselves like the child are the greatest in God's kingdom. In Matthew 18:6, Jesus admonishes that "whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
My writing had got me in deep trouble, especially with the Area BIA Director, Robert Ecoffey, who really hated my little Bob stories that Clifford would print in the Black Hills Peoples News, a local reservation paper. In my stories, I would question Ecoffey about his investigation into the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. Ecoffey did not like my little Bob stories, and he had his way of expressing his dislike. Once I had made social/political statements, I was a marked person, except that I didn’t realize what I had gotten myself into. I had messed with the tribal political machine, and no one was going to tolerate that. I filed a lawsuit, which was not well received by the tribal political machine or Ecoffey. So Bob had me evicted from my house, arrested, jailed, and banned from the reservation.
When I returned home from a cook sale in Pine Ridge, I noticed a pick up backed up to my door. I figured someone was breaking and entering. I turned around and drove back to my neighbor’s place to call the police. When I returned, my yard was full of cars. Louella was standing there waving her arms and proclaiming that I was now evicted and she was claiming my house. I rushed past her. All the doors were standing wide open. The padlock hasps had been pried off and the door jambs were broken. I rushed inside the cabin to call the police, only to find the phone gone! And everything else gone! My beautiful house that I had been building for the past 8 years, now violated. I rushed past her and into the cabin. A lot of things were gone! The computer was gone!
I rushed outside to find some things were put in my pickup box and in the cab. I saw the computer sitting there in the front seat. Louella was standing there in the yard, along with her son Robert, shouting, “You’re evicted!” Apparently the goon squad had been hauling my things out all day, stealing my property.
I ran back past Louella and her goon squad, jumped in my Bronco, and drove off to a neighbor’s house to call the police. I told the police that some people had broken into my house, and were stealing my things, that I would meet them at my house. They said they would be right out.
I was driving slowly back to my cabin, when the police pulled up behind me and motioned for me to stop. The police officer told me that I better follow him to the police station. That didn’t make any sense. A pit of fear gripped my stomach, as I drove along. Instead, of following, I pulled into Karen’s again. I raced up the steps and knocked on the door. The police officer followed me and told me that I was under arrest. He even read me the Miranda rights. Karen asked him for his court order or warrant. If he had one, I didn’t see it nor was I presented with one. I said I was going to use the phone. He said if I did, I would be charged with resisting arrest. Good, god! They were really going to take me away. And I had to let someone know that. “I have a right to make a phone call,” I said, my hands shaking as I dialed the number of my best friend, Lucinda. Karen was arguing with the police officer, asking where was his court order. I don’t know if he had a court order or a warrant. I never saw one.
The police told me I was under arrest, but he wouldn’t tell me what for. He ordered me to put down the phone or he would add more charges.
“What charges?” I was dumbfounded! This was insane! Unreal! He wouldn’t tell me what I was charged with, nor did he show me a warrant. He just insisted that I hang up the phone. Lucinda answered the phone. I told her to listen very carefully. Karen started arguing with the police officer about not having a warrant, which was good. That way, the officer couldn’t prevent me from making the phone call, and he couldn’t listen in. “I am being arrested, and they are going to put me in a squad car and take me to jail. Please meet me at the Kyle jail….I don’t know why…. I don’t know what’s going on, but if you don’t meet me at the police station, you may never see me again! And I don’t have time to explain.”
The Tribal police officer said, “ Come with me.” I put down the phone. He was actually going to put me in the squad car, and take me away! He told me not to resist, or he would have to handcuff me. Somehow, I managed not to faint. He put me in the squad car, closed the door, and off we went towards Kyle, nine miles away.
I asked, “What about the people who have broken and entered my house and are stealing my things? What are all those people doing in my yard with boxes?”
He said, “I’m just following orders.” I was to hear that a lot, I’m just following orders.
We were rounding the hill heading into Kyle when the officer got a phone call. He turned around. I asked where we were going. He said he was to meet someone in Porcupine. I asked the officer, “ What about my house and my things?” He didn’t have any answers.
We passed 3 Mile Creek, and were heading towards Sharps Corner. About half way, we were met by another squad car. The officer got out, and the two of them talked for awhile. Then, he got back in, turning at Sharps Corner, and heading south. The other officer was following. There was some more talking on the radio. The officer stopped, turned around, and started heading back towards Sharps Corner. Some more talking, then he stopped, turned around, and headed back towards Porcupine.
The hardest thing was not knowing what was going on. What is going to happen to me? Every time I was transferred to another car, I asked someone to safeguard my house and belongings. This was never done. Apparently, no one had orders to protect my property and apprehend the thieves who were stealing my things. This gave rise to a more frightening thought. No paper work, no warrant, no court order, and the police not investigating the theft, it all added up to that they wanted to get rid of me. But how? My mind wouldn’t let me contemplate any further than that.
There were 2 police cars waiting at the Big Foot pull over. The officer and other police officers got out. Six officers were outside of their cars, talking. After they conversed for awhile, the officer told me to get out of the car. My heart was racing. I said nothing, but did as I was told. My heart dropped to my feet, as I was escorted into another squad car. I was afraid I was about to take the Anna Mae ride. For the first time, one of the officers spoke, and told me this was going to be the last transfer, that they would take me straight to Pine Ridge and put me in jail!
I said, “I think there’s been some kind of mistake.”
“You are Janis Schmidt, aren’t you?”
“Then there’s no mistake. We are just following the Judge Cook’s Order.”
“What Order? How can there be an Order without a hearing?”
But they didn’t want to answer questions, and furthermore, felt they didn’t have to.
It was still light out when the police drove the squad car into the Pine Ridge jail. How very strange, after all these years, of coming into Pine Ridge, now to be looking at it from the back of a police car. Stranger still was like I was being chauffeured to the police station with the car stopping on an unloading cement slab. A strange reality set in when two officers took me into a U shaped desk area, with a windowed office behind it, with lots of screens and computers. A woman behind the counter told me to empty my pockets. She told me to count my money. She called another police officer, and they both marveled at my pocket knife, like it was some kind of weapon, passing it around, marveling at it. I had just used it that very morning to scrape the posts on my battery. I said, “That’s not a weapon; it’s a tool.” I was asked a bunch of questions which they wrote down. I was taken back and put into the women’s cell. My god, I was thinking, I’m going to be put in jail. Never in my whole born days had I even been close to a jail! They told me to take off my shoes. They gave me some kind of mat and a blanket. I was told to follow an officer down a hallway. The officer stopped in front of a metal door. He unlocked a heavy metal door, and I entered a world where there is no freedom. Girls dressed in orange suits asked me, "What are you in for?”
“Political prisoner,” I said. They really liked that. “I’m the one who has been writing the Arlo Looking Cloud stories.” The girls laughed, and motioned a place for me on the cement floor against the wall. I had developed a following ever since I started writing about Arlo Looking Cloud in the Anna Mae Pictou Aquash murder trial. We talked, passed the time. Finally the jailer came for me. The girls said goodbye and told me to remember them in my writing. I said I would. They were calling out their names to me as I was going out the door, something absolutely unheard of in Indian world.
I was taken to the booking area where the Sheriff was waiting. The tribal police processed me back out and returned my shoes and my pocket knife, which they marveled at, even showing it to the Sheriff. A tribal captain gave me a detailed explanation of how they were following the law, which, of course, explained absolutely nothing. I felt this explanation was more for the sheriff than for myself. The sheriff was standing by the exit hallway. I was glad to see him. Now, I might find out what was going on. The sheriff told me he was taking me to Pennington County Jail.
“For what reason?” I asked.
In a loud and booming voice, the sheriff announced, “For trespassing on Indian trust land.”
I said to the Sheriff, “This is a false arrest. I was served no court order of eviction. There hasn’t even been a hearing on this, or not one that has been authorized by the BIA who are still investigating the status of the land in question.”
The Sheriff said, “I have a court order here that says you were evicted for trespassing on tribal land.” But he didn’t show me the court order, nor did he show me a warrant.
“How can you have a court order if I never had a hearing?”
“I’m just following orders.”
“Whose orders?” I asked, but got no answer. “ I was never served notice of an eviction hearing. Therefore the eviction is illegal and you are helping to carry out a false arrest. What about my property? Why aren’t you arresting the ones who broke and entered my house, and are stealing my things?
“Just following orders,” he said.
“I thought your job was to protect people’s property and ensure their safety,” I said.
“Those questions are for the court to decide,” he said.
“How come you never came when I called you. I was always told it was a civil matter and you couldn’t get involved, that you only came for criminal matters. Isn’t breaking and entering and stealing a criminal matter?”
This was so strange and terrifying that I felt myself separating from reality. I was told to sign a paper stating I received my belongings. The sheriff was tired of answering questions he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer. He marched me off to the sheriff’s van. Back out on the loading dock, the sheriff told me to hold out my hands. He handcuffed me. He told me not to talk to say anything or he would handcuff me behind my back and put me in back with the ballot boxes. He opened the back door, and I got in. I was totally stunned, like I had just fallen through the rabbit hole. There was another woman sitting on the other side, and a woman was sitting in the front seat with the sheriff. They were vote watchers, catching a ride with the sheriff, back to Hot Springs. I was some kind of criminal also catching a ride with the sheriff. Amazing!
For the next 12 days, I would live in a state of shock, fearful of what would happen to me, my property, my means of survival gone. I think I am one of the few self sufficient people left in America. I cut my own wood, built my own house, planted a large garden, sold the produce, canned for the winter storage. All these things I do to keep my living expenses low. It all started out because I needed a place to paint. I have been an artist all my life. I have been building now for 8 years, almost finished, only to have Louella, the one who told me I could live and build my house on her land, that no one would bother me, and no one wanted to live there. Well, at least, not until the house was finished.
It was a long two and a half hour drive to Hot Springs. I sat behind the sheriff, my knees up against the seat, my wrists hurting from the handcuffs, and the seat strap biting into my arms. It was quite dark out now. As we drove along, the sheriff and the women conversed pleasantly about normal social things. In a perverse moment, I considered joining in the conversation except the sheriff had told me to shut up or he would put me in back.
The moon was up and shining brightly as full moons do. My god! I can’t believe this! Is this real? I began thinking about Arlo, and the long ordeal he went through, how it must have been for him 10 years ago, when he was first picked up and questioned, taken all over from Alaska to Florida, not knowing what it was all about. The closest thing I had ever been to a jail was Pennington County Jail, when I went to see Arlo. I was getting a firsthand lesson in what it means to be Indian. I was stiff from being bound, my wrists hurt from the handcuffs, and my knees ached from being crammed against the front seat, but I felt no longer afraid. Suddenly a warm comfort overcame me. And I no longer thought about my hurting wrists and knees. I thought about others who had it much worse than me: Arlo Looking Cloud and Leonard Peltier. They were both sitting in prison, falsely accused. And I thought of Anna Mae, who was murdered for what she knew about the Movement and standing up for Indian rights. Without any clear idea of the outcome of this, I knew I had it better than Arlo or Leonard or Anna Mae. And I prayed for them. I prayed for the Iraqi prisoners of Abu Graib and Guantanamo who had it much worse than me. I thanked God that my life was spared, but for what purpose? I prayed, ‘Stand by me, give me the words, give me the wisdom and courage, and show me the way.’ I felt comforted, and I also felt chosen, like I was supposed to experience this so I would come to a deeper understanding. Living with the Indians, I learned to communicate directly with God, and to listen to the birds and animal, who carried messages from God all the time. Birds and animals became messengers. I learned to listen to the Spirit, and I had to ignore the constant bombardment of distractions that cloud the Spirit. If someone is doing something evil, I don’t own it. That was hard for me. I didn’t learn all this in a day. When Ermine and her daughters continuously called me a whore, and spread all kinds of pornographic stories about me, it was hard for me to ignore them. I was consumed with hatred towards them. Levy told me to let it go; it belonged to them, not me. I lived with Levy for over 10 years before I really came to understand what he was talking about. Only I can be punished for something I did or didn’t do. I’m not burdened with someone else’s mistakes or wrongdoings, unless I involve myself. So many times Levy would tell me, “it’s theirs, not yours” and so many times, I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I don’t think I wanted to; I was enjoying my hatred too much. Americans love to hate.
I ran to Tony Black Feather to tell him about the latest escapades of Ermine and her daughters, who listened, and then went into a conversation that seemed to be totally unrelated. It wasn’t; I just didn’t have the mind to understand what he was saying at the time. He was revealing to me who the real Indian was, and how he viewed the world. He frequently told me that my union with Levy was like a cat and a dog, and here was me, trying to make it work. He explained to me than Indians don’t sin. ‘They do bad things, and things that are harmful, but they don’t sin. Only white people do that.’
‘Well, how can that be?’ I wanted to know.
‘Because Jesus tells you your sins are forgiven, so you go ahead and sin all you want.’
‘What do you call all the bad things that Indians do?’
‘And these bad things aren’t sins?’
‘No, they are only bad things.’
‘That you approve of?’
‘That is like saying you only approve of the day, but not the night.’
‘You say that because you have been trained to think in parts, never getting the whole picture. You have to first understand that we are all related; that everything has a purpose and order in the universe. Mitakuye oyasin. Good and evil are part of the same coin.’
‘As a white person, we should shun evil, that choosing evil is choosing the devil.’
‘In Christian way of thinking, no one is capable of being all good. So you’re all going to hell.’
‘That doesn’t make sense. I was taught that we should be individual and independent, that communal living is bad, that socialism is bad, and that Jesus will decide who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. To be good means we must surrender our will to Jesus.’
‘No, that doesn’t make sense. That’s because everything is a competition with you. You have a heaven up in the sky somewhere, where no one qualifies to go to. You have a hell down below, which is where you bury your dead, so they can be a little closer to hell. You have God and Satan competing for your soul, and the Devil always scores big on your priest’s uneven playing field.’
It was easy to laugh and laugh at Tony’s unique analogies, only because they were too true when looked at in a different light. ‘You have survival of the fittest, with the toughest tearing the fittest to shreds.’
‘A botanist in the field of science told you this, and you swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, because it justifies the fact that America has a lot of Indian blood on its hands. And if this theory were really true to life, you would have never survived in America; you would be extinct because Columbus discovered the most fit people that ever peopled this earth; strong in both mind and body. Columbus came with a cross of gold in one hand and a sword in the other. America was founded on murder and theft of Indian land.’
‘And Columbus attempted to convert the Indians to Christianity. And when they refused to convert, he decided to force them to work in gold mines. I’ve read the Columbus diaries. But what I would like to know is how to you look at good and evil.’
‘It’s like catching a cold. You have that runny nose and you sneeze. That doesn’t mean you should cut off your nose for being evil.’
‘What about cancer?’
“A long time ago, a medicine man could cure all our ailments, because they were natural. The plants grew wild that contained the medicine. Nowadays, many of the diseases are manmade especially for a chemical cure with expensive drugs.’
‘Then what about behavior, when some ruling faction decides to conduct germ warfare on civilian populations, and the first to be stricken are the very young and the old. Isn’t that evil?’
‘Not all manmade things are evil. A bird can built a better nest; a beaver can build a better dam. At one time, people used to build their own houses. All are good. The beaver’s dam does not take away anything from nature. Capitalists decide that a person’s home should yield a profit on the Market, so they sell the home to you at an exorbitant, inflated price, who then sell your mortgage to an investment bank. You never really ever own your house, and you can be evicted at will. At the same time, America says it was founded upon freedom, equality, and the guaranteed protection of life, liberty, and property for its citizens, that you have a right to feel safe and secure in your home. Then the bank comes along and evicts you, and tells you they own the house, that you never did. The coyote kills the rabbit because he is hungry and meat is his food, but the coyote doesn’t chase the rabbit out of its home for sport or profit or the fun of killing. Americans have always looked to find something for nothing. Sitting Bull said that white man has many laws to govern the poor, which do not govern the rich. Capitalism is the seed of injustice. Injustice is a form of evil.’
I believe every word Tony ever spoke to be to be some sort of universal truth. Only just now, was I just beginning to understand what he meant.
After what seemed to be 3 hour ride, we finally arrived in Hot Springs. The sheriff was driving very slowly because he was flirting with the woman in the front seat. And she was a willing receptacle. He dropped the women off, the back seat woman first. Then, of course, it was my turn. The sheriff drove into a compound, and opened the door. He did not tell me anything, nor did he show me a warrant or court order. My hands and arms were aching from being handcuffed for over 3 hours. I was taken inside, still handcuffed. I was brought into a booking area and told to sit on a metal folding chair. The sheriff did not remove the handcuffs, he just walked out the door. I was in a state of shock.
The wait was interminable. I must have sat there for at least half an hour. Finally the sheriff returned, and told me I would be processed into jail, and left me sitting on the chair, still handcuffed. I waited another 15 or twenty minutes. There was no explanation or any information on what I could expect. Finally a jailer appeared, and told me I would be processed into jail. I insisted on making a phone call. He told me I could make my phone call later. Right now, they were going to ask me some questions for the record. The record! My record! Name. Address. Address is your home, isn’t it? Did I still have a home? Phone number. My god! My phone is gone, but I still have a phone number. I answered the questions, like this was the Mad Hatter and all was normal. I was still in handcuffs. Finally, I asked, “Are you going to remove these handcuffs?”
The jailer, a soft spoken man answered, “Normally we don’t remove hand cuffs during the booking in process.”
“We are in the jail,” I said. The door is closed. Locked, I presume. I am a fat person. Do you have visions of me escaping?”
“I am just following procedure.”
“Do you plan on ever removing these handcuffs? I have been handcuffed for over 3 hours, now. These cuffs are biting into my wrists, cutting off my circulation. And I am diabetic, as you discovered from one of the questions you asked.”
“Do you promise not to escape?” the jailer asked.
My heavy set person looked around at my surroundings, and blinked my eyes rapidly at the utter absurdity of the question, pondering what words to use that wouldn’t betray my thoughts. Appearing a little dazed and dimwitted, which I probably was, I asked, “Where do you think I’m going to escape to?”
The jailer very reluctantly removed the handcuffs. He slowly moved through the questions at a snail’s pace.
“What am I being charged with?” I asked.
“Failure to vacate,” he answered. But he didn’t explain, nor did he cite any statute. This was very confusing to me because it was not clear if he was going by tribal law or state law. Either way, it didn’t seem like a jailable offense. I was in no position to argue with him, and it wouldn’t have done any good anyway. What little information I received, just made the whole situation stranger and stranger. He took his time, talkative about the process.
I asked, “How long does it normally take you to process in a prisoner?”
“About 20 minutes.”
“When do I get to call my lawyer?”
“As soon as we are done, you can make your phone call.”
I made no comment on the fact that it was taking over an hour to process me in, and we still weren’t through. Or that I was being charged with something that was outside the state’s jurisdiction. Or that I had not seen a warrant or court order. The jailer wanted to know my medical history, and if I was taking any drugs. I told him I was diabetic, and that I was taken without my medications. That didn’t seem to interest him as much as getting the names of the medications. Either way, I was being denied access to my medications. He was just so talkative. He said we had now come to the finger printing. “Have you ever been finger printed?” he wanted to know.
“Well, they take ink up each finger and roll it over a sheet of paper. You just let your hand relax.” He explained that several times. He was very good at explaining prisoner procedures, and prided himself on it. And he told me what a model prisoner I was, how cooperative. What choice did I have? He said he was going to get the printer, and told me not to go anywhere. He looked at me like maybe he shouldn’t leave me alone.
“Where do you think I’d be going?” I asked.
“We don’t want to be looking for you.”
And he left me alone. Once again, I waited a long time for him to return.
He returned with someone. I was fingerprinted, mug shot taken. The officer told me that bail of $250 had been placed on me. He asked if I wanted to post bond. I didn’t have any kind of money like that. So he said I would be placed in jail. I was told to remove the contents of my pockets, and remove my shoes. I was given slippers. I asked to make a phone call. It was now late, after midnight. They asked for the number, and had to get my billfold because I constantly carried Bernie Boondoggle’s phone numbers with me. They got the phone number, told me to sit on this chair, in front of a little door, like a urine specimen door. Another door opened on the other side, and a phone receiver slid into the little compartment. It was now after midnight. I would not be able to talk to Bernie in person, and the record could show that I was not incarcerated until the 2nd of June. I got Bernie’s answering machine, left a message. That was my one phone call.
I was shut in a cement cell with a little window. I was locked up in solitary confinement. There was a cement slab for a bed, and a metal toilet in the corner. The new reality.
The crazy thing was, I did not know what I was being charged with, why I was there, and who was charging me. And I had no access to find out anything.
The next morning, the guard told me that they don’t know if I would even go to arraignment today. If not, I must wait a week to see the judge. What about my property and phone? What is Louise doing with that? Are she and Robert allowed to do as they please with my things? This is nothing short of legalized thievery.
I have to go bathroom, but a man is being processed into jail. He is right in line with the little window in the door. I go sit back down on the cement. I am afraid. What is going on? How am I to make necessary phone calls? How am I to receive necessary phone calls? Most of all, what is happening with my things? Who knows where I am? And what’s going to happen? Wait, wait, waiting. Why am I not going to court today to be arraigned? I am told I cannot make any phone calls, that I was allowed one, and I already made that one.
Time drags on. It is now past noon. They have brought me breakfast and lunch. Too much carbohydrates.
I did not have my medications, and I am diabetic. All of the fear, stress, and anxiety was like a shot of sugar to my blood stream. I began running in place—one hundred, two hundred, three hundred steps in place. The kind of food one gets in jail is starch and sugar. I can’t eat that If I do, my blood sugar level will rise to dangerous levels. And if I don’t eat, my blood sugar will drop too low, which could cause coma or even death.
As an artist, I have known things all my life. I don’t know how I know what I know, but I do. This all had to have a reason. I believed that, but I couldn’t see what it was. Time drags on. No information. No way to get information. Nothing to do but think. And write. I asked for paper and pen or pencil. At least I could write down what was happening. They gave me a short, stubby pencil and some paper. I suppose they figured no harm in that.
I heard them talking when I was being processed. They were going to check my record. What record? I have never been in jail in my whole born days. There is no police or criminal record. But now I have a record, don’t I?
It is very odd timing. I am sending out letters to Amnesty International to ask them to investigate prison abuse and interrogation methods used on Native Americans, specifically Arlo Looking Cloud. At the same time, Louella is really acting up, emboldened to use illegal methods to get rid of me, with the help of the BIA, who does not want anyone looking at their records, and Judge Lisa Cook, who carried out the plan, by fabricating a court hearing, without the BIA calling for this hearing, using false and one-sided evidence to write a decision, ordering the Tribal police to carry out a false arrest, based on false charges, and making sure I never got a copy of it, if indeed it did exist. They kept talking about this court Order, but I never saw it. Why didn’t they show it to me?
They took me from the holding cell. I ask to see the judge. No answer. Who is calling the shots? Doesn’t look like I will be arraigned today. I made an application for a court appointed attorney. My god! I think of Arlo Looking Cloud, and he had so much stacked against him. What an elaborate plan to pin the murder of Anna Mae on Arlo! Now I understand how that can be done. Once a person is incarcerated, one is totally helpless. Authorities can do anything they want. It doesn’t have to be legally done. They can just do it.
Every time a jailer goes by I ask, why am I not simply arraigned? What about my belongings and valuables? What is going on? They tell me that only the sheriff can answer that question. I ask to see the sheriff. The jailers claim they gave the message to the sheriff, but he never talks to me. I keep asking, with never any answer. When you don’t know what is going on, it is easy to believe that no one cares, or that no one is doing anything for you. From the time I was arrested, I immediately lost my rights and freedom. It is easy to become paranoid. You don’t even have a right to an answer to a simple question, like, why was I here?
Eventually, the jailer came with an orange jump suit, and told to remove my clothes and put this on. I was placed in the women’s cell with 2 others. The 2 women were talking to each other, making phone calls with an expensive phone card, the only kind you can get if you were lucky enough to have money when you were arrested. It costs 50 cents a minute. Good thing I got one before I was put in the cell because I found out later that one can only get these cards on certain days at certain times.
I was assigned a top bunk. Before I even get in the cell, the older woman, Deb, suggested I be given the lower bunk. “How is she going to get up there?” Deb asked. The jailer cooperated and gave me the lower bunk. Upon examination, I discover the only way up to the upper bunk is to climb up the toilet seat, step up on the sink which is located on top of the tank, then climb up on the bunk. I thanked Deb for her thoughtfulness.
I discovered that the younger woman, a girl actually, Tess, is Deb’s daughter-in-law. The son is also in jail. Apparently a violent and abusive son-in-law had falsely accused Tess of theft, then he got a restraining order against them. They drove down the street, and he had them arrested.
Deb was so kind and thoughtful toward me, yet clearly I could see she was having a difficult time trying to raise $30,000 bail money. No would put up any title for the bond. Notes were being passed from the men’s to the women’s cell so that Tess could communicate with her fiancé. No one seemed to want to help. Yet with all her trouble, Deb thought to comfort and aid me as best she could. Most of all, she had information on what to expect and what to do. The few people I met in jail appeared to be victims of their charges, innocent victims of the real criminals, their accusers. Strange. And even stranger is that the system upholds this kind of lawlessness with the standard response, “I’m just doing my job.”
I used my phone card to call Lucinda. I could hardly wait to talk to her. I talked to her once, and told her where I was. Thereafter, her brother always answered the phone, telling me that she went to the store, or she was in the shower. It didn’t take long to use up all the minutes on the $20 phone card. Several years later, when I finally got a copy of the jail record, it shows that I got repeated calls from my lawyer, and Emmett American Horse, but not one phone call from Lucinda, when it wasn’t long distance, and wouldn’t have cost her anything.
Deb got bonded out, but promised she would work on getting Tess out, even before she got out her own son, because she knew Tess couldn’t handle jail. Tess wrapped herself in a blanket and was sitting against the wall, so alone, frightened to death with tears rolling down her cheeks.
I felt so moved. I told her, “I know this might not be too much consolation. But try to look at the bigger picture. Look at what is really going on, and that you are a part of it. Too many laws destroy freedom. Change takes time. Change doesn’t take place in the court room. No, it doesn’t. Change begins in the heart of someone who has been wronged, who has the courage to stand up and say, ‘you can’t do that to me and get by with it without a fight.’ Change begins in a jail cell when someone has been denied their basic rights and freedom. Change then spills out in the streets to the people who carry the taste of freedom into a movement which gains its strength from the love and care that people have for each other. Change begins with one person who dares to stand up to the system and say no, who then becomes part of a larger process that keeps moving along, gaining momentum as more people join in. The last mile is the most memorable, when the cause becomes a revolution. Then laws are changed or abolished. It isn’t laws that keep people safe or guarantee their freedom. It is the loving concern and good will that people have for one another that keeps them safe and free. No bully can stop the will of the people to be free when they join together. We didn’t just have civil rights in the 60’s. No, we didn’t. People have forgotten the lessons of the sixties. The weapons of choice today are the laws that are used to allow criminal activities and protect the abusers of civil rights and freedom. Poor people and minorities are over-regulated, while the elite, the bullies, are under-regulated. Ultimately, there is only one freedom, that begins with the truth, and ends with the people.”
Tess got up from the floor and sat on the bunk. She read several letters. I could tell a change was taking place in that one frightened heart of hearts. Later, we talked. I think Tess is going to be ok.
I finally asked a new jailer about why I had not been arraigned. He asked what the charge was. I told him, failure to vacate. He said, “That’s a very minor charge, like jaywalking. I’m surprised you are in jail over it. Usually you just pay a fine, like a traffic ticket. But don’t tell anyone I told you, or I could lose my job.” I promised not to.
A change had taken place with the jailers. I was treated with a great deal of courtesy and respect. I was even allowed a phone call from Bernie Boondoggle, who told me he was putting up the money to bond me out. I asked Tess if I could use her phone card to call bondsman. She was kind enough to allow me to do so. The bondman came, and I filled out the papers. I asked Tess one more time if I could use her phone card to call someone who would come and get me. I should have called Levy in the first place. Thank god he was home. He never sounded surprised or nothing. He said he would be there. He must have jumped in his pick up and came right away to Hot Springs, because I could hear him talking to the jailer. The jailer told him he needed $250 before he could release me. Levy was trying to get the jailer to accept title to his pickup, but the jailer wouldn’t accept it. After awhile another jailer came by with the food trays. I told her I wanted to talk to Leroy. She said that wasn’t permitted, unless it was visiting hours, which it wasn’t.
Wait, wait, wait. I had learned at 7:00am that I was being bonded out. It was now 2:00pm. Was Levy still here? I had no way of knowing. Finally at about 3:30, I was released. I was given a court appearance date, to appear before a state judge in Hot Springs. I walked out of the jail, wondering how I would find Levy. But I didn’t have to wonder too long, because there he was. We walked across the street to his pickup. Off we went to a restaurant.
Then I told Levy we better stop over and see my court appointed attorney. Wait, wait, wait. Finally he said to be in court on the 9th; there was nothing to talk about. I was quite disappointed. I thought I would finally gain some insight as to what was going on. But no such luck.
Levy, a full blood, told me I could store all my things at his house. We both knew I would be living with him again. And he was very happy about that arrangement. I told him in detail what had happened. He told me it was common. He told me of the time he was in the Marines, stationed in California, and that he had been rounded up and deported to Mexico. And they barely let him back into America. I believe that is when he left the Marines, and headed back home to the reservation.
Three days after my ordeal, I was riding with Levy on my way back to Pine Ridge. As soon as we got back, I called Bernie Boondoggle from Leroy’s phone. He told me that I must get off the Reservation because Judge Lisa Cook had not only evicted me, but had banned me from the Reservation. I couldn’t believe it. “What about my house, my property, and my belongings?”
He said, “Judge Cook gave your house to Louella Barks Loud. We can settle this all later, right now, I want to know you are safe off the Reservation, so they cannot arrest you and put you in jail again. Didn’t you get a copy of Cook’s court order?”
“No. How did you get a copy of Cook’s court order?”
“I called Cook and asked her for a copy of the court order.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t talk to the judge.”
“I can’t talk to the judge when there is an action pending, but I am entitled to get a copy of her Order. When I got your message that you were in jail, I called the jail and discovered that Cook had issued an Order for your arrest. I called the jail several times, but I was not allowed to talk to you. You would be better off to get the hell out of that cretin state. The state didn’t have jurisdiction, and acted illegally. What a bunch of morons!”
“What kind of threat am I to anyone?” I asked.
“Apparently, writing can be dangerous work, and is threatening to some people,” he said. “But I want you to get off the reservation. Unless people can get together and support you, fight for you, I cannot see you taking all the heat for them. In the end, for speaking up for them, you lose everything, are jailed, and kicked off the Reservation. If they can’t appreciate who you are, I would say to go somewhere else and write and paint in peace, where someone understands what you are doing.”
I was shocked at what Bernie was telling me. I couldn’t believe it. Bernie just didn’t understand Indians. I promised, but not for one minute did I believe my friends would abandon me. Furthermore, I had no place to go. Where was I going to go? The news was so shocking that I didn’t understand what Bernie was telling me. Instead, I though he didn’t understand Indians and the Indian’s problem. I heard what he said. Deep down, it created a little shadow of doubt. But I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it. I had just gone through the ordeal of my life, frightened, but I found I had the courage to stand and fight. I believed these Indians just needed someone to stand up for them. To do anything less seemed cowardly to me. Because I was so involved, so on the front line, I failed to appreciate the truth Bernie was telling me and the concern he had for my survival. Most of all, I could not admit that the Lakota people whose rights I was fighting for, would turn their back on me in my hour of need. I had been banned from the reservation. If I was off the Reservation, I wouldn’t be able to bring charges, nothing. This is what they were banking on. And Louella and Judge Cook didn’t just think of this by themselves. The order had to come from high up. Someone who viewed me as a threat. Someone with a lot of power. They were very serious about wanting to get rid of me. Like Bernie said, they thought of everything. Except for what to do if I returned, which I did.
I asked Levy what he thought. He said if they came onto his land and in his house to take me away he said he would shoot them.
Now I was beginning to understand what people had told me over and over, ‘This happens all the time to us. We get evicted just because someone doesn’t like us, or someone in Housing wants to move one of their relatives into our house.” Anyone who objects is jailed, or loses their job, or their job is made so miserable that they quit. The laws are selectively applied, if at all. The justice system is designed to lead to cover up crime, and this leads to lawlessness. What are people supposed to do, once they have been so brutalized? Indians fought back in 1973, when they stood up to the corrupt tribal government with AIM at Wounded Knee. To start shooting would be to play right into their corrupt hand. They could arrest me and put me in jail, when I had committed no violence or threats against any member, what could they do to me if I started shooting? One has only to look what happened to Leonard Peltier. No matter how I thought about it, what happened wasn’t legal, and they weren’t going to get by with it.