Just a few short years ago I was at my lowest point in life. I never felt so alone in my life even though, I knew I had people out there who loved me. It was a shock to have my life totally out of my control, although I had been going down that spiral for some time in an inebriated state. It was easier to use my addiction to not face the reality of what was happening to me. Alcoholism, abusive relationship, and a crime committed by more than twenty people lay on my shoulders because I was the manager of the place it was committed at. I could have fought it, my lawyer said, because exactly 23 people were involved and only 3 were charged but the downside of that was facing a conspiracy charge with ten years attached. So I did what I thought was best at the time, I took the charge, with less time. I didn’t trust a jury out of Rapid City, SD at the time. And like my dad said, don’t let a jury in Rapid City judge you, they would have already judged you before the trial. I also wanted to get everything over as quick as possible, with children in high school and even with the way gossip flies on the rez, I just wanted it over with little media.
So I took the deal and had a 4 month wait in county jail until sentencing. In that time I made wonderful friends, girls who sat by me day in and day out while writing my book. (rez fiction) The bond with these women, although I don’t ever see them is stronger than the bond I have with friends I knew on the outs. We were all sober and honest. I smile when I think of that. We had our NDN sense of humor since 75% of us were skins, and it was the only way to soothe the loneliness of not having families around, so we laughed. We laughed so much we often were getting in trouble. None of us judged the other because we were all where we were.
So in those four months, I read over a hundred books, I wrote to maybe a hundred people, thanks to everyone who wrote to me and didn’t have to. I made an attempt at blogging from the inside. I learned you can curl your hair from brown paper towels, and I lost weight.
One of the people I wrote to was my old mentor and family friend. I asked him for a letter to the judge for my sentencing. We worked together for a while on the same paper, then he left and made his own paper. I knew him since I was 8 years old, so I had hoped that past would get me a letter telling the judge I was alright. Not only that he was a great writer, paving the way for many Native American journalists. Although he didn’t teach me how to write, except to tell me not to use three dots in a row anymore…and that I should read more Indian books before I write about being Indian, he did email me once in awhile. Offering advice, asking if I would ever take over his column. He also once gave me a great quote for when you get attacked in the paper by readers. I used to really let being attacked bother me and hurt my feelings.
“A turtle cannot move forward unless it sticks it’s neck out.”
I took that to heart and continued writing. I had hoped when I did that four months that I could depend on him to continue giving advice or maybe writing back. So I wrote him. He never wrote back. I just chalked it up as one of those things, maybe he didn’t get the letter or whatever.
It wasn’t until a few months later, after my sentencing, (by the way, when you are Indian and get sentenced or charged in federal court, they say your name, then immediately say “Indian” afterwards. I asked around, they do it to no other race.) after writing my letter that I learned he made a headline out of me. He sensationalized me as a columnist for the rival paper and threw me under the bus. I was already at my lowest point and he kicked me. I was ok with that. At that point nothing shocked or hurt me, anymore. People quit talking to you when these things happen to you and don’t want to know you. And even though it was done and over with I was mad for my kids’ sake.
So first off I was surprised when I started getting messages last week from relatives, some I knew, some I didn’t, who read my article from the Lastrealindians website. Most were about the picture I posted of the uncis, the grandmas. So many relatives, I was thinking, holy-where were all these relatives when I needed money on my books. Just kidding, it was nice to meet them and I truly hope we can have a family reunion so we know who we are all related to. (So my kids know who they can’t snag.)
Every time I would get a message, they would say “The one from the paper…” I hadn’t noticed it at first then I finally said, you mean Indianz.com, since they picked up the article. “No the paper.” They told me the name of the newspaper so I immediately checked their “sort of website”, where they show headlines. Sure enough, there was my article. pictures and all. I not only posted the picture of my grandmothers but I received permission from Willi White, for his awesome photo explaining Native mis-appropriation by non-Natives.
I called the paper and nobody knew they didn’t have my permission or Mr. White’s, nor did anyone from Lastrealindians give permission. But like LRI owner Chase Iron eyes posted, when someone steal from you they need it more, it would just be nice if they ask. I never received a call from the owner of the paper for the plagiarism. I don’t know if he did it because he was proud of me or wanted to hold my past over my head. But I am open about my past, if anyone reads my blog they can see that. I didn’t let my time in there stop me from being who I wanted to be, and that’s a writer. In fact, I am thankful for my time there. I saw a whole subculture of misunderstood, stereotyped, people of this society who exist and made mistakes also in their life. People that were not killers, drug dealers, etc. Sure they were in there but they were in there with computer hackers, bankers, librarians, owners of companies, moms-in there it didn’t matter who you were on the outside. We were all the same to each other until we were set free. And that time allowed me to move on with my life, doing the things I knew I was capable of as soon as I was free. I now write for an International world known newspaper, a progressive Native website, have my oldest son in college, and found my brother after he was lost by foster care for 21 years. And there is so much more I will do and want to do.
I have a past, I paid for it. I used that time as a stepping stone rather than a roadblock. Sure I was disrespected by someone I knew almost all my life. I have no idea why he did it. What his intentions were, I hope they were good. If that is possible? It just better not happen again.
I go on like a turtle, sticking my neck out, moving forward. Past behind me.