Prison Writings "My life is my sun dance" by Leonard Peltier (Chapter 1, 2 and 3)



prison writings my life is my son dance by Leonard Peltier part one in my own voice this is the 23rd year of my imprisonment for a crime I did not commit chapter one 10:00 p.m. time for the nightly walk down in headcount the heavy metal door to my cell lets out an ominous grinding sound then slide the bruh please shut with a loud clang I hear other doors clanging almost simultaneously down the cellblock the walls reverberate as do my nerves even though I know it's about to happen at the sudden noise my skin jumps I'm always on edge here always nervous always apprehensive I'd be a fool not to be you never let your guard down when you live in Hell every sudden sound has its own terror every silence to one of those sounds are one of those silences could well be my last I know but which one my body twitches slightly at each unexpected footfall each slamming door will my death announce itself with a scream or do its work in silence will it come slowly or quickly does it matter wouldn't quick be better than slow anyway a guards shadow passes the little rectangular window on the cell door I hear his keys jangle and the mindless squawking of his two-way radio he's peering in observing observing he sees me sitting there cross-legged in the half-light hunched over on my bed riding on this pad I don't look up at him I can feel his gaze passing over me pausing then moving on pausing again at the sleeping form of my cellmate snoring softly in the bunk above now he goes by the back of my neck creeps another day ends that's good but now another night is beginning and that's bad the nights are worse the day's just happened to you nights you've got to imagine to conjure up all by yourself they're the stuff of your own nightmares the lights go down but they never quite go out in here shadows lurk everywhere shadows within shadows I'm one of those shadows myself i leonard peltier also known in my native country of great turtle island as war feel us he leads the people also known among my Sioux brethren as that day Rikki Gua wind chases the Sun also known as u.s. prisoner number eight nine 637 – one three – I fold my pillow against the cinderblock wall behind me and lean back half sitting knees drawn up here in my prison cot I've put on my gray prison sweat pants and long sleeved sweatshirt they'll do for PJs it's cool and here this late winter night there's a shiver in the air the metal and cinderblock walls and tile floors radiate a perpetual chill this time of year old-timers will tell you how they used to get thrown buck naked in winter into the steel walls steel floored hole without even so much as a cot or a blanket to keep them warm they had to crouch on their knees and elbows to minimize contact with the warmth draining steel floor today you generally get clothes and a cotton blanket though not much else the hole with which I've become well acquainted at several federal institutions these past 23 years having become something of an old-timer myself remains in my experience one of the most inhuman of tortures a psychological hell thankfully I'm out of there right now I'm also out of the heat that used to afflict us until they finally installed air conditioning in the cellblock about ten years back before that Leavenworth was infamous as the hot house because there was no air conditioning here just big wall-mounted fans that during the mind-numbing heat of a Kansas 100 degree summer day blew the heavy sluggish unbreathable air at you like a welding torch at times literally drying the sweat on your forehead before it could form particularly on the stifling upper tiers of the five tier cell block but we still have the noise always the noise I suppose the outside world is noisy most of the time too but in here every sound is magnified in your mind the ventilation system roars and rumbles and hisses nameless clanks and creakings Flushing's and gurgling sound within the walls buzzers and bells grey at your nerves disembodied often unintelligible voices drone and squawk on loudspeakers steel doors are forever grinding and slamming then grinding and slamming again there's an ever-present background chorus of shouts and yells and calls demented babbling crazed screams ghosts like laughter maybe one day you realize one of these voices is your own and then you really begin to worry from time to time they move you around from one cell to another and that's always a big deal in your life your cell is just about all you've got your only refuge like an animal's cage it's your home a home that would make anyone and be the homeless different cell blocks in this ancient penitentiary have different kinds of cells some barred some like the one I'm currently in a five and a half by nine foot cinder block closet with a steel door there's a toilet and sink a double bunk bed and a couple low wall-mounted steel cabinets that provide a makeshift and always cluttered desktop right now they've put another inmate in here with me after I'd gotten used to being blissfully alone for some time he's got the upper bunk and his inert snoring form sags down nearly to my head as I tried a half sitting here with this legal pad on my lap at least I get the lower bunk because of the bad knee I've had for years I presume that they put my new cellmate in here with me some form of punishment a punishment for both of us I suppose though for what neither he nor I have the slightest idea the first thing you have to understand in here is that you never understand anything in here for sure they don't want you ever to get comfortable nor do they ever want you to have a sense of security and for sure you don't Security's the one thing you never have in a maximum-security prison now on this chilly night I toss the rough green army blanket over my knees and drape a hand towel over the back of my neck to keep the chill off to keep my socks on under the sheets at least until I finally go to sleep on this yellow legal pad I purchased at the prison commissural all as best I can with a pencil stub that somebody's been chewing on I can barely make out my own handwriting in the semi-darkness but no matter I don't know if anyone will ever read this maybe someone will if so that someone can only be you I try to imagine who you might be and where you might be reading this are you comfortable do you feel secure let me write these words to you then personally I greet you my friend thanks for your time and attention even your curiosity welcome to my world welcome to my iron lodge welcome to Leavenworth chapter 2 I have decided the time has come for me to write to set forth in words my personal Testament not because I'm planning to die but because I'm planning to live this is the 23rd year of my imprisonment for a crime I did not commit I'm now just over 54 years old I've been in here since I was 31 I've been told I must live two life sentences plus seven years before I get out of prison on my scheduled release date in the year 2041 by then I'll be 97 I don't think I'll make it my life is an extended agony I feel like I've lived a hundred lifetimes in prison already and maybe I have but I'm prepared to live thousands more on behalf of my people if my imprisonment does nothing more than educate the unknowing and uncaring public about the terrible conditions Native Americans and all indigenous people around the world continue to endure that my suffering has had and continues to have a purpose my people struggle to survive inspires my own struggle to survive each of us must be a survivor I know this my life has a meaning I refuse to believe that this existence our time on mother earth is meaningless I believe that the Creator Wakan Tanka has shaped each of our lives for a reason I don't know what that reason is maybe I'll never know but you don't have to know the meaning of life to know that life has meaning I acknowledge my inadequacies as a spokesman I acknowledge my many imperfections as a human being and yet as the elders taught me speaking out is my first duty my first obligation to myself and to my people to speak your mind and heart is Indian Way this book is not a plea or a justification neither is it an explanation or an apology for the events that overtook my life and many other lives and 1875 and made me unwittingly and yes even unwillingly a symbol a focus for the suffering of my people but all of my people are suffering so I'm in no way special in that regard you must understand I am ordinary painfully ordinary this isn't modesty this is fact maybe you're ordinary too if so I honor your ordinariness your humaneness your spirituality I hope you will honor mine that ordinariness is our bond you and I we are ordinary we are human the Creator made us this way imperfect inadequate ordinary be thankful you weren't cursed with perfection if you were perfect there'd be nothing for you to achieve with your life imperfection is the source of every action this is both our curse and our blessing as human beings our very imperfection makes a holy life possible we're not supposed to be perfect we're supposed to be useful I realize that I can be Moody that's about all you have left here in prison your moods they can gyrate wildly uncomfortably you'll find many of those moods in these pages ranging from near despair to soaring hope from choking in a rage to every man's fear and self-doubt a mood can be overpowering especially on those days when the endless provisions and frustrations of prison life build and build inside me and yet more and more in recent years I feel detached from it all and strangely free even within these enclosing walls and razor wire I credit that to Sundance a man who a son danced has a special compact with pain and he'll be hard to break Sundance makes me strong Sundance takes place inside of me not outside of me I pierce the flesh of my being I offer my flesh to the great spirit the great mystery Wakan Tanka to give your flesh to spirit is to give your life and what you have given you can no longer lose sundance is our religion our strength we take great pride in that strength which enables us to resist pain torture any trial rather than betray the people that's why in the past when the enemy tortured us with knives bull whips even fire we were able to withstand the pain that strength still exists among us when you give your flesh when you are pierced in Sundance you feel every bit of that pain every iota not one jaw is spared you and yet there's a separation a detachment a greater mind that you become a part of so that you both feel the pain and see yourself feeling the pain and then somehow the pain becomes contained limited as the white-hot Sun pours molten through your eyes into your inner being as the skiers implanted in your chest pull and yank and rip at your screaming flesh a strange and powerful the Siddha T gradually expands within your mind the pain explodes into a bright white light into Revelation you are given a wordless vision of what it is to be in touch with all being and all beings and for the rest of your life once you have made that sacrifice of your flesh to the Great Spirit you will never forget that greater reality of which we are each and intimate in essential part and which hold each of us in an embrace as loving as a mother's arms every time a pin pricks your finger from then on that little pain will be but a tiny reminder of that larger pain and of the still greater reality that exists within each of us an infinite realm beyond reach of all pain there even the most pitiable prisoner can find solace so Sundance made even prison life sustainable for me I am undestroyed my life is my son dance Chapter three I have no apologies only sorrow I can't apologize for what I haven't done but I can grieve and I do every day every hour I agree for those who died at the Oglala firefight in 1975 and for their families for the families of FBI agents Jack Kohler and Ronald Williams and yes for the family of Jo kills right stunts whose death from a bullet at Oglala that same day like the deaths of hundreds of other Indians at Pine Ridge at that terrible time has never been investigated my heart aches in remembering the suffering and fear under which so many of my people were forced to live at that time the very suffering and fear that brought me and the others to Oglala that day to defend the defenseless and I'm filled with an aching sorrow to for the loss of my own family because in a very real way I also died that day I died to my family to my children to my grandchildren to myself I've lived out my death for more than two decades now those who put me here and keep me here knowing of my innocence can take grim satisfaction in their sure reward which is being who and what they are that says terrible reward as any I could imagine I know who and what I am I'm an Indian an Indian who dared to stand up to defend his people I am an innocent man who never murdered anyone nor wanted to and yes I am a Sun dancer that too is my identity if I am to suffer as a symbol of my people then I suffer proudly I will never yield if you the loved ones of the agents who died at the jumping bull property that day get some solve of satisfaction out of my being here then at least I can give you that even though innocent of their blood I feel your loss as my own like you I suffer that loss every day every hour and so does my family we too know that inconsolable grief we Indians are born we live and we die with inconsolable grief we've shared our common grief for 23 years now your families and mine so how can we possibly be enemies perhaps it's with you and with us that the healing can start you the agents families certainly weren't at fault that day in 1975 any more than my family was and yet you and they have suffered as much as even more than anyone there it seems it's always the innocent who pay the highest price for injustice it seemed that way all my life to the still grieving Coler and Williams families I send my prayers if you will have them I hope you will they are the prayers of an entire people not just my own we have many dead of our own to pray for and we join our sorrow to yours that our common grief be our bond let those prayers be the balm for your sorrow non innocent man's continued imprisonment I state to you absolutely that if I could possibly have prevented what happened that day your men folk would not have died I would have died myself before knowingly permitting what happened to happen and I certainly never pulled the trigger did it make the Creator strike me dead this moment if I lie I cannot see how my being here torn from my own grandchildren can possibly mend your loss I swear to you I am guilty only of being an Indian that's why I'm here being Who I am being who you are that's Aboriginal sin Aboriginal sin we each begin an innocence we all become guilty in this life you find yourself guilty of being who you are being yourself that's Aboriginal sin the worst sin of all that's the sin you'll never be forgiven for we Indians are all guilty guilty of being ourselves we're taught that guilt from the day we're born we learn it well to each of my brothers and sisters I say be proud of that guilt you are guilty only of being innocent of being yourselves of being Indian of being human your guilt makes you whole

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