The following letter and poem were written in February, 1998, by Standing Deer, aka Robert Hugh Wilson, a 65-year-old Choctaw man incarcerated in the "control unit" at Estelle prison in Huntsville, Texas, USA. Standing Deer is the only living witness to the US govenment's plot to assasinate American Indian leader, Leonard Peltier. Standing Deer is a tireless prison activist.
Greetings from the dungeon in February of '98. Winter is such a lovely time of year. Even when I'm in the dungeon I have my memories to keep me peaceful. I love to just walk in the cold, brisk air and take in the smell and feel and presence of the Great Spirit. But in so many ways prison is such a sad place to be, seeing the brothers from the reservations with such gloom on their faces, some of them in the white man's prison for the first time ever, and so many of them doing time for minor alcohol-related crimes.
There was this older Lakota man on the yard one time in the middle of a snowstorm. You could hardly see him, and Security had ordered all the prisoners off the yard because visibility was almost down to nil. He was very calmly sitting cross-legged on Mother Earth with his shirt off as the snow began to pile upon his shoulders. It was obvious he was praying with a Sacred Pipe he didn't have, and when I gently touched him on the shoulder he passed to me his invisible Pipe. I took it from him with great respect and puffed on it as I turned to each of the Four Sacred Directions. Then I passed it to the invisible Spirit that was standing to my left. The Brother's lips were turning blue as I helped him to his feet and said, "Let's go inside and drink some coffee." He smiled and said, "I'll be home before the days grow long." I didn't know what he meant, but smiled in return. He followed me into the building and I could feel the presence of his Spirit, and it was overpowering.
I knew that here was a man I could learn from, but in the spring the guards beat him to death over in the hole because they could not make him stop singing a song about his people. Although he had a life sentence, he went home before the days grew long.
In Texas, our Indian religion is against the law, and I see how much the traditional brothers suffer from being denied the religion of their Grandfathers and Grandmothers. For those sisters and brothers who wonder why the most important thing in their Lives -- their religion -- has been banned and made against the law, I have written the following poem. I pray my words will lend some comfort to those sisters and brothers who need comforting, and perhaps my poem will help others not of our faith to see what a brutal injustice it is for the prisoncrats to suppress Indian religion in their Iron Houses.
WHAT IS IN YOUR HEART THEY CANNOT TAKE.
DO THEY FORBID YOU TO HAVE A SWEAT LODGE? YOU ARE SITTING IN ONE EVERY DAY. THE ROOF OF YOUR PRISON IS THE SACRED COVERING: THE BARS THE SACRED WILLOW; THE STONE FLOOR IS YOUR MOTHER; THE SACRED ROCKS ARE HEATED IN THE FIRE OF YOUR INDIAN HEART. TAKE THE WATER FROM THE SINK IN YOUR CELL AND POUR IT OVER YOUR HEAD AND YOU SHALL BE PURIFIED.
DO THEY TAKE AWAY YOUR PIPE, YOUR FEATHERS, YOUR MEDICINE, OR YOUR PRIVILEGES? WHO CAN TAKE YOUR POWER? WHO CAN TAKE YOUR DREAM? WHO TAKES YOUR VISIONS? YOUR PIPE IS YOUR SOUL. IT HAS NO FORM. YET, LOOK AT YOUR BROTHER. D0 YOU SEE THE LIVING PIPE? YOU HAVE NO FEATHERS? THEY ARE INVISIBLE. YET WAKAN TANKA KNOWS YOU WEAR THEM AND PRAY WITH THEM. YOUR HOLY MEDICINE IS YOUR TEARS. IT IS GOOD TO CRY LIKE A MAN FOR WISDOM. WHEN YOU SEE YOUR BROTHER CRYING, GO TO HIM AND LICK THE TEARS FROM HIS CHEEKS AND YOU SHALL HAVE MEDICINE. THESE ARE YOUR PRIVILEGES.
YOUR POWER IS TO RESIST THROUGH YOUR WILL. STRENGTHEN YOUR WILL. WITH EVERY TEAR YOU GROW STRONGER BECAUSE THEY FEAR YOUR WILL TO ENDURE. THEY ARE ALREADY DEFEATED BECAUSE THEY ABUSE WHAT THEY CANNOT CONQUER. YOUR LIFE IS THEIR DEFEAT.