"If you strike at, imprison, or kill us,
"IF YOU STRIKE AT, IMPRISON, OR KILL US, OUT OF OUR PRISONS OR GRAVES..."
-Our Visit With Manuel Redwoman.
"If you strike at, imprison or kill us,
Out of our prisons or graves.
We will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you,
And, mayhap, raise a force that will destroy you.
We defy you. Do your worst!" -James Connolly, Dec. 1914.
If a known child molester and child TORTURER began to attack a member of your family, what would you do? Alot of people carelessly throw around the word 'Warrior' these days. Well, my definition of a Warrior is someone who takes care of, protects, and defends their people and family. That is exactly what Manuel Redwoman did. When Manuel saw his little nephew being chased, he did what any true Warrior would do. He protected him by shooting his attacker. He shot and killed the monster that was preying on his nephew in an attempt to get his sexual kicks. Not only did Manuel save his own family, because his 'victim' was a recidivist, he saved countless other kids that would be future victims of this child predator. The family of the child molester did not press charges against him and the mother has forgiven him. She has even written to Manuel offering her sympathy and assuring him that she is doing everything she can to keep her deceased son's friends in prison from retaliating. Young victims of the child molester stated that they were grateful to Manuel for stopping the atrocities committed on the children of the community.
So, how would you look at this case if it were brought before you? Would you look at it based on race; e.g. Indian man kills Non Indian man? Would you be more concerned for the rights of a child offender who'd been in and out of correctional facilities for preying on children, than the man who acted in defense of a family member? Well, I can tell you what the state of Montana did. They chose to look at the fact that Manuel Redwoman is a Northern Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho man who killed a white man. Regardless of how many times that white man had victimized children before, regardless of the trauma and life long scars he'd already afflicted MORE than once, regardless of the fact that the man was in the middle of yet another act of sickness, they looked at it based on race and put Manuel in prison until the year 2022.
When someone comes into your prison and does almost four years (46 months) with a nearly perfect record, then gets attacked and hospitalized by a friend of his "victim", what do you do then? Well, in the case of the Montana State Penitentiary, Deer Lodge, MT, they put Manuel in Maximum security where he had to spend 2 years, without due process, including 18 months on Death Row. He was charged with the attack that he was the victim of although the prison denies this. So, Manuel filed a lawsuit against the prison for every day he spent in Max. illegally. The lawsuit is still pending. Two years later, in summer 2000, he was finally released into general population where he remained until February 2001, when a unit counselor had him locked up again illegally, without due process. Because of her, he was kept in Ad/Segregation for one full year, then, last February, he was sent to Death Row again, in Max. So most of his time has been spent in isolation, locked up 23 hours a day, seven days a week with almost no privileges - in spite of the excellent record on his reclassification paperwork. Of course, the fact that he tried to raise attention about the prison's religious rights abuses against Native inmates may have had something to do with it. The fact that he challenged the prison systems illegalities may have helped put him where he is. The fact that Manuel is one of only two Native inmates with the courage to keep their hair long, in spite of prison rules, and continues to push for their religious rights may also have something to do with it.
On Friday June 21rst, Lawrence Sampson and I made yet another trip from South Dakota to my reservation, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in southeastern Montana. I always look forward to making it back. They say that you can tell alot about a person by where they come from. Manuel is no exception to that rule. His sister is very active in collecting and distributing clothes and donations to the Lame Deer abandoned children's home, as well as others in need in the community. She works for the Tribe, and raises several neighborhood children in addition to her own. She's a good example of what it means to be a strong Native woman. Her mother is a language speaker and I always enjoy setting with our people of her generation in their homes and talking with them. We got the privilege of visiting with his family again on Friday and talked about our next days activities. We were to make our way to Deer Lodge to meet with Manuel for the first time. We'd previously went through the process of getting on his visitation list. It goes without saying that we, his family, and his many supporters were worried about how things would go. So, we sit with his sister and step-mother in her home and visited. After an hour or so we left with everyone wondering whether or not we'd get in to see him the next day. That was the question on everyone's minds.
The next day, Saturday the 22nd, we headed from Billings to Butte, Montana. If anyone ever gets the chance to make that trip, I'd highly recommend it. It's a four hour drive, but worth it. The scenery is phenomenal. Anyway, around 1:00 we got into Butte, which gave us a half hour drive left to get to Deer Lodge. After stopping to get gas and stretch legs, we headed up to Deer Lodge. On Friday, from Lame Deer, I called the prison switch board operator who told me to be there at the front gate no later than 2 pm. We got there at 1:45 only to be told to turn around, go off the prison property, and wait until 2:05 to come back. We kept insisting that we were told 2:00. The guard kept saying 5 after 2. Lawrence said, "Look they told us we only had 20 minutes to get into Max., and that every minute counted, to get here no later than 2:00." The guard then said, "Oh, you're going to Max? Yeah, be here at 2:00." By the time we got back, there was already a long line of cars. When the guard finally did get to us he had us pull off to the side for instructions. We got to the visitors check-in area with about 15 minutes to spare. In that time, they made me go back to the vehicle, which required me to run across a parking lot in socks, no belt (they removed it for inspection) and 10 minutes to get everything done.
While they patted us down and searched us, a piece of Buffalo hair fell out of my pocket. In all honesty, I really did forget that I had it. Anyway, the guard that picked it up said, "What's this? It looks like muskrat to me." Then everyone (guards and visitors alike) had a big laugh. I never answered him. About this time they took Lawrence's Medicine Bag out of his shirt. With it still on his neck, the female guard tried to jerk it in the other direction to show another guard. They knew what they were doing, too. I say this because they didn't, as in the case of my buffalo fur, ask 'what is this'. She pulled it out of his shirt, jerked it towards another guard and said very loudly, "We got a Medicine Bag here!" The same guard that was checking Lawrence felt his 2 1/2 day old Sundance scars and started POKING them. After it all, we got through. We were both very relieved to get in, even though we were more than a little upset with the guards. When they finally let us through, I heard a guard go over the radio saying, "We've got two here for Manuel Redwoman." I imagine somewhere in that prison somebody in a paid position crapped his pants when that was reported. I hope so.
As we were escorted through the maze of gates and barbed wire, we could here a Drum and singing. The more we went through the prison, the louder it got. We knew they weren't singing for us, but DAMN it felt good. Someone up high was on our side. We got to the Max. unit and had a 2 hour "No Contact" visit with Manuel. No contact means that you and the person you are there to see are in two separate rooms with a window between you, and a little box to speak into. We visited for 2 hours and I can't tell you how much it lifted me up. Manuel told us that the brothers in General Population got to sing every Saturday. It was good to hear them. Even though Max. hasn't even been able to smudge in over a month and a half, I guess there are some rights observed in the lower security units. After that he said that everyone knew we were there. All the Indian inmates knew we were there, even those in the lower security units that Manuel has no contact with. He also said that they were all excited and enthused, even though none of them would even see us. The reason for there excitement was because they had never had any outside support, no one ever came in to see about the conditions they were in, and, somehow, word got around that AIM was coming in to see Manuel. He told us that everyone was excited beyond belief. So, as we walked through hearing them sing, it may not have been for us, but they knew we were there and we felt good to hear them. It definitely lifted up my spirits, especially after that crap with the guards.
According to long-time supporter and European coordinator of the Manuel Redwoman Support Network, Bridgette Thimiakis, "Once again, the MT Department of Corrections was caught lying about Manuel in an effort to make him appear unworthy of support. A state legislator recently called the DOC on our request, to ask why Manuel was still in Max. and on Death Row in spite of a 46 month clear conduct and a very good record. On May 28th, this legislator contacted me saying that the DOC had told him that Manuel was no longer in MAX. This raised our hopes high..... only to find out that this was a new blatant, shameless lie on behalf of the DOC. Manuel is still in Max. to this date. He was not released at all, he is still on Death Row, still in isolation, UNJUSTLY and ILLEGALLY."
In fact, Lawrence Sampson asked Manuel about this directly. While in the visit, Lawrence asked Manuel how long he would be in Max. Despite the recent claims by the DOC, Manuel said, "Indefinitely." Not only had there been no indication by the prison administration that he would soon get off Death Row, there was no indication if he'd EVER get out. Of course, he's kept on Death Row despite the fact that he doesn't' have the death penalty, a life sentence, or even the 23+ points that are required for Max. Custody.
In visiting with him, I was inspired by how much of an extraordinary man he is. In my frequent writings back and forth with him, I've picked up on that before. Nothing compares to meeting someone in person, though. Alot of Manuel's concern was for his sister and the rest of their family. He expressed concern for the other Native inmates there in Deer Lodge, and for the many people on our reservation that need help. We discussed the possible solutions to the religious rights abuses, as well as various programs that we can begin to benefit the reservation. One thing that struck me about him is, even though he can't earn an income while in Max., every mention he made of money coming to him was to have it diverted straight to the funds that he has and will establish for those in need on the reservation. He didn't want one penny sent to his books. I've worked on Native prison issues for some time. I've met and talked to alot of Native inmates in Federal and State run facilities. I've rarely encountered someone so "on-the-level", so genuinely concerned for his people, and so strongly committed to the rights he and fellow Indian inmates are being denied. For any questions that there could be about him, let me say, Manuel Redwoman is the real deal. Manuel, his sister, and his step-mother make me very proud to be from the same Tribe.
After the visit, and after we left, we went to the boarder of where the prison property begins. Thinking about Manuel, those singers, the blatant racism, and all the abuses Native inmates suffer in that prison, we stopped right there at the prison boundary. We got out, and brought out the Pipe. We smudged it and ourselves and prayed for Manuel Redwoman, his family, and EACH AND EVERYONE of those Brothers inside, as well as their families and Nations. To hell with those prison guards!
I asked Lawrence to add his take on things. He had this to say, " The recent visit of Manuel Redwoman by Dave Bailey and myself, was yet another exercise in the humiliation and dehumanization, designed to discourage anyone from actively supporting prisoners, particularly American Indian prisoners. Seeing the intimidation in the eyes of those who mindlessly serve a racist system, was merely this day's reminder of how our people continue to be marginalized. But I kept telling myself, every time we are able to visit, we succeed in letting the prisoner know they have support. Every time we walk inside those walls, so that a suffering human being sees firsthand that they are not forgotten, we constitute an ongoing resistance against the fear and ignorance the "land of the free" perpetuates. It was hard to keep my indignation in check. I suspect I didn't do too good a job, as the ridiculous treatment by the guards seemed to escalate with each question, each comment, each disrespectful handling of sacred items, each smirk that look life on their faces. But, it was over within some 15 minutes or so, and we were successful in gaining entry. It would be a day of small victories. As we entered, it was great to hear the inmates drumming, and singing. It was even better to see Manuel, and give him words of encouragement-to look in his eyes, hear his voice, and allow him to do the same. I wish he hadn't been in chains. I wish I didn't have to shout thru thick glass. And I wish we could tell all these prisoners, that their expressions of tradition, against all the wishes of the jailerman, was as inspirational to us, as anything we could do for them. I wished my spirit could fly thru all the walls, the bars, the interference, the fear and ignorance, to tell them, that together, we keep each other going. I wanted to shake all of their hands and encourage their continued efforts. As it was, two hours of "face to face" discussions, with Manuel, and sending prayers from outside prison-controlled property was all we could do. It seems so little. I hope it was enough. And I pray for the day these visits won't be necessary. They cannot place chains around an idea."
After leaving the prison grounds, I called Sue Buck, the Montana coordinator for the Manuel Redwoman Support Network who was waiting on our report. "We made it," I said. "We got in to see Manuel." I can't tell you how thankful Lawrence and I truly are. Thanks to Sue, and Bridgette for helping us coordinate this. Thanks especially to Manuel's family for all their continued support. Thanks to everyone who cared enough to want to know how things went. Thanks to everyone in Texas AIM for the support on this trip. Thanks to everything that helped us get in. The Powers that be can not be subdued or held captive by borders, boots, cages, pencils or pens.
Of course, there is still alot of work that needs to be done on Manuel's behalf. Most pressing is our need to find him legal assistance. He has a very strong suit pending against the prison administration, but he has noone to represent him when it goes to court. There are many things you can do to support him. We sincerely ask each and everyone of you to take a few minutes out of your day and do what you can. What would you do if you spent 23 hours a day, every day, seven days a week trapped in a tiny cell with no windows or outside contact. Except for letters, and two phone calls a month, how would you handle complete isolation for over two years with no end in sight? Manuel Redwoman is where he is because of who and what he is. A Native man, a true Warrior, whose only crime was to defend a member of his family. It is absolutely disgusting that he has endured all he has. We need to make the Montana Department of Corrections take notice of the fact that WE WON'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! Please help raise a voice so loud they can't ignore. For more information you can contact:
Bridgette Thimiakis, European coordinator for the Manuel Redwoman Support Network, at thimiakischool@....
Sue Buck, Montana coordinator for the Manuel Redwoman Support Network at suemontana@...
Dodie Finstead, Internet Representative for Texas AIM at dfinstead@...
You can also contact me at frankfencepost844@...
If you wish to support Manuel Redwoman, please:
- contact your local media and urge them to have this statement printed or investigated.
- contact the newsletter and let them know you would like to be updated and/or support Manuel actively.
- write to the prison officials and the Director of the MT Department of Corrections or call and (politely but firmly) ask them to release Manuel into general population and ensure his protection from further retaliation from certain prison staff members.
Director Bill Slaughter: The Montana Department of Corrections, 1539 11th Avenue P.O. Box 201301 Helena, MT 59620-1301 (406) 444-3930; Director's office Administrative Officer Janet Bouchee: (406) 444-3911; jbouchee@...
Warden Mike Mahoney: (406) 846-1320, ext. 2200; mmahoney@... Address: 400 Conley Lake Road; Deer Lodge, MT; 59722
Deputy Warden Myron Beeson: (406) 846-1320, ext. 2454; mbeeson@... Address: 400 Conley Lake Road; Deer Lodge, MT; 59722
- contact Jim Corson, to let him know his support of Manuel is greatly appreciated. Jim Corson, Office of Senator Max Baucus, 207 North Broadway, Billings, Montana 59101 406-657-6790 (phone), 406-657-6793 (fax) James_Corson@...