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Growing Up Part-Time Indian Revisted, Part Six

January 20, 2014

We arrive at the local jail off of the reservation. As I had been arrested six times before, this was an establishment with which I was rather familiar. I had, though, never before been shipped there was so many others—about 200 altogether, and I doubted the jail had the capacity for us all. To solve that problem our jailers shoved us into tiny cells in which were crammed together like refugees in an internment camp. We felt like it as well.

Most disturbing, none of us who required medical attention were getting any. When we screamed at the guards, begging them to help those most in need, their response at most was swearing and admonishments to keep our mouths shut. Mostly they just ignored us. We were growing more and more worried, until a group of EMTs entered the wing and begin extracting those that needed the help the most, finally dispatching them to the local hospital. Relieved, we were still covered in each other’s sweat and blood, and it was hard to move in our cells. No surprise we began to direct our anger at each other—which was probably by design.

The door to our wing opened again, and we waited for the guard to again tell us to “Shut the fuck up!”—but to our surprise, it was not the guard that appeared before us. A hush fell over the entire wing as we realized who had just entered: a Lakota Indian with his dark hair pulled back in a pair of long braids, six feet of attitude and charisma that entranced everyone in his orbit, including the guards. Oh my God, do you know who that is? Holy Shit! It’s Russell Means! Russell Fucking Means!

The guard opened one of the cells and Russell entered. Instinctively, we made a place for him to sit, but he waved us off. He told us how he had been with us on the reservation, how he negotiated the medical assistance for the protestors in exchange for spending the night in jail with us and not alerting his media contacts until morning. I suspect our jailers really didn’t want him in there because the sight of Russell immediately lifted our spirits.

Russell Means was with us!

Russell Means was with us!

And that wasn’t all—he told us great stories about being a member of the American Indian Movement, about Marlon Brando, Larry Flynt, and his new friend, Daniel-Day Lewis. He told hilarious jokes, and got us all to sing Lakota songs together. This jocularity was clearly too much for our jailers, as they frequently popped in not to tell us we were too loud, but to remind us we were in jail and not to be enjoying ourselves that much.

Relaxed, many of us began to drift off to sleep, and at the very least felt things would be better in the morning. This calmness, though, was clearly the last straw for our jailers, who decided to play one last card: they set the toilets to flush over and over again, and the wave of irritation and anger began cascading its way back through the wing. Russell, a veteran of many arrests, was familiar with this tactic, and gave us all some excellent advice: “Don’t think of it as flushing toilets. Imagine yourself on a beach somewhere. That sound is the tide coming in. Trust me. Close your eyes and do that. It will be fine.”

And he was right. It did begin to sound like that, and I think we were all asleep within ten minutes. Finally having to concede defeat, the toilets shut off, and those still awake enjoyed a snicker of satisfaction.

The next morning, we were released and followed Russell Means outside. He gave a brief statement to the press, after which we stumbled to busses, waiting rides, and any other way we could to get home. It wouldn’t be so easy for my Uncle Chester, who was found guilty of attempted assault on a federal officer and spent several years in federal prison. All for the crime of having a cattle ranch.

For those who may not be aware, or who believe that land rights issues are a thing of the past, or that casinos have become the great equalizer for American Indian tribes, this story should be a reminder that there is much work left to be done.

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