“When I was growing up, my parents never shared their feelings. They went to residential school, where they were taught not to talk to each other and they did not know how to communicate. That’s why they were abusive and I think that’s why they took their anger and frustrations out on me.
I used to see a lot of things I shouldn’t have seen at parties around the house. I was being abused by another family member too. I never learned to talk about my feelings with anybody. I always felt, like, what’s wrong with me? The way I dealt with it was I’d search for things to make myself feel better. I used to sniff gas right until I passed out.
I saw the insanity in my life and I wanted to change. I started going to church in prison to ask God for some answers. I was suicidal all messed up on anti-depressants and anxiety medication. I was angry and crying and, all of a sudden, I see this child by the cell door, crying. He was looking at me, and I said, ‘Shut up, nobody wants nothing to do with you anymore. They all threw you away.’ And then I knew God was showing me — that child was me. So I picked him up and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.’
I wanted to heal. I wanted to do better and I missed my family. I took every program that was available to me. I got my GED, went to AA meetings every week and became the AA chairman. I became the Coordinator for the Alternatives to Violence Program inside, and now I can also leave the institution to facilitate it in the community. I have facilitated over 20 workshops since 2013.
It feels good helping other people with their communication skills, something I never knew how to do. If I would’ve learned how to communicate my feelings earlier, I never would’ve gone down that dark road. Those feelings, that anger and bitterness and secrets and addiction within myself — when mixed with alcohol, it was dangerous.
It’s God’s grace that has helped me through all the turmoil. You know how white people have horoscopes? I’m a Leo. In our Native people way, I’m a salmon. During my last workshop, I was standing at the river, looking at how fast it flows, thinking of the salmon swimming against the current. I was thinking about my life, how hard it has been swimming against that current, trying to find my way home. I also thought about a song I sing all the time: ‘To the river I am going, bringing sins I cannot bare. Come and cleanse me…come forgive me. Lord, I need to meet you there. In those waters, healing mercy flows with freedom and despair. I am going — to the river, Lord I need to meet you there.’”
Photo by Azriel Knight