Many Native American families have at least one relative who has been in prison. My family is no exception.
Early in my career, I worked for the old Manpower program where I helped Native Americans find employment, or obtain training that would lead to employment.
Some of my clientele were Native American men who were recently released from our state prison. And of course, they had a difficult time finding a job. But, I worked with them, and sometimes we were successful.
Eventually, I began extending our services to Natives who were still in prison, but were coming up for parole. I would line-up a job, or a training position, for them as part of their parole plan.
Even after moving on to other jobs in my career, I would continue to assist “the brothers”, in their efforts to get a job, get out of prison and come home.
Of course, I heard many stories of their experiences while in prison, and the lifestyle there. I also witnessed the difficulties they experienced after their release, and return to the “free world”.
Many had trouble maintaining relationships, and quite often were aggressors in domestic violence situations.
Holding onto a job was another difficulty, especially if the supervisor, or a fellow employee, “disrespected” them. This usually resulted in quitting, or being fired. Beating up the boss, or co-worker, was optional.
Many of us have seen news and television programs about our military veterans suffering from
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I have always felt that those people who have been incarcerated in prison also suffer from PTSD. The difference between a soldier and an inmate is that as a soldier you are trained, and prepared for combat.
And you are armed, as is your opponent. Prison inmates are not trained, per se, and they are not always armed. Inmates have to be vigilant at all times. Even sleep is a light sleep. Some don’t wake up.
Prison is a “dog-eat-dog” macho environment where you see rapes, killings, brutal beatings, fire bombings, riots, etc. Violence, or the threat of it, is a constant presence. Then you are released.
The former inmate’s mind-set is still in prison mode. “Prison rules” still apply. What is a minor misunderstanding, or slight, is a major insult, if not a challenge that calls for a quick, violent response.
There are the constant nightmares filled with graphic violence. That violence, with its repressed fears, and anger, erupts on surrounding family members, friends, and co-workers.
With the growing epidemic of drug-related crimes, and convictions, leading to more Natives in prison , the unresolved issues of these “wounded” warriors coming home to our communities need to be recognized, and addressed.
(James Parker Shield can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
James Parker Shield (Little Shell Chippewa) is currently working to establish a National Native American Hall of Fame. He has served as a staff member for a Montana Governor and a Congressman)