A young man in juvenile hall tackles isolation, boredom and personal identity with a warrior spirit and a pencil

By Sho-Moe, Pacific News Service


October 7, 2004 – Today I am having a fierce battle with boredom. This life “intra muros” (within the walls) is one of constant wars to keep yourself free of mind and spirit.

I crave intellectual stimulation. And within these walls, it seems harder to find than a grain of rice in the ocean!

People in here, mostly, have a mind as narrow as an anorexic’s waist. So then I have to search in myself to find something that makes me think past the normal circumference of my everyday thought pattern.

I tend to immerse myself in literature and writing. Yet, even then, books only last so long. The only thing that is always here is paper and pencil. To bring salvation to my mind! So I sit in my cell, writing with a handmade pencil that I have to hide to make sure I can keep this little freedom behind these walls.

The pencil has become a part of my soul, an extension of me; the pencil out on the pages of nothingness, building a relationship that makes up beautiful and eloquent poems and writings from the soul. So I find salvation in myself! But sometimes it becomes elusive, and I have to work hard to find my salvation.


Trying To Find Me

All my life I’ve been trying to find my roots, but I am always so close and so far. I mean, I have never had a problem finding my Native American cousin at pow-wows, but I have never been to my place of origin or reservation. I don’t even know the Pomo side of my family, or the Wappo!

All my life I’ve felt a strong connection to my people. I try to learn about them and try to live as they do. Deep inside, I feel a connection to the old ways — my dreams are of living in the time of hunting and having chiefs; of living a simple life. I used to fantasize about being an honorable warrior of my people, like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and many others.

Looking back, I feel stripped of my culture. Sometimes I do not feel Pomo or Wappo; I feel White. The way I live is not that of my ancestors; it is that of the White. I live in their houses, wear their clothes, speak their tongue. I used to believe in their religion! The only things different are my features — my long black hair, my red-toned skin; but also my spirit and heart!

I long to be a warrior of my people, but this is a dream that will never be realized. There are no more warriors of combat, but only those who with documents and pens, who try to get our land and rights.

Ever since I was young, my grandma told me I was blessed with two gifts: the gift of sight and that of dance. Sight, or visions, is being able to see the future, to have a sixth sense about things. Dance, of course, is to dance the dance of my people. I’ve never really used these gifts more than a couple of times.

I was never taught how to dance, but it seems my feet already know what to do. To dance, is me! That’s why I was blessed with my name, Sho-Moe-ine, which means Dancing Man.

But even with these gifts from the spirits of my people, I feel that I am only of relation and not of my people.

Yet, deep within me is the spirit of my people. Every time I’m with my people at heart, words of truth and wisdom flow through me with eloquence, as if my soul or spirit were speaking and not just me.

Yet my soul feels empty because it’s missing the company of my people. To tell you the truth, I identify with my Mexican blood. I tend to kick it and identify with them. I was raised in a Mexican family. I also live in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood, a.k.a. barrio/varrio. But I also shun these identifications, push them away and always claim my indigenous blood first and foremost.

I know until I find what seems to be missing in my life, I will always be looking for it. Just as the man who lodged with the deer woman will always search for his soul, I feel that I am close and yet still have a long journey ahead; because finding myself will only open the door to a new beginning in my life — just as a life, when it ends, only begins a different one.

These writings help me along my journey to my place on the totem pole, or history, of my people. Well, I am off to my journey to find one’s self among one’s people.


PNS contributor Sho-Moe, 17, is half Mexican American and half Native American, from the Bay Area Pomo Tribe. He writes for The Beat Within, a writing program for incarcerated youth and a PNS project.

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