Letter to inmates at a South Dakota women’s prison.

I recently received an email from a woman who runs a book club at a South Dakota women’s prison.  She is having the members read The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo and was wondering if I’d write them a letter so the experience would have a personal feel.  Having done some work in prisons, and believing that you need to honor you readers for the gift they give you of their time and attention, I was happy to oblige.

When the letter was done, I realized that it might be worth posting here, as well.  I’d be curious as to what any of you think of it.  Spot on?  Naive?  Worthy counsel?

Here it is:

Hello, my friends.

I’m sorry to hear you’re in prison. I hope you’ve taken a look into your hearts to see what got you there and to see if its something that should have been avoided and can be avoided in the future. And I hope the experience of being there doesn’t leave scars that don’t heal.

But I also hope you will take a look at the prison experience and the experience of your life and see them for what they are: your unique life experience that prepares you in a unique way for some task in life that might be different from what you expect.

Let me explain. When people ask me what was the most significant element in making me a writer, I tell them that it was the dark experience of going with my dad on his job as a disaster worker for the Red Cross when I was a teenager. He would get me out of bed in the middle of the night to have me accompany him to fires and drownings and things that a young person would hope not to see.

I remember one time in deep winter at an apartment fire in Minneapolis where he told me to wait in the car with an old woman who had been displaced. She lived alone and was sobbing as we sat there. “My cat is in there,” she pleaded. “Please have them get my cat. She’s everything to me.”

Even at that age, I knew that there was no way the fire fighters were going back into a flaming apartment building to save a cat. But, what could I do? What could I say? All I was able to do was bear witness to her grief and to try to comfort her as best I could.

Later in the night, as the sun was coming up, we drove back through the wintry streets to my warm home just in time for me to get ready for school. Suddenly I was back in the world of wondering if some girl liked me, or if the coach would let me play in the game on Friday, or if my hair was cool.

And I realized in a deep and visceral way that my life was not significant compared to the life of that woman and that her world was, in so many ways, much more real than mine.

At plane crashes, at floods, at drownings where I was told to wait with a sobbing mother on the dark shore while the rescue people dragged the lake until they came up with her son’s body, the experience repeated itself again and again.

I ceased being able to take myself and my teenage concerns so seriously. I became a watcher and an observer.

This shaped me forever. It made me into someone who wanted to see the significant moments in other people’s lives rather than my own, and to tell their stories. I didn’t want to get rich; I didn’t want to get famous. I just wanted to watch the world and share what I saw. I needed to be a story teller.

I was lucky. I found writing as an outlet. Had I not, I might have fallen into a deep sadness and depression from which there would have been no easy escape.

But the point is, I became what I am because of something quite unrelated to the field I ended up in. Yes, I worked hard at my craft. Yes, I got a few breaks. But none of that made me a writer. It was the darkness of my childhood experiences as an observer of other people’s pain and suffering that shaped my heart. The rest of it was just finding a means of giving voice to that heart.

You each have a unique experience. Forget whether it was fair. Forget whether or not you drew a bad hand. Those things are irrelevant. You got what you got and you drew the hand that you did. If it is less than you might have wished, so be it. What matters is that your heart has been touched in a unique way by your circumstances. Racism, rape, incest, petty thievery, violence by or against you, whatever. These are your life and they are your gifts. Yes, gifts. No one else who has not experienced them can understand them like you do.

The question before you is how you infuse those experiences with light and how you turn them somehow toward the good. You have a chance to touch other people because of what you know through your life experience. There is no greater sense of quiet satisfaction than hearing someone say, either in words or through the look in their eyes, “You understand me.”

Who do you understand? Who can you help, and how?

It’s rough, especially if you don’t have a lot of skills and if you carry lots of unresolved anger that weighs you down and refuses to loose its grip on you.

But that’s where you have to get tough with yourself. If you’re stuck on the streets of Rapid or Sioux falls without a dime to your name, or you’re trying to get a piece of junk car through the gumbo on Pine Ridge to make it to a meeting with your parole officer, or if you have an abusive husband or lover or three hungry kids who are living with grandma, it seems impossible to find a way to even begin thinking about going to school or getting skills that will allow you to give voice to the wisdom you have in your heart. But you have to do it. It’s the only way to move your life forward, and the only way, ultimately, to feel good about yourself.

Though this may sound to you like I’m really clueless and naïve, I’m not. You should look at this time in prison as a rare opportunity to make a start. Find out who you are, what your unique experience is that animates you and gives shape to your understanding. Then start directing that to some goal. Of course you’re counting the days until you get out. Of course there are the dramas and stresses of living at close quarters in a place that you cannot leave. But in some fundamental way you are freer now than you will be when you walk out on the street and the challenges and complexities of everyday survival come surging in on you.

Take advantage of this. Look at it as a gift, though a dark one. In some strange and convoluted way, you are freer now than you will ever be again.

Thanks for taking the time to read my book (I hope you will also look at the two others in the series, Neither Wolf nor Dog and The Wolf at Twilight). And thanks for taking the time to listen to this long letter.

Life isn’t easy for any of us, but it is a heck of a lot better than the alternative.

Your friend,

Kent

37 comments

  1. Eileen Jerome Grundstrom says:

    It’s very difficult for me to read this letter and it actually made me physical sick. I wish you knew more about women who are in prison.

  2. Tom Moeller says:

    Wonderful stuff! Thanks Kent!

  3. knerburn says:

    That’s why I posted this. Help me understand, Eileen. I want to learn.

  4. Barbara says:

    I can tell that you wrote this from your heart with love. It sounds very solid to me. If there are advocates in any part of the “system,”, this would be a good time to work with them. What they have to say make make the difference for someone who never had the horrible situation of being in prison and it might help to change the stories that they know and act on, as well. Getting through the terrible times , if we can, makes us strong and able to thrive. What you wrote is a strong advocacy for the women in prison. I wonder if they will write you back. It will be interesting to see…..Thank you, Kent!

  5. joe gdovin says:

    good letter, makes sense to me,you achiev peace only when you conquer yourself.that is not easy to do butseems to me tobe the only way..strong faith in yourself and God can do most anything.thank you for sharing…joe

  6. john snowberg says:

    Kent,
    I liked the letter alot and have proposed using your letter in a way that I have detailed under a separate e mail….I have some associates who would very much like to read your letter as they are involved in programs that cross paths with people in prison and who have already gotten out….one of my associates is a former President of Midwest Challenge …and I am requesting your permission to send out your letter copying you when I do. Of course I also really enjoyed the book The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo. Thanks so much. John

  7. Thank you for caring and sharing. The seriousness with which you took the request for a letter speaks volumes! I, too, hope you will hear from those women who read your book. Blessings!

  8. Marsha Rumbarger says:

    I hope you hear more from Eileen. I can’t imagine what caused such a negative reaction from her, and I would like to understand. Thanks.

  9. Meredith says:

    thank you for sharing, Kent. hopefully you get solid feedback from the book study group and that this helps many to focus on a positive change in life. it breaks my heart that so many people face such horrible choices and don’t see a positive path for themselves.

  10. knerburn says:

    I,too, want to hear back from Eileen. It’s always hard to sort through negative responses. There are people out there who just want to find a point to criticize, people who are just fundamentally angry, and people who have legitimate insights. I’m hoping that Eileen is one of the latter group. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a darkness to the prison experience that I can’t fathom, and that some lives have been so damaged by circumstances that we cannot begin to enter into their realities. Eileen may have an understanding of the darkness that I can’t imagine. And, then, there is the simple fact that none of us can truly know what goes on in the mind and heart of another. I’m hoping Eileen knows something and will share it, and that this is not just one more example of a dog barking from behind a fence.

  11. Clem Wilkes says:

    Kent, I’ve read your first two books and felt that you had a really good handle on rez life and the people who inhabit your writings, but I have to say that your letter lacks empathy, in my opinion. And I believe that is basically what Eileen was reacting to. I could sure be wrong about what was on her mind, though. You made some lofty suggestions to those incarcerated women which is easy from outside, but you didn’t get down to the personal level of talking to them as relatives. You’ve lived among native peoples for a long time and one would think you would understand how to communicate with them,but in this letter there was a sort of impersonal distance. Maybe you should go to that prison and visit, talk with them, get to know what they think and feel about their situation, their lives, and their goals. Then maybe you’ll learn why Eileen wrote to you as she did.

  12. knerburn says:

    I hear what you’re saying, and I thought about that. Understand, the reason I wrote this is because a good woman who runs a book group in the prison asked if I’d write a letter to them to let them know they are real in an author’s mind. The question of empathy is compounded by the fact that I am a white male of privilege, so, in some broader sense, I should just keep my mouth shut and my ears open. Point taken. But there is another, more precarious point of view. And it is that you need to work with what you are given and aim past the issues of daily survival and dealing with your wounds. We all do. This is not some “all you need to do is fix your mind and your attitude, and you can do anything you dream” bullshit. It is saying that your experience, however dark, is something that can be transmuted, even transubstantiated,if you find a way to embrace it in its uniqueness, and to use it to serve a greater good than your own survival. I believe this. We certainly aren’t all Nelson Mandela, but there is a sliver of Nelson Mandela somewhere in each of our hearts. The need to give consolation to the downtrodden and wounded is real, but that was not and could not be my intention in writing this. The best I could do is say that there is, in your difficult situation, a way to see the darkness in our life as a path toward light, and the loneliness of your situation as the grounds for human sharing and understanding. Let me ask you this, Clem, and I do so in all seriousness: if you were asked to write a letter to a group of women in a prison, what would you say and how would you focus it? I look forward to your answer.

  13. Delores J. English says:

    Very good letter Kent, was long, but well written. We can only hope and pray for them that they will look at themselves and accept the situation and learn from it, so they can put it behind them and move forward in a positive way.

  14. Janie Hougen Peak says:

    I would imagine that your direct approach to their incarceration will be well received and considered appropriate by your letter’s recipients. Regardless of where one finds herself, the fact remains that she should be encouraged to reap the benefits of personal experience for a better present and future, and a clearer understanding of the past. The women for whom the letter is intended are dealing with a reality unfamiliar to most of us. I wonder if the source of the occasional outcry from a few readers here is an awkward desire to avert one’s gaze from the proverbial elephant in the room.

  15. knerburn says:

    Never forget Mark Twain’s wonderful comment about his response to a correspondent: “I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

  16. Amber says:

    You know how I feel about you Kent, you’re definitely one of the good guys. However, I had a similar reaction to Eileen’s. Your good intentions are obvious and I hope the women will see that, but my advice is to start by asking questions, allowing dialogue before the lecture. Once they’re receptive and trust you more, and your lecture is informed directly from them, then give the lecture. You’re a great father, elder and teacher, they probably haven’t had a lot of that in their life and could use it, just not from a stranger.

  17. knerburn says:

    Hi Amber. There is no lecture. They’re just reading my book. I’ll never see them; they’ll never see me. This is our only contact. See my response to Clem below. Does any of this alter your thinking one way or another?

  18. Deb says:

    Read and loved ALL of your books, Kent…Guess that means Im a “fan!” What I read in your letter was, that people who have gone down the wrong road, or life has been harsh, have the freedom & the time in prison to make that searching inventory of their lives; to make a plan…I always make plan A B or C.(and really, if our plan doesn’t go with the Great Spirit’s plan), then acceptance comes into “play.” We can never “walk in their shoes,” but we have walked in our own. Everyone has the opportunity to change “their walk,” but the motivation has to be there also. Great letter, would have not expected anything else.

  19. Lennie Major says:

    Kent,
    Something for you to consider: Ask your friend who runs the book club not to share your letter until the women in the club have finished reading The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo. That might make you more of a real person to them.
    I’ve taken it upon myself to give you very specific feedback on the content and language of your letter. This is a bit of a risk, as you might resent receiving these editor-like responses. If some of my suggestions resonate positively with you, great. It may well be that the perspective I am coming from and sense of what works and what doesn’t in a letter like this simply differs from yours and if so simply disregard my comments. Please know my intentions are good. So here are my responses to your letter:
    1) The opening – who are you to be calling those women your friends? They don’t know you beyond your name. Maybe just delete “my friends” or replace with “my relatives. 2) Consider deleting the first 2 paragraphs and the first sentence of paragraph 3. Of course you are sorry to hear they are in prison! Of course you hope the experience doesn’t leave scars that don’t heal, etc. If you want to start out with something more connective, you could state something along the lines of, “__(your friend)__ asked me to write to you. …” You address the core message of the 2nd paragraph much more powerfully towards the end of the letter and it is stronger, IMO, if left out until then. 3) Since you referenced Mark Twain’s above comment, I’ll say that you do, indeed have the time to write a shorter letter, otherwise you wouldn’t have put out this request for feedback from your readers. That said, I’ll point out that you took 7 paragraphs to describe your experiences going out to disasters with your Dad as a teen. That could be shortened some which, again IMO, would strengthen the letter. 4) Paragraph 13: Again, who are you to tell these women to forget how they feel about the fairness of what happened to them. That’s where your tone turns into one of a preacher. So, my suggestion: Delete the 2 “Forget”s and the 4th sentence, so it would read: “Whether it was fair, whether or not you drew a bad hand, you got what you got and you drew the hand that you did.” This way, instead of telling them what they should do, you are stating what amounts to an “I statement,” with the unsaid implication being that this is your opinion or viewpoint – which leaves each woman the choice of whether or not to agree with you. Then, consider deleting the next sentence, “If it is less than you might have wished, so be it.” I think the paragraph is stronger without it. 5) Paragraph 14, 1st sentence: The language “infuse those experiences with light” sounds new age-y, I’d delete it, and, “turn them somehow toward the good” sounds weak and preachy. I’d replace it with something stronger like, “… turn those experiences into a force for good (or “change”).” 6) Paragraph 16: In describing the effect of having unresolved anger, consider dropping the descriptive phrases “… that weighs you down and refuses to loose its grip on you,” so that sentence would read, “It’s rough, especially if you don’t have a lot of skills and if you carry lots of unresolved anger.” 7) Paragraph 17: Again, you are preaching to these women in the first sentence. You know that what they have to do, and that is to get tough with themselves. My suggestion is just that you look at it again and decide if you want to keep it that way or change it. Second sentence – first, I think you left out “City” after “Rapid. Next, by saying, “… it seems impossible to find a way …” you are telling them what their experience is or will be. Suggestion: change “it seems” to “it may seem.” Then, you talk about their going to school or getting skills “that will allow you to give voice to the wisdom you have in your heart,” and that finding that way is something that they HAVE to do, that is the ONLY way to move their lives forward and ultimately feel good about themselves. Again, you are preaching from a place of high knowingness. My suggestion is to turn that into an “I” statement. “I believe that this is something you have to find a way of doing, whatever that way is for you, and that ultimately …” 8) Paragraphs 18 & 19: I think your words in these 2 paragraphs are great, powerful, and wonderful just the way they are. 9) Your closing: Like with the opening, are you their friend? Maybe this is what you most truly feel, and if so, fine. But consider how that might sound to women in a SD prison who only know you by name.
    Thank you for caring enough to ask for feedback about this letter from people who get your newsletter. Lennie. P.S. Though I am a washichu who lives in MN, I have a very close male friend from the Yankton Rez who spent time in several SD prisons. We wrote back and forth a lot, and he described for me in plenty of detail what it was like there.

  20. Christopher Sweeney says:

    Hi Kent,
    Upon returning from Gulf War 1 I received a plethora of advice from friends and family on how to cope with the reality of what it was I had experienced. Their well-intentioned words were met with anger and further alienation. 25 years on The relations that I have maintained and nurtured are with those individuals that came to understand the power of listening. Their numbers are scant. In NWND Kent was left with no other alternative them to make countenance with Dan in order to attain a subterranean understanding of his circumstancees .Make countenance with those women Kent! Listen to their stories without judgment. There is no other access route to their humanity .

  21. Alanda says:

    I much appreciated your comments. My brother, 3 years older than me, spent a great deal of his life in prison. He experienced horrific situations and much damage. But he also never learned to look at his own role in either bringing about his stay in prison or preventing repeats. I’m involved in a community that teaches skills and tools to take responsibility and find a way to give back. I forwarded your post and it has been well-received and appreciated. It’s part of rising beyond being a victim, rising into the potential of personhood, of the possible human. But my brother would not agree with me. Not everyone will agree with your view. But many of us are inspired to read it. I feel like I always need reminders to live as a true human, and your writing is such a reminder. Thank you.

  22. Amber says:

    I didn’t mean lecture literally. You seemed to sincerely want to know why Eileen might have had such a negative response to what you wrote. Here’s what I think offended her. Your letter contains a lot of advice, good caring wisdom, but unless advice is invited it can be hard to take, and even offensive. You’ve had so many opportunities and successes that many of those women can’t even imagine and even though you imply you can understand them, I’d argue that that could come off as arrogant. You’ve had some really deep soul expanding experiences, but you’ve never had your freedom denied you. You’ve probably never experienced the violence some of these women have. Your experiences made you better, some of the women you’re addressing have had experiences that have left them permanently damaged. When they leave prison they’ll likely, literally, be worse off. Older, dumber, longer rap sheet, children taken, shamed, with even fewer opportunities than they used to have. For some, there are no bootstraps. Just imagine, for some of the few lucky ones, their best bet will be telling of their humiliations as cautionary tales. Peddling their shame in order to survive. I believe that for many, it’s hard to imagine a bright future and hearing of the one you built out of your experiences and of how they also might be able to, won’t be comforting.

  23. George Dirksen says:

    Just read your letter to the women in SD prison. As I read it, it did feel “preachy” and “new-age” like … went back and reread it several times … and it didn’t sound, to me, that it was written by the Kent I’ve come to know through your writing, to which I felt more of a connection. I’ve no first, second or third person experience with prison life, only what I’ve seen, heard or read. But I have heard unbelievable stories about some lives, and I have learned to “listen” … listening always comes first!!!

    So, to some degree, I have some feelings/reactions similar to those of Clem, Lennie and Christopher. I think you were sincere in your writing the letter, and it came from a good heart!! Thanks you for even writing it!!

    My suggestion would be to have them read the book FIRST!! Then, have those that would like write to you of their experience of reading the book. If you still decide to write to them, let them be your guide in your response, and write from there. Respond to THEIR RESPONSE/REACTIONS to their reading of the book, and not from where you think they are coming from, no matter how genuine and heart felt it may be!

    I hope you can hear this in the tone in which it was written … honest, constructive and with the hope this project leads to someplace good for them, and you. I have read most of your writings, both Native and sacred, and I respect them and you greatly!! Kudos to the woman who made the request!!

    I hope I have not stepped out of line … my apologies if I have.

    Respectfully…

    PS I think a simple “Hello,” would be a great start.

  24. Ann Culter says:

    I’m enjoying the different perspectives of the different posts. We have all walked on different paths throughout out lives and have probably changed paths often with age, experience, and better choices. I sincerely hope that these women can realize that they have control over themselves and how they move forward, regardless of what has happened in the past, and that they can make better choices that can bring them peace of mind. I agree with you, Kent, that they have the time to do that now.

  25. Tim Overdier says:

    Gratitude to all who moved this whole dialogue forward, showing deeper and deeper understanding and wisdom as it grew.

    We all are trying to find the “ever more perfect union” of who we really are within life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The keys are inside each of us.

    Eileen is right; most of us could not know. And no women should have to endure such a punishment without access to the answers. But she, as all of us, has the means to find better through mind, heart, body, and soul. If one other person tells us we can do something it brings it so much closer to reality. Perhaps she has the keys to becoming a powerful prison reform activist, should she choose. The opposite of whatever one endures is waiting to emerge.

    I suggest the next book be David Hawkins’ Power vs Force. You don’t have to read or buy into the whole thing, just be aware of the invisible patterns of power for good in the Universe–and you are a part, always were, and always will be…

    Love yourself as never before. You deserve it.

  26. Patt Rall says:

    Dear Kent—Because I know you, I can say in all honesty that you have a kind heart that does not wish to disparage anyone’s feelings or experiences. You set the scene or rather gave the credentials you needed to begin talking with the women. Having been involved with vocational rehabilitation, I know how difficult it is to start over again when the world seems against you and I also know that harboring old griefs and anger is self-defeating as well. I believe that some people are just a victim of poor parenting, drinking while pregnant to leave the scar of FAS and to those people, common everyday activities of living seem beyond their capability. I would hope that your words will bring some comfort to some of the ladies, but to think that it will touch all lives is a bit too hopeful. you are a kind, good man!

  27. Jane Campbell says:

    I thought your letter was saying to these women that no matter what happens to you, wherever you are, try to find a piece of light even in the most cruel darkness.
    I heard you say even if you are there through no fault of your own…..you are still there now. Take whatever you can get to help you survive this and to change your future.
    I heard, learn what you can from this experience, as horrific as it may be, take something from it and use it to change your circumstances for the better any way possible.
    You do not hold in your hands the power to change the prison, the circumstances that brought each individual to the prison, or the power to free them.
    Your power is your words. I heard empathy in your words, but empathy does not build a ladder to climb out of a hole. I also heard wisdom from one who has been in dark places and found a light. You used your word to tell these women to try and find a light to survive.
    I heard “you are in a situation that no one can change right now, but look to find a way to never be in this situation again, look for help to change your personal situation.”
    There is much injustice and abuse in the world. There is no way to undo the past, you cannot reach back and undo what has happened. No one can.
    It is recognized by many and still there is no resolution to solve living conditions, racial injustice, lack of fair treatment, work opportunities, and so much more.
    I see your letter saying I understand hopelessness, I understand pain, and I understand you are locked up in a cage, maybe through no fault of your own, but you are there, take whatever helps you survive and use it! Live, live and when you leave grab hold of a grain of strength wherever you find it and keep holding on and change what you can, but don’t let bitterness and hate rule you. I did not hear empty words of sympathy I heard strong words of truth.
    I hope they will see what is real and not just “one more white man who doesn’t understand the reasons of my circumstances” because that would be injustice also.

  28. Lynn Gallagher says:

    Hi Kent: First of all, I believe you showed these women honor & respect by speaking from your heart to them. Some may listen and learn, some may listen, and a seed of hope will be planted to grown at another time in their life when needed.
    If all people, no matter what race, color or creed could speak from their hearts, we would have a blessed and peaceful planet. Thank you for your words.

  29. Ann Culter says:

    This You-Tube piece came across my desk tonight. It is of a man without arms or legs who inspires everyone from students to those in prison. You wrote to the women from your heart; he speaks directly from the heart. And his message, too, is one of hope. Will he help everyone? Probably not. But, people tend to recall words of hope when they are ready to listen. I hope this link works because I would like to share it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=W5mbldTkruM&feature=share

  30. Denny says:

    I do not feel the letter lacked empathy. You spoke from your experience, I am sure, of working with the darker side of life. What else can we offer other than our own experience our own story?
    When we encounter darkness in our lives once the scenario has played itself out what are our choices. We are left with our feelings only. How do we stop the bleeding? A scar may remain in the end but there are stories it tells. Although injustices are never condoned there is always the opportunity to transform our internal experience and how we walk with it. I felt this was what you attempted to say in your letter.
    Living in a prison environment with no opportunity to walk away from it or the injustices you may be subjected to there is incomprehensible for those of us not living it. I know this as we can choose to walk away from abusive situations when free. Even in freedom we are exposed to traumas and dark experiences.
    I feel you shared your story, your experience of how you have turned dross to gold. Some will use that and some will not. I did not feel it was without empathy. We bleed until we find a way to stop it. Ultimately it is up to each of us as individuals and that does not mean we lack compassion or care for others on their journey.
    You ask Eileen to teach you, you want to learn. Openness shows empathy.

  31. Eileen Grundstrom says:

    Clem’s and Amber’s responses expressed my thoughts. Remember these women are not victims. They are survivors and they are coming from a long line of survivors.

  32. Shelley says:

    Hi Kent! I’ve read the letter you wrote and all the responses. The first thing that came to my mind was that–the women who WILL be getting out of prison one day may be open to what you are saying, but the women who are in there ‘for life’ I think will not be able to identify with your letter. They have ‘no hope’…so I’m guessing they will not even be able to ‘go there’ in their minds. I guess at first I thought you were writing about something you have never experienced–which is prison life– and they always say ‘write what you know’. I think that is what one response was talking about when he said ‘it didn’t sound like the Kent he knew’. I think the letter was well written, of course, and full of good intentions and good advice, and some inmates will be inspired by it and some inmates will say ‘hey easy for you to say’, but that is always the risk of ‘putting your thoughts out there’. I guess I don’t understand exactly what the woman ‘wanted’ in a letter from you. Did she just want a simple letter of introduction ‘from you’ to the women stating you were pleased they were reading your book and telling a little about yourself and telling them very briefly you are sorry about their situation and you hoped your book brought them a little ‘comfort and escape’ from the circumstances they happen to find themselves in ? That is what ‘I personally’ would have structured the letter like if I was in your position. I think since you have never ‘done time’ and cannot truly walk in their shoes, some ‘could’ get offended, not to say they ‘should’ but they ‘could’. I feel weird telling you, one of the best writers I have ever read, how to write a letter, quite frankly, but you wanted our opinions.
    I would personally, if I was in your position, just make it more about how you are delighted they have chosen to read your book and tell them a little about how you became interested in the Native American culture, etc, etc… and how you hope your book brings them a little ‘comfort’ in the situations they find themselves in… and maybe tell them about how in ‘some small way’ the Native American’s lives parallel the women’s lives, being that they themselves are living in a ‘sort of prison’….their freedom to live ‘their’ lives as they wanted also taken away from them. That’s personally, what I would have written-along those lines. You write beautifully and it’s nice you actually came to ‘us’ for advice … makes us know you value our opinions 🙂

  33. Kathy Hynes says:

    Dear Kent: today I read your letter to the women in prison and knew the wisdom contained in the words. I journal, and often write something down I see in a book,sign,etc and reflect on it. About 7 years ago I wrote:
    You never know your own strength
    or the strength of your relationship
    until it is tested by adversity
    it is the “gift” painfully won.

    And shortly after the rug was pulled out and I was in a dark place. And these words spoke to my heat and writing-my relationship with my husband who was on life support;my relationship with my God. And so each night I wrote and on the nights I was mad at God I only wrote to Charlie. But in time and reflection I knew I had a choice and would find a new path taking the lessons I learned and in time sharing with others-for I reremembered We Never Walk Alone. May the good women now in jail find this gift and strength-They are in my prayers.

    Kathy

  34. Susan Bell says:

    Kent,
    My husband and I just finished reading your trilogy. We were so informed and haunted by the truths of the books; I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, and since our Baptist church has a partnership with the Lakota at Pine Ridge, I have decided to lead a book study of Neither Wolf Nor Dog this summer.
    Our congregation should have the opportunity to experience your/Dan’s words as we work with our friends at the Dream Center. Thank you for all you have been through to write these books and preserve such important history and thinking. I hope we can hear you speak and/or meet you some day up ahead. You must get tired of people second guessing you! I think you handle things with great wisdom and sensitivity. Thanks for your amazing scholarship! Susan

  35. knerburn says:

    Thanks, Susan. I’m thrilled that you will use NWND in your book group. I assume you are part of the Dream Center in LA. If you’d ever like to try to arrange a speaking engagement there for me, I’d be very open to it. I’m at a phase in my life where sharing the story is becoming ever more central to my personal artistic mission. So I like to cast bread upon the waters.

    In any event, I hope the book is a success in your book group and opens some minds and hearts.

  36. Susan Bell says:

    The Dream Center is part of the Wings of Eagles Ministries, Pine Ridge Res., SD. Our church is FBC, Jefferson City, MO.

  37. Cindy Lubar Bishop says:

    Hello, my friend,

    I just read your letter and all the responses. I have never been incarcerated, and do not know what that experience is like, but your beautiful letter spoke to me, and the tears it brought were healing. The letter’s potential impact on the women of the SD prison aside, your words inspire me to dedicate myself to not letting the prison of my mistaken beliefs or of our spiritually impaired culture stop me from sharing my gifts borne of ‘drawing the hand that I did’.

    My husband and I enjoy reading books aloud, in addition to reading to ourselves. Some years ago we read ‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’. One July 4th night, we sat in bed reading of a dark episode in our country’s past. As fireworks roared and rumbled, it appeared that subtly shimmering red, white and blue light surrounded the words (yours and Dan’s) as I read them. It felt mysterious and meaningful, and I will never forget it.

    Later we read ‘The Wolf at Twilight’, and now ‘The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo’. We are extremely grateful for all these books, and often recommend them to others, as they have moved us deeply, brought laughter, and offered great food for thought.

    Thank you, Kent.

    Your friend,
    Cindy

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