Leonard Peltier: A Private Man who Only Wants to Go Home


prison-writingsPrison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance

By Leonard Peltier
Edited by Harvey Arden
St. Martin’s Press | 272 pp | $11.32
ISBN 0312263805

“For too long, both Leonard’s supporters and detractors have seen him as a metaphor, as a public figure worthy of political rallies and bumper stickers, but very rarely as a private man who only wants to go home. I pray this book will bring Leonard home.” –SHERMAN ALEXIE


For those who may be unfamiliar with the Leonard Peltier case, they need to read the preface to Leonard Peltier’s “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance” that was written by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Mr. Clark outlines a strong case Peltier’s innocence. Once you’ve read the preface, the book will grip you.

For those who are well acquainted with Peltier’s case, a reread of “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance” will remind you of the long injustice to a man who deserves, at the very least, a new trial and, at best, clemency for time already served.

Peltier, Lakota, has been in prison for the past 35 years. He was convicted of killing two FBI agents who showed up on June 25, 1975 at a private residence in Oglala, South Dakota.

Many American Indians and others around the world view Peltier as a political prisoner. Through the years, Peltier’s supporters have included the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu, among other prominent names.

“Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance” is a compilation of hours on top of hours of an imprisoned man who has nothing to do but think and reflect. Imprisoned men have produced profound writings prior to Peltier’s contribution from over twelve years ago. One could cite the biblical writings of St. Paul who wrote from his jail cell. In more modern times, Peltier’s writings are reminiscent of those by Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi while they were imprisoned.

Suffering allows an individual to dig deep inside of one’s self. Peltier did so and revealed his inner thoughts in “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance.”

I first read Leonard Peltier’s “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance” in the fall of 1999 and then wrote a book review of the book for my hometown newspaper, “The Grand Rapids Press.”

Since in the past year Peltier was placed in solitary confinement – the Hole – at Lewisburg and then his transfer to the Federal Prison in Coleman Florida, I decided to take another look at “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance” again.

One particular passage struck me as chilling considering Peltier’s current status of being in “the Hole.” Peltier writes then:

“The Hole – with which I’ve become well acquainted at several federal institutions these past twenty-three years, having becoming somewhat of an old-timer myself – remains, in my experience, remains of the most inhumane tortures. A psychological hell.”

Peltier reveals in “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance.” some strong wisdom when he writes:

“I don’t know how to save the world. I don’t have the answers or The Answer. I hold no secret knowledge as to how to fix the mistakes of generations past and present. I only know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants, none of us will survive – nor will we deserve to.”

Peltier’s story has been documented elsewhere, such as “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” by Peter Matthiessen and in Robert Redford’s “Incident at Oglala,” but “Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance.” provides the closest glimpse of the man himself.

And, Sherman Alexie is correct in writing that Peltier is a “private man who only

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