Running Comanche

by Patrick Wahnee Gay

I was born in Oakland and raised all over the San Francisco Bay Area. But never lived in Oakland until now – since I've been out of California Youth Authority. The first time I went to the CYA, my crime was assault and escaping from foster homes.

I was sent to the Karl Holton California Youth Authority in Stockton for two and a half years. My stay there made me see that I want to live life different and make major changes. There, the days were hot and I had to wake up early every morning for school. On the weekends, we would kick back and have recreation time, we could play dominoes, basketball, handball, or lift weights. If anyone disobeyed any orders, they had to stay in their room all day.

My family would put money on my books so I could eat. I ate noodles, meat and "spreads" (which is Top Ramen crushed up with meat, eggs, Doritos, cheese and mayonnaise). All the food tastes like rubber, like it was sitting up in the refrigerator for five years. Sometimes we would get frozen burgers that were halfway cooked. The carpets smelled like feet and ass. Some people smelled like funk because there was no support system for hygiene.

Every day there was a fight or a group disturbance caused by the Native gangs, Norte, Southern, or the Fresno Bulldog's. It was always all over stupid stuff. The worst part about being in CYA was always having to try to avoid fighting, 'cause when there is a fight they would use "fog guns" (which burn you and makes you not able to breathe), mace on people's eyes, and sometimes they used physical force.

The first time I was out of the CYA, it was for one year and two months. I had a lot of goals. I wanted to go to college, get a job and a house, and spend time with my family. Fights happen all the time in CYA and usually become a "group disturbance." But even when I was out, it was still happening to me. I got jumped by my own cousin and his friends on High Street in Oakland, over money. The fight lasted awhile and there were bats and bottles flying.

We shouldn't have been fighting at all 'cause we're family. But my cousin was beat badly and the police came. Later, my parole agent asked what happened. My other cousin lied and she said I was going to get a knife and flatten her tires, and that I was violent. The police took what she was saying as truth and they said I violated my parole and put out a warrant for my arrest. When I found out, I drove to Oklahoma to get away.

It took me two days to get down to the Oklahoma Indian Reservation, where my family is from. I'm related to Ten Bears, chief leader of the five bands of recognized Comanche Tribes. When I got to the reservation, the tribal police couldn't do anything. The FBI has jurisdiction over the tribal police so the only way they could arrest me was through the FBI. The FBI wanted the tribal police to do a Federal Indian Reservation Arrest on me. It had taken months for them to find me.

The FBI finally caught me at my cousin's house, and put me in a U.S. marshal paddy wagon. There were 48 agents, including the federal tribal police. They put me in the Oklahoma County Jail. I was there for two days, and then the county jail bus transferred me to the Oklahoma City Airport. They put me in Santa Rita County Jail. I was then transferred to Oakland for two months. I went before the parole board and they said I had 15 months to do in CYA, so I went back.

I was at the CYA when those two young guys were beat down on video, which they showed on TV. They were 18 and 19. They were beat because they attacked a youth correctional counselor, and it took 10 officers to restrain them. They put them on their stomach in handcuffs, and were still beating them even though they were in restraints. They sprayed them with the fog guns. I think it was messed up because they shouldn't have been fighting in the first place, and the staff should have stopped when they put them in handcuffs. They were doing too much, they were already on the ground and couldn't do anything, and they still beat them.

While I was serving my time, I got tired of eating nasty food; I got tired of looking at stupid things that go on in there. I was sick of being told what to do. I got tired of seeing Indian gang leaders or others starting up stuff, 'cause I knew they would be stuck in there or max out on parole. I was tired of making poor decisions that made me end up in there.

Now, I am finally free. Being an Indian Reservation parole violator means I have to check in with a regular parole officer, and a federal parole officer. But my beliefs have changed and my mentality is different; I want to stay out of trouble. I want to be successful, do positive activities, and have goals to accomplish every day. I want to attend sweat lodges, because I know they will keep me strong and keep me following the red road. I want to meet new friends who can help me stay positive.

Today, I set an example as a good role model. I try to be a productive person, and not smoke weed or drink. My goals are to be a family man. I want to have kids when I get older to keep my bloodline going. I've been looking into casinos, and I am proud to see Native's owning their own land and doing something with it. Now, I got support and money in my pocket from my tribe. We have oil on our land and casinos, but on the rez back home, most people who get money don't do anything with it.

As of now, my life is good. I travel back and forth from Oakland to Oklahoma, and I have relatives everywhere in the Midwest. I am a strong Native American man who wants to learn more about my culture and attend Native American sweat lodges. I am not a perfect man – nobody is. All that matters is that we respect one another and all our cultures.

by Patrick Wahnee Gay, who was 21 when he wrote this story for SNAG Issue #4. He lives in Oakland. Art by Taraka Goodman-Robinson, 22