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My name is Larry St. Laurent. I am a convicted felon awaiting transfer to San Quentin State Prison in California. During the past year, as I have been going through the justice process, I have become quite familiar with Signs of the Times®. I have a short story to share with you about how your magazine has influenced me as well as some of my fellow inmates.

I will start by saying that I am a Native American, and I was raised with a lot of teachings that are different from conventional Christianity. But I was taught that it's especially important to respect every person's ways.

One evening a group of my Indian brothers and I were singing traditional songs in the multipurpose room of our housing unit. One brother among us, who was fighting a double-murder charge, was filled with anger, and his eyes carried a fierce intenseness in to them. The rest of us felt rather afraid of him. I had a copy of Signs magazine with me, which this brother—I'll call him Bear—kept eying suspiciously, then looking at me. I could feel his stare burning into me. After we finished a prayer song, he said, "What are you? Some kind of Christian or something?"

Before I could answer, he continued. "That's a white man's religion. Keepers of that faith have murdered our people for hundreds of years." He finished by taunting that since I'm not a full-blooded Indian, I'm doomed to the white man's ways.

I got up and left the room. That night I caught weird glances from the rest of my brothers. I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say. All I could think about was that my grandfather had told me to respect everyone's ways. So that night I prayed that God would give me the insight needed to show Bear that there's another way. For the next few days I was like an outsider to my brothers, for in jail people tend to follow the biggest, meanest guy around, even if he isn't necessarily the brightest.

A few days later an elder from our tribe came into jail for neglecting to pay traffic fines. His name was Donald Snakebites. He was known to our people as a great medicine man, a singer, and a storyteller. Even Bear knew of him and was humbled by his presence. To my surprise, the prison officials moved Snakebites into my cell. I moved my stuff up to the top bunk so Snakebites could have the bottom one. He was going to be seventy-two on his next birthday, and he didn't need to be jumping up and down off a bunk bed, even though he could probably have done it as easily as any one of us younger inmates. The old guy had fire in his blood!

After he settled in, we had dinner. The way everyone acted around Snakebites was almost strange. They all argued about who could sit the closest to him and offer him their food. I was amazed at the respect shown this man.

After meals there is a lockdown period of about one and a half hours, during which we were confined to our beds. During this time Snakebites asked if I had any reading material. I eagerly rummaged through my stuff, looking for something he might like. I showed him National Geographic, People, and Time. He wasn't interested in any of these. Then he saw my copy of Signs magazine and asked if he could read it. He said that his wife got it for him at home, and he loved it. He seemed as happy as a school boy when I handed him Signs of the Times®.

After lockdown was over, Bear came over to invite Snakebites to the multipurpose room for songs. Snakebites said, "Sure." As he was getting up, he asked me if I would join them. I explained what had happened earlier in the week, and he seemed to be a little bothered by it. He asked me again to join him in the group, and reluctantly I agreed. Snakebites carried the copy of Signs with him to the meeting.

We sat in the circle and began to sing, with Snakebites leading the songs. I noticed Bear's eyes were wide and his mouth was open as he looked at the magazine in Snakebite's lap. After singing the gathering song, Snakebites spoke, telling the circle where our people came from, how we are related to all people, and that it's most important to respect everyone's ways.

He told stories about your magazine—how people overcame challenges and temptations and gained new perspectives from it. Bear listened intently, soaking it all up, especially when Snakebites spoke about how compassionate and forgiving the Lord is to us all who ask. Snakebites pointed out the contrast to our Native religion, which teaches that when you kill someone, you lose your right to participate in very important ceremonies and traditions that we hold dear.

About this time I noticed Bear starting to tear up. Later that evening, Bear approached Snakebites and me and asked if Jesus would forgive him for what he'd done. That evening we prayed with Bear, and from that day on, he and I have become great friends.


At the time he wrote this article, Larry St. Laurent was an inmate at the Humboldt County Jail in Eureka, California. He has since been released.

Snakebites

by Larry St. Laurent
  
From the May 2005 Signs  

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