Families Join Native Inmates at Jail Pow Wow in South Dakota

Courtesy Jake Shama, The Daily Republic / Inmates at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, South Dakota, sing at the drum during a pow wow on May 13. Friends and family of the inmates were permitted to attend. Rebecca Schieffer, associate warden, said the pow wows give the inmates hope and something to love.

An estimated 400 people participated in a pow wow hosted by incarcerated Natives at a jail over Mother's Day weekend

It’s May 13, and hundreds of family members and friends have gathered at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, South Dakota, to join their incarcerated loved ones for what became a de facto Mother’s Day pow wow.

Over the weekend, an estimated 400 persons visited the prison for the Wacipi Pow Wow, one of four held each year, The Daily Republic reported. There was a traditional drum, regalia, and even fry bread with wojapi. The prison pow wows not only offer inmates the opportunity to participate in their culture even from within the prison system, but also a day with their families.

Associate Warden Rebecca Schieffer told The Daily Republic that these pow wows are beneficial for all involved – not just the inmates, but the jail as well. She said the social interaction the Native inmates get with their loved ones has staved disciplinary infractions.

“When it comes to family visits, that is probably the most important thing to them,” Schieffer said. “They really do value it so much.” Schieffer said she knows how important culture and faith can be to an inmate. “If you have your faith to rely on, that gives a lot of these guys hope for salvation, redemption, something to love and something that loves them,” she said.

Sylvester Pacheco, 44, president of the Lakota Council of Tribes (LAC), a group of inmates at the prison, said it costs roughly $3,500 to host the pow wows. Tribes and groups donate money and gifts to the LAC so they can host these pow wows, which breaks down to about $3.50 per guest.

Pacheco said the pow wows have given him “something positive to do.”

“It gives you a different outlook on life,” he said. Pacheco is currently serving a 45-year sentence for three counts of second-degree robbery, The Daily Republic reported. He’s been at the jail for more than two years and will be eligible for parole in 2040.

This year’s Wacipi honored the death of 11-year-old Kimberly Rose Means who died in 1981 after she was struck by a drunk driver. Means was killed while running from Pine Ridge to Sioux Falls in protest of poor prison conditions.

In recent years, several prisons throughout the U.S. have taken steps to accommodate their Native populations. Inmates at the Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff, Arizona, have held their own inipi (sweat lodge) ceremonies for years. Administrators at the jail say it provides the Native prisoners “motivation and hope.”

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