by Nancy Hastings Sehested
A story from "Marked for Life: A prison chaplain's story"
On my last day, the staff acknowledged my service with a reception, where they presented me with three plaques: one from the governor of North Carolina bearing the state seal; one called the Old North State Award, for employees who stay a decade or more; and one from my colleagues bearing the words “The Chaplaincy Office has been forever changed. In recognition of the person you are, a love gift has been given to Freedom Life Ministries”—a transitional ministry for returning citizens from prison.
No turkey sandwiches were served, which I thought was a missed opportunity. My boss, however, did tell me that he would miss me. How dull his days must have been after my leaving.
I went back to my office and carefully placed the Spathiphyllum, the peace plant, in a box. I tucked the plaques in another box, next to a certificate signed by the Native American inmates. I sat for a moment to savor the memory of the day I received it.
It had been a warm spring day after a particularly harsh winter. How wonderful it was to finally go outside to the sacred circle without a heavy coat. As I watched the pipe ceremony begin to unfold, I noticed a regular participant sitting on the grass. I asked him why he was not joining the group. “My spirit is full of too many hurts and too much anger this week. I don’t want to infect the others,” he explained. “But I need to hear the prayers.”
I shuddered to think how many times I had contaminated groups with my agitated spirit. But that day the blue-canopied sky gave me a sense of peace.
At the end of the prayers, Tokala, the pipe-bearer, offered an unusual invitation. “Come join us in the circle,” he said gently to me. Surprised, I walked clockwise around the circle to the entrance. Waving a feather over a smoking seashell, Tokala smudged me with sage and motioned for me to stand close to the center.
He swirled a dab of cornmeal and water in the palm of his hand. Then he marked my forehead with the paste. “Chap, we’ve decided to give you a new name today. We name you ‘Kicking Doe,’ to honor your fighting spirit and gentle heart.”
The men stood for a prayer to the Creator. Then forearm handshakes of congratulations commenced as they chanted, “Kicking Doe. Kicking Doe.” They were smiling. I think I was smiling. I know I was kicking back tears.
I drove from the prison parking lot at dusk that day, just as the sky was changing color to soft orange and pink. As I rounded a curve toward a bank of deep evergreens, I spotted a doe standing by the roadside. I’d never seen a deer before in those trees. The doe stood alone. Her eyes caught mine. Then she kicked up her heels and dashed into the forest.
The next day I saw two of the Native American inmates in the hallway. I told them about my surprise visitation. “I saw a doe!” I cried. “Can you believe that?”
They smiled, nodded, and walked away without a word.
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