Richard

"I was born on August 28th, 1951 in Santa Barbara. I have lived my whole life here. Life as a child was one-sided, you were either rich or poor. I saw life as a place where you had to have status to be counted, and learned a lot about inequality at a very young age, being Native American and a minority here in Santa Barbara.

I am of the Chumash tribe and when I was growing up our tribe was very fragmented. The tribes were separated and, in the separation, were led by individual elders. My Grandma, Anastasia was one of those elders. She was very important to me and to a lot of people. She was the Wisdom Keeper she held us together and taught our ways. There is a saying in our tribe, “Whoever is the wisdom keeper, is the one that everyone follows.” My Grandma taught our native culture, tradition, religion, and spirituality.

Growing up poor made me antisocial, and I felt very rejected as a child. I struggled with the wisdom I was taught, and the lack of alignment the world I lived in was with that wisdom. I hated school, it was very hard for me. I experienced a lot of bias and prejudice because I was one of the only kids of color. In junior high, there was only one other Indian, and one Mexican student. The rest of the school was white. I was excluded often and rejected by the other kids. I experienced a lot of racism.

Yet, I was spiritually taught as a child the importance of recognizing a human being as a human being and of seeing all as equal. To recognize and respect everything and that if you do it will take care of you. I hated the Santa Barbara Mission because they would gather us there with baskets and native attire to make us put on a show. There was no real honoring of our tribes at all. To this day, there are bodies still buried under the mission that we’re never allowed a proper Indian burial. There has been no finality and if there’s no finality it affects the circle of life.

When I was about 5 years old, my Grandma asked my mom, Vicky to share the ocean with me. She took me to the cliffs and asked me to look out at the ocean.

“What do you see,” she asked. “Water,” I said. “No, look again,” she pulled my ear and I looked out at the ocean for what felt like hours, but was only a few minutes. I didn’t respond, I instead grabbed her leg and hugged it tightly. She said, “Now you are ready to learn to respect nature and the forces of life man cannot control. You are ready to know the power of nature.”

My mother taught me that the sea will comfort me, and will provide me with food. Man will never be able to control the ocean; the ocean is for everyone. This was the biggest lesson for me in life. It was absent of prejudice, a comfort to me, and as I grew older I began to understand it more and more and deepen my connection with the ocean. The ocean became a safe place, and it connected me with something greater. I learned to connect myself with the things that fall in the realm of the great mystery. As I grew up, I enjoyed being free the most. Connecting with the ocean, and with nature and animals.

Once I was out of school, I got into the drug culture and criminality. I viewed it as another part of the process of life. Other than my younger years as a child with the tribe, I knew nothing about life. In the criminal world, I became a fixer that tried to find common ground between races and gangs. Although I never personally became part of a gang, I was in that world. For me, staying in the criminal world was a lesson in testing the limits of life to the point of being almost killed, and also witnessing death many times. I became immersed in this world to understand the darkness and battle it, in order to eventually overcome it. I have been incarcerated multiple times in my life. In total, 53 years of my life have been spent in prison. Two of the longer terms were for things that I didn’t do.

In all I’ve lived through, I have learned to respect others and their space. They allowed a Native healer to doctor me during my last incarceration, and not long after I had a spiritual awakening while I was out in the yard. It was then that I decided to walk away from all of the drugs and violence. I started to help people in prison. I completed two paralegal courses and started petitioning for other inmates. No more than a day after leaving prison I headed straight to City hall and I started volunteering.

I’ve been doing individual and community outreach for the last three years. I love the human race. It doesn’t matter what color you are. Before I leave the world, I want to make a difference. For years I took from humanity, I want to give back. To make a mark. I get the support that I need in my life. I respect others and build trust. I am not insecure about my position in life and I know I have a responsibility as a warrior to help people in any way I can."

~Richard

Nathan Williamson