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Illustration of a sweat lodge fenced in at a federal prison in Texas
Illustration by Brian Hindson

At each of the three prisons I’ve known — a high, medium and now a low security prison — the outdoor sweat lodge has been the most visually appealing feature. 

The sweat lodge depicted here is located in my prison in Big Spring, Texas, in our recreation yard. It looks like an oasis surrounded by desert. This year, there are two yucca shrubs shooting up near the sweat lodge. 

According to a member of the Sioux Nation I spoke to, a ceremony in a sweat lodge can feature both “wet” and “dry” sweats — one involves more steam and the other more water on rocks. Next to the fire pit is the ceremonial drum, a buffalo skull and a pipe.  The pipe is custom-made for each person. The mouthpiece of the pipe does not touch the ground. (There is also a pipe ceremony that takes place with no sweat lodge.)

People in Texas prisons are supposed to be allowed to visit the sweat lodge once per week, for up to four hours. But a spokesperson told PJP that this is subject to change based on the needs of the facility and staff. 

In ceremonies at this prison, four rounds are conducted with the smoking of tobacco. All four rounds include singing, prayer and meditation. A smudge is also conducted, in which sage or cedar is put in a bowl, lit on fire and the smoke pulled towards the person.

The particulars vary from nation to nation. The man from the Sioux Nation reiterated over and over that although there are variations among practices of different tribal nations, in the Federal Bureau of Prisons members of different tribes find common ground in this worship area.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Brian Hindson is an artist whose favorite styles of work are impressionism and pop art. His work is published on the Justice Arts Coalition. Hindson is incarcerated in Texas.