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by Al Rice & Louis “Rick” Stevens

In the summer of 1982, Louis “Rick” Stevens went on vacation to Montpelier, Idaho. Upon arrival, Rick asked the town’s chief of police where he could find the best place to fish. The chief, a Lakota Sioux, recommended that Rick hire his daughter Valerie as a fishing guide. The two hit it off and spent the rest of that summer together. Yet, young love and summers eventually must end, so Rick said goodbye to Valerie and moved on.

Fast-forward to May 2018 when Rick, now a prisoner at Mule Creek State Prison, called home to his wife Charli. She answered the phone screaming with excitement.

“Rick!” she began. “Do you remember that time you were in Idaho back in the early 80s?” “Yeah?” he replied. “Did you know a Native American girl by the name of Valerie?” “Yes, I did. I was with her for about two months.” “Well, you have a daughter from her who’s 34 years old with five kids at home. She has been searching for you her whole life. She wants to come see you. She’s an absolute doll.”

Rick’s heart thumped with joy as Charli told him of the daughter he never knew.

Her name was Chelsie, born March 31, 1983. Valerie hid the pregnancy from her Montpelier community and put her baby up for adoption. The very day Rick learned of her existence, Chelsie wrote him a letter. In it, Rick began to learn about all the things he had missed in her life. As Rick discovered more about Chelsie and her childhood, he had an idea to represent in art her experiences, and to imagine what it might have been like had he been there.

“I always wanted a way to express my ideas,” said Rick, “but they were too huge to manifest, seemingly beyond my means and out of my reach. Then I stumbled into the world of miniatures and dioramas. Here I discovered a place for my expressions to grow in that form.” Rick began work immediately on a miniature piece of art he called the Tower of Fort Chelsie.

“Chelsie’s Tower began because I couldn’t stop imagining this lonely girl with two dogs for friends, the three of them running around on an island, building forts, looking toward the horizon, wondering who her father and mother were, and if they loved her. It broke my heart to think that she must have used that vivid imagination to keep herself company. I could not get these images out of my head. I just wanted to embrace her, but the distance between us made that impossible.

“Chelsie’s Tower has great effort in it to show her how I feel about not being there for her during those milestone moments of her life. This is what I imagined it would be like if we had been together. This is my expression of that.”

Chelsie’s Tower is a sculpture made up of tableaus taken from Chelsie’s pre-adolescent life and Rick’s imagination. For example, one scene depicts a swimmer, a representation of the time Chelsie swam by herself from Fox Island in Washington’s Puget Sound (where she lived from age 6 to 12) to the mainland—a great feat for anyone. A wheelbarrow represents the rides Rick would have given Chelsie had they been together. The mailbox represents how important their communication is for bonding and love. On the mailbox is printed “143 Echo.” “143” means “I love you,” and she is Rick’s little echo from that summer of ’82.

A Native American village honors Chelsie’s ancestral heritage. The bows and arrows represent their shared imagination, fighting zombies and pirates that attack their fort, his support for her, and that he would fight for her. Chelsie’s Bell is a way for Rick to call her, ring it to let her know he was home. The “jagged mountains” represent her name in French. The artist easels represent their shared love of art and creativity. The swing set, which is suspended above a drafter’s desk, represents Chelsie swinging over Rick’s shoulder, telling him what to draw next. Spread throughout the sculpture are little hints of Chelsie, places where Rick imagined she would put her handprints, her graffiti, even the aura left behind by the passing of her sweet spirit.

These are only a few of the many tableaux of real and imagined life between father and daughter, a touching tribute of love, longing, and what could have been. Of course, that is all in the past—for now they have nothing but the future.

Republished from “Perspectives from the Cell Block: An Anthology of Prisoner Writings” – edited by Joan Parkin in collaboration with incarcerated people from Mule Creek State Prison.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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