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Jerry Wallace washes his face outside his small office in his front drive. Wallace spends the majority of his day on the front porch next to his wood-burning stove. "I used to have a big house with a three-car garage," says Wallace, "I'm more comfortable living like I do now."

I Don't Want Sympathy

story by Jacob Hill

Robo bought his first Harley when he was 15, with money he earned from working with his father in the oil fields.

"I've had motorcycles all my life," says Robo, whose real name is Jerry Wallace, "I used to wake up at 2 in the morning and head into town or head into Madisonville and end up in Missouri."

In 2000, Wallace was riding through the Arizona night and missed a road sign, then he missed it again. Something wasn't right.

A longtime sufferer of diabetes, Wallace soon learned that he was losing his vision to diabetic retinopathy. His Harleys gathered dust and were eventually sold.

"By all accounts, I should've been totally blind by 2002," says Wallace, "Doctors told me I had two years."

Wallace used to ride motorcycles to lose himself on the open road; now he finds other ways. He sits on the front porch of his small office, sanding a wooden ring that in a few days will be a ceremonial drum. Still living with limited vision, Wallace rubs the edge against his cheek to find imperfections.

"I cannot make a job out of these drums," says Wallace, running the ring through the smoke of burning sage to purify it. The drums aren't for sale and are given freely or traded to those who need them for ceremonies. Wallace walks the Red Road, a Lakota spiritual tradition that teaches walking the right road in life.

Wallace uses magnification tools given to him by the Southeastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham, Ala., to help him read.

"I have a better quality of life now, with my vision loss, than ever before," says Wallace, "I believe that with all my heart. I don't want sympathy, I just want understanding."


Pictures of family and friends litter Jerry "Robo" Wallace's trailer in Reed. "I've been married three times and I still love them all and they still love me," says Wallace. "We just outgrew each other."


Suffering from limited vision and loss of feeling in his fingertips due to diabetes, Jerry Wallace brushes the freshly sanded wooden hoop against his cheek or rubs it with the heel of his hand to find imperfections. "You lose track of time," says Wallace, "You're in your own little world. Its like I'm one with the wood."


Jerry "Robo" Wallace lights homegrown sage in his smudge bowl. The smoke from the sage is used for purificication in ceremonies. Wallace purifies himself with the smoke before prayer and uses it to purify the pieces of the drums before assembling them.


Jerry Wallace makes adjustments to his teepee, opening the top flaps to allow more air flow. Wallace sleeps in the teepee frequently, especially in the winter months.


Jerry "Robo" Wallace has a teepee in the backyard of his Reed home that he sleeps in frequently, especially in the colder months. He says it takes him about three hours to set it up when he takes it camping.

18 of 55 stories