By Michael Thomas as told to Jim Uttley, Special to the ASSIST News Service
MEMPHIS, TN (ANS – June 14, 2015) — My name is Michael Thomas, but I also go by Pensmoke, the name I record my music under. I’m a rapper.
I was born in the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee. I am of Gaduwa (Cherokee) heritage. My family descends from Jim Cheoa, Ah-lin-nih Cheoa, and Ail-cih Cheoa on the Siler Roll and Oowahooskee on the 1817 Reservation Roll.
Within a couple of weeks after being born, my family moved from the Smokies all the way to the other side of the state — Memphis. My father left when I was a baby and I’ve had contact with him from time to time and correspondence from him occasionally. He never really reconciled with the family but it wasn’t for my lack of trying.
I grew up in Memphis and my grandmother raised me because my mom was only 16 when she had me and she was not mature enough at the time to raise a child. My grandmother got custody of me. I grew up at her house. However, I did see my mom from time to time and we became very close after I became an adult.
I have a brother from my father’s side of the family but I don’t really know him. I also have a sister. She also grew up in Memphis and got caught up in the things that are easy to get caught up in there. She’s in prison now. I pray for her all the time. We had different fathers but the same mother: that means I have a half-brother and a half-sister.
The area where we lived in Memphis was a high crime area and it’s more so now. I kind of got involved in a lot of things that weren’t right — skipped school, tried drugs and tried drinking at a young age. I tried those things but I thank God they didn’t really stick. I was just living my life my way.
My grandmother and grandfather — I call him my grandfather but he was really my step-grandfather — they raised me until I was thirteen. That’s when he passed away. After that, I really had a hard time because my grandmother and I went back and forth at each other and he was like the referee. He was the one who would calm everything down, but now he was gone.
I really was resentful that my dad wasn’t around so that was part of my arguing a lot with my grandmother. When my grandfather passed, I really went into a delinquent mode, running with the wrong people, skipping school.
Then my grandmother started hanging out with a lady from the block over from where we lived. Her name was Gerri. She was a Christian and she would come around occasionally and was really nice. One day she said she wanted to talk to me. We sat down in my grandmother’s den and she basically started to share with me the gospel about Jesus and what He went through and why He went through it.
It really hit me hard and I started to cry. I got really emotional. I had this overwhelming feeling because I knew that everything she was saying was right. I was 18 at the time and still in high school because I had failed having skipped so much school.
I know that not everyone has some kind of emotional experience but I did. It was a very powerful experience. I got saved that day.
Things were good for a while but I didn’t fully understand the next steps I needed to take. I didn’t really go to church or read the Bible. I was still in school and for a while I went back to my old ways. So I went off Creator’s path for a few years.
It hits you when you realize that you’re trying to do things on your own and it’s not working. Once you’ve already been shown the right way to do it and you’re doing it wrong, God wakes you up to reality. At least that’s the way it was in my situation.
That went on for a few years until I was awakened again. I don’t think it was any one situation that shook me back to reality, but just a series of “well, this isn’t working” situations and “I shouldn’t be living this way”. I found my way back — God led me back. I think it was that I had started making music for the first time around 2004. I wasn’t writing anything overtly secular, if that’s what you want to call it, but I didn’t use profanity or language that’s often used in rap music. It was rap but while it was uplifting, there was no gospel message. It was pretty vague.
One time I was recording with some people who let me come into the studio. They were getting high in the place and, soon after, one of the guys ended up going to prison for murder. He actually shot somebody and all that really shook me awake to the fact that even though I wasn’t really involved with them per se, I just didn’t want to be involved with that.
I needed to come back to God and rededicate my life and actually use the music to talk about God and spread His Word. From then on, I clawed my way back to where I needed to be.
I met people who actually helped me promote my music. One was Dawn Karima Pettigrew, a beautiful Cherokee award-winning singer, author, and broadcaster, and another was a Creek brother whose name is Don Fixico. He goes by N-Don. God put the right people in my life to help me get where I needed to be and it’s been a blessing.
My wife and I have been going together since 1993 — we were friends in high school — and we got married in 1999. We have one son. My mom passed away in 2013 after a long fight with cancer. I was worried for a long time about my mom, but she finally received the good news and became a follower of Jesus. I know one day I’ll see her again.
I’m working on a second album right now and it’s about half-way completed. God has been good to me and I’m glad I’m walking on His path. You can too. Salvation is a free gift for anyone who wants it and will repent and follow Christ. If you are tempted to turn aside off the path, I encourage you to keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Now, please check out some of my music….
PENSMOKE RAPPING Check out Pensmoke’s music on these websites:
https://www.reverbnation.com/pensmoketheprofessionaloutcast Pensmoke—The Outcast
Photo captions: 1) “God has been good to me,” says Pensmoke, “and I’m glad I’m walking on His path.” (Photo provided by Michael Thomas). 3) His debut album cover. 3) Jim Uttley
About the co-writer: Jim Uttley is the Editor for Wiconi International (www.wiconi.com) , as well as the editor of INDIAN LIFE newspaper (www.indianlife.org) , an award-winning bi-monthly publication for Native Americans. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Cairn University, Jim has been a journalist involved in literature ministry since 1974 including work in Haiti, Guadeloupe and Canada. He writes about Native American issues for the ASSIST NEWS SERVICE. Father of three and grandfather of six, Jim and his wife Jan make their home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)