All posts by John Green

So, What Do I Do Now?

Remember when you were seven years old?  Take a trip with me, humor me if you will. You’re seven.  You live in middle class America, and you’ve been strung along in the fantasy that Santa Claus exists.

You’ve spent twelve months cleaning your room, brushing your teeth and combing your hair.  You’ve refrained from pulling girls’ pigtails and throwing pebbles at them – or spit balls.  You’ve eaten your vegetables, even broccoli, and you’ve been as invisible as a seven year old boy can be – because you’ve been told, if you’re good, Santa Claus might bring you that new bike you’ve been asking – no, begging – for.

Then Christmas morning comes – you run down the stairs and look under the tree – no bike.  You run to the garage and look where your old bike still sits, just to check.   Your old bike…

By now, you’re frantic.  You’ve been good for a year – a whole year!  You not only deserve a new bike, you earned it – so where is it?

I’ve been ‘good’ for the last five years, twenty-five if truth be told.  I’ve brushed my teeth, combed my hair, cleaned my room.  I’ve done every conceivable thing I’ve been told to do by my handlers.  I was told that if I did these things – which I would have done anyway – I’d be released on parole.

Simple enough, right?

No bike.  No bike for another two years – January, 2020.

After seventeen years of being on my best behavior (no problem with me), I’m set off from going home.  Now, in the grand scheme of things, 730 days isn’t a long period of time, when you’ve already done 9,125 days, 720 is a drop in the bucket.

However, I’m not well.  As a matter of fact, my health is declining at an accelerated rate.  I’m 57 years old, not seven.  There are days when I barely have the energy, the strength, the will power to get out of my bunk, yet I still do.

There are days when I don’t feel like putting all my stuff away, and playing the compliance game.  For years, I’d run a tab.  Then I’d get $20 and make a list out to go and buy hygiene products, stamps, maybe a snack or two and a diet coke for my dog, Sparky.

I’d get the Diet Coke – $.40.  $19.60 was owed to the state.

I lived like that for years – until Evelyn found me, inspired me, nurtured me and blessed me a thousand times over.  So, for the last two years, I haven’t had to play ‘The Company Store’ game.  But, time marches on, people get tired, tired of waiting for you to come home.  They sometimes forget about you.  I understand this all too well.  I’ve been waiting for that bike since I was 48.

Next parole date is two years from now.  Nothing has changed.  I’m still the same good humored, good hearted person I’ve been all my life – except for that five minute period where I lost control.  I’m not going to change these things – ever…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

Buried Emotions

There is nothing I can imagine more terrifying than a parole interview.  All the time under your belt means nothing in those brief moments.  Your entire life depends upon how you present yourself, how you project, body language. It’s all on the line, and you might not get a chance to see the review process again for God knows how long.

I’ve waited five long years for each of the last two.  That’s 1,825 days between each, or 43,800 hours.   It is 2,628,000 minutes – or, yes, 159,680,000 seconds.  But, who’s counting?  I certainly have been…

At the interview, you are in an awkward situation if you have amassed an impressive resume that includes certificates of completion in areas of Bible Study, Vocational Classes, Self Improvement, and Educational or Rehabilitation Programs, such as Substance Abuse and Anger Management.  With that approach, you risk looking so desperate to go home, that you’ll do anything to get there, like an actor in a movie playing the perfect part.  When the cameras go off, will you go back to being the criminal they perceive you to be?

If you sit in your chair and do nothing, you might appear as if you don’t care about your future and you do not wish to go home.  You’re seen as being comfortable in your little space.

If you appear calm, cool, and collected, does that mean you are unremorseful, cold and calculated…

If you pour your heart out, you’re seen as over emotional, not in control, capable of doing something similar to what brought you there in the first place.

Put simply, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.

All I’ve ever had was the truth.  All I’ve ever shared was the truth.

There’s no way to sugar coat the worst three minutes of your life.  Those three minutes that affected the last 25 years, not only for yourself but your family and friends – those you hold dear.

It is said that regret is such a waste of time.  That you cannot change the past and therefore to spend hours, months and years regretting something you can’t change is fruitless.  I disagree.

To forget the past is to chance repeating it. That isn’t an option for me.  I made the worst mistake anyone can make, to ever consider forgetting it, is to chance repeating it.  I will hold tight to these regrets until the day I die.  But, what has bound me to these emotions will not affect the way I feel, think or react.  My lesson, bad or good, must be maintained as a reference.

I’m just a man.  Men make mistakes.  Good men make bad mistakes.  Good men know how important it is to not make the same mistakes again.  That’s what I told them, from my heart.  And if they set me off again, for however long they determine – that’s what I’ll tell them again – from the heart.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

Herman

While Mongo was the most interesting and misunderstood of my acquaintances since incarceration, Herman had to be the sweetest of my friends.  He was at least twenty years my senior and probably the closest thing to a father figure I’ve ever found in this place.  My own dad passed away in 1988.

Herman had a never ending love for all things Astros and Rockets.  If a game was on TV, he could be found in the dayroom with a cold drink or a cup of coffee, cheering or jeering at the screen.  That’s where I found Herman during the ‘94-‘95 season, when the Houston Rockets won their first world championship in basketball.

There he sat, surrounded by Rocket haters, watching Houston destroy Orlando in four games – a sweep.  I’ve watched and loved the Rockets since I was eight years old.  My Uncle Mike was stationed in San Diego at the time, and he took me to my first pro basketball game.  In their first two seasons, they were the San Diego Rockets, and they moved to Houston in 1970.  I’ve been a Houston Rockets fan ever since.

When I arrived, there was one Rockets fan watching the game – then there were two, Herman and I.  And so it began.  Over the next twenty years – off and on because they move fellas around like chess pieces in here – Herman and I would watch the Rockets and the Astros.  In between games, we’d play dominos (his game not mine, I can’t count fast enough).  When he made store, he’d buy coffee and cookies, and when I got money, I’d buy enough for two.  We laughed at and told the same jokes, over and over again, as if they were being told for the very first time.  Herman was my bud.

If I didn’t talk to anyone all day, I’d stop and talk to Herman for at least an hour.  We talked about everything.  He worked all his life in the oil fields and drew a pension.  When he retired at age 54, he drew SSI.  Herman was self sufficient.  Then he was given twenty years for his third DWI in ‘95.  He did 19 years, 6 months on that, and when they paroled him, they sent him to a drug rehab for six months before he finally got off paper.  Therefore, he served the entire sentence.

The system is full of guys like Herman.  It eats guys like Herman for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Guys like Herman are good for the bottom line.

Herman still writes me once a month, twice if he’s up to it.   I don’t miss many people, but I do miss my buddy.  I’m sure he’ll be okay though.  He’s a tough old bird.  We survived nineteen years and six months in here together, how could he not be?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

Dawn

The broken people you see in a place like prison often spark memories from before prison, the lessons you’ve learned, and the experiences you’ve had.  I’m constantly reminded of my dad and the things he taught me.

It was through my dad that I was introduced to the first homeless person I ever knew.  Over the years I’ve known a total of three homeless people – four if you count me, which at the moment, I do.

I always thought my dad’s friend, Joe, was an old guy who worked at his office, an employee.  Turns out that Joe was a homeless veteran who lived downtown and would drop by my dad’s office for coffee and donuts.  Joe was in his 60’s.  My dad was 45, and I was about 15 or 16 at the time.

When I saw him, Joe would ask how I was doing in school, and one time my dad brought him home for dinner, unannounced.  My dad didn’t just bring him for a home cooked meal though, I think he also brought him to see the look on my step mom’s face.

The third homeless person I met was standing in front of a Super Walmart on a cold autumn day in East Texas.  Margaret was by herself with a duffle bag full of clothes and a sign that read, ‘Will work for food’.

I put my groceries in my Subaru Brat and asked her about her situation. She was a school teacher, laid off due to budget cuts, single, 55-years old, and had just been evicted from her apartment.  I told her to hop in my car, and I offered her a job as a nanny/housekeeper.   At the age of 32, I was completing the circle my dad taught me to draw twenty years earlier.

My wife and I were expecting our daughter, Cara, and had an extra bedroom. I offered Margaret free room and board plus six dollars an hour to watch over our seven-year-old son and take the load off my very pregnant wife.

She not only did those things, she was also a speech therapist, and she worked with my son who was having trouble pronouncing his words due to an inner ear infection when he was younger.  Margaret stayed with us for about six months, until she got a job as a teacher in another school district. I didn’t want her to go, but we all have our paths.

But, it’s the second homeless person I knew that I want to talk about, Dawn.   I was 23 years young, attending college, and braver than I am now.  I was also my father’s son, so risk became almost second nature, especially when someone was being bullied or manipulated.  I have never liked bullies.

I was shooting pool in a dive bar in Arlington, Texas.  I was taught by the greatest pool hustler I’ve ever seen, my grandfather.  From the time I was able to see over the top of a billiards table, until I moved to Texas in 1979, Grandpa Reed taught me every single trick in the book, and some that weren’t even mentioned in the book (and never will be).  So, being twenty-three, I used to set up shop in an old bar or pool hall and make the rent.

One night, I noticed a girl, about nineteen or so, run through the bar and into the women’s restroom. The key to hustling pool is a clear head, so I was drinking Diet Coke and water.  My opponents were drinking whiskey and beer.   I was up $50 when the girl ran through the bar.  She looked like she’d fought and lost a one round bout with the Terminator.  As the scene played out, a big white guy in a black trench coat walked into the bar and scanned the crowd.

Ah, the aforementioned Terminator.

I walked over to the bar to order another Diet Coke, and he asked me if I’d seen a short white blonde come into the bar.

Ah, the damsel in distress.

I told him I saw someone fitting that description down at the other bar across the way.  He laid a $5 bill on the counter and said, “Thanks, pal.”  After he left the bar, I went to the restroom, opened the door and yelled in, “If you want to escape, I can get you safely away.”

The girl looked at me like she’d just won the lottery and came out of the restroom.  I grabbed her hand and led her to my car.  Once inside, I saw The Terminator coming out of the bar I led him to, and I started my car before creeping out of the lot, unnoticed.

I found out the girl was nineteen, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and on her way to Houston when she was detained by said Terminator at the bus station.  He’d been abusing her for about a week and was planning on pimping her out.

I took her to my apartment and cleaned her up.  She had no clothes, no anything, just a lot of bruises and apprehension. My roommate, Eddie, came home and knew I was in rehab mode, so he just went to bed.

The next day I took the $50 and some more cash I had laying around and bought her some clothes and make up. After a few days had passed, I took her to my store manager, Mr. Wright, and got her a job in the floral department.  She was a natural.  Two months later, she had her own place.  Six months later she was the department head.  We never saw the Terminator again.

I’ve always wondered why or what makes a bully.  After I told my dad what I’d done, he told me all that a bully requires to exist is a willing victim.

I don’t know about the willing part.  I’ll always be on the victim’s side of things.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

 

Puppy Love

I’ve been incarcerated for almost twenty-five years.  That’s nearly 9,125 days without family, without the comfort of friends, without decent food.

People often mistake freedom with happiness.  When you have lived in both worlds, you know it doesn’t exactly work that way.  Some people are more locked away in their own little worlds than I will ever be.  Freedom isn’t liberty.  The ability to come and go as I please is liberty.  I may have lost my liberty, but I’ve always been free.  Freedom is a state of mind, a matter of the heart, a question of the soul.

What does this have to do with puppy love?  It doesn’t, really, but it reminds me of a dog I once met.  About eight or nine years ago, I lived in a dorm that had a reputation for being in trouble most of the time.  Illegal contraband abound, the rules be damned, caution to the wind, full speed ahead.

So, the powers that be would come in and shake the dorm down for said contraband, usually finding extra underwear, rubber bands, and paper clips – no drugs, no weapons.  Bring in the dogs!

I’ve seen drug dogs before.  I took classes before coming to prison on how to train and care for these special warriors.  They are disciplined, eager to  please, extremely well trained, exceptionally gifted individuals, and I’ve rescued (with and without my dad) at least thirty such animals from dog shelters over a period of thirty two years.  They are mostly Labradors, black, brown, yellow, and white.

They are smarter than people in a large sense and not only man’s best friend, but loyal to a fault.  If people had the same qualities as these guys, the world would be a better place.

When a dog’s service is deemed over, they are usually taken to a shelter.  That’s where Dad and I came in, we saved them from Death Row.

So, when I first saw drug dogs in TDCJ, my heart skipped a beat.  Unlike so many of my fellow incarcerated mates, I don’t have an authority complex.  I was a military brat and proud of it.  I don’t hate people in uniform – police officers, highway patrolmen, National Guardsmen, Army, Navy, Air Force.

The list includes correctional officers.  Personally, I couldn’t do the job they do because of the daily routine of having to enforce every single conceivable rule imaginable.  On the other side if it, I hear inmates say, “Rules are made to be broken.”  No, rules are made to bring order to chaos.  If everybody did whatever they wanted, the world would spin out of control.

It’s also been my experience that most of the correctional officers I’ve had contact with are decent, law abiding – even funny – citizens.  Remember, never judge a book by its cover.

Back to dogs.  The handlers brought the dogs into the dorm and instructed us to remain seated on our bunks and not to pet them.  So, I sat still as they were let off their leashes and went from cubicle to cubicle in a pattern that would make a marching band instructor proud.

The blonde lab, who looked to be about three or four years old and about 75 pounds, walked up to my cubicle and stopped for a second before coming in, jumping on my bunk, and laying down with his head on my lap.  His handler, an officer I had known for fourteen years and who had been promoted to the SERT team, asked the dog to step out.

The dog, whose name was Anvil, looked at him like he had just been asked to turn down a sirloin steak.  I sat calmly.  I was neither afraid of the dog or the officer.  I knew I had no contraband, never do.  Being locked away in these premises means you shake your own cell or cubicle down every day.

The officer told me, “Go ahead, pet him.  That’s what he wants.”

I scratched Anvil between the ears, and he sat with his eyes closed and his head on my lap for about three more minutes.

Then he turned over on his back, and I scratched his belly.  Two minutes later, he sat up on my bunk and licked me square in the face.

“Looks like you have a friend, Green.”

The dog still sat at attention, on top of my bunk.  He wouldn’t leave, I knew the answer – “Release, Anvil.”

The dog got up, left my cubicle and went back to work.

Dog is man’s best friend?  You bet your ass he is.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

 

 

Convict Cuisine – Cooking In Prison

If you know how to cook, you can quit reading here – unless you’re having a bad day and just need a laugh.  If you don’t know how to cook, read on, let a convict teach you a thing or two.  Necessity is the mother of invention, they say.  You cook, you eat; you don’t cook, you go hungry.

As a ten year old boy I discovered that if you could make mac and cheese, you could control your destiny.  So, by the time I was 18, I could prepare almost any meal that Graham Kerr or Julia Child could dream up.

Then I went to prison.  When you enter this place, you enter much in the same manner in which you were born – naked, crying and hungry.  There’s not much to be said about prison food, though.  I will sum it up in one word—Ewwww!

Get ready for endless pasta.  There are a variety of entrees involving elbow macaroni.  All those dishes taste pretty much the same, except for the tuna casserole – coined ‘tuna massacre’.  When that is on the menu, I avoid the unit dining hall at all costs.  I also call this entre ‘Little Friskies’.  The chow hall smells like a feral cat gang bang, and I haven’t liked tuna since they removed the dolphin.

Then there’s Beef Noodle Casserole, Pork Noodle Casserole, and Chili Mac.  Whenever I see the Hamburger Helper van on TV commercials I get PTSD – Pasta Traumatic Stress Disorder.

You can count on at least one of the seven days in a week including pasta.  It’s cheap, readily available, and easy to prepare.  Boil noodles, drain, add meat.  Done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love pasta, but overkill, not so much.  I’ve received letters from folks commenting on our lunch menu—“Oh, you’re having fried chicken for lunch next Wednesday!” Don’t worry, Col. Sanders, your secret is safe (as well as you, Chef Boyardee).

Let’s talk about breakfast, shall we? The most important meal of the day, right?

In the 9000 days I’ve been incarcerated, I’ve eaten a minimum of 8000 pancakes. Those not familiar with my problem with pancakes—I’m diabetic.  Carbohydrates are not my friend, but I have to eat something. So I’m caught between high and low blood sugar.  Another interesting fact about pancakes – if you fry them at 2 a.m., and put them in a warmer until 4:30 a.m. when they are served, they can almost stop a bullet.

Let’s move on to what’s available in the unit commissary. More carbohydrates?  Yes!  Ramen noodles—the backbone and breadbasket of prisons everywhere.  Add water, cook, mix in other ingredients, and serve!

Out of the frying pan, and into the microwave we go. You can buy Spam, chili, mackerel, squeeze cheese, jalapenos, corn chips, tortilla chips, salt, pepper, picante salsa, peanut butter, crackers and pesto – and you can temporarily stave off a trip to pasta land.

Believe me, after 9000 days, a tossed salad sounds extremely good.  You learn to get creative though, which takes me back to necessity being the mother of invention.  I will share one of my personal favorites:

INGREDIENTS

2 Ramen noodle soups-chili
1 jalapeno pepper
1 packet ranch dressing
1 package of Spam (2 oz.)
1 package saltines or round crackers

Cook noodles until well done.

Dice jalapenos and Spam.

Chill noodles with cold water and drain.

Combine noodles, jalapenos, and Spam.  Add ranch dressing.

Serve with crackers.

Total cost  at prison commissary $2.55.   Serves 3

Now, parents, while this may sound very cost effective for the children, this story is for entertainment purposes only.  Cook those kids a hot meal. Lots of vegetables, greens and NO pasta. They’ll appreciate it, believe me.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

 

Mongo

The following story is completely true. The names haven’t been changed, because in this day of fake news and alternative facts, there are no longer any innocent…

I’ve been incarcerated for 8847 days. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of things that I’ve thought stood out in my journey. This is just one of them.

During my travels, I once did time on the French Robertson unit in Abilene, Texas—a large maximum security unit. At the time of my stay there, it was a very dangerous place for inmates and correctional officers alike.

It was 1995, and I had been there less than a year. I knew absolutely no one. I weighed 160 pounds, dripping wet. I was 34 years old, and I realized that I was probably going to have to fight to stay alive.

Now, I am not a fighter. I know a bunch of dirty tricks, which my dad taught me when I was young in order to avoid getting my butt kicked or picked on by bullies. I am also well versed in the art of psychological warfare.

When I arrived at the unit, I was shown my living quarters and left to my own devices. My cellmate, an older convict by the name of Ranger, looked at me and told me bluntly, “You’re going to have to catch a square.”

I asked him what that meant, and he told me that I would have to fight someone in order to gain respect so others wouldn’t bother me. I looked out into the dayroom, and in one area near the TV, I saw a mountain, sitting, watching the television.

I figured that, if I was going to die, it might as well be “instantaneous”, so I went down the stairs into the dayroom, and I tapped the giant on the shoulder. He turned and rose. Soon, I was looking level at his shirt pocket. I couldn’t see around him, because he blocked the light.

He looked down and in a voice that would do any baritone monster proud, said, “What do you want, little man?”

I quickly pulled a notepad and pencil out of my back pocket and asked him, “Can I have your name, Sir?”

“My name is Mongo. Why you want to know Mongo’s name?”

I explained to him that I was writing down all the names of the people whose asses I could kick. He looked at me for about three seconds, blank stare, furrowed brow. Then he started laughing so hard I thought I saw a tear come to his eye.

He patted me on the back and said, “You can’t kick Mongo’s ass, little man!”

I turned my pencil around and erased his name and said, “Well, let me take your name off the list then.” This made him laugh even harder. (I think he might have peed a little bit, but I didn’t point this out to him.)

Mongo said, “Little man, you the first to make Mongo laugh in fourteen years. I like you. You Mongo’s friend.”

Like my dad told me, the only way to eliminate your enemies is to make them your friends.

Mongo motioned for me to sit on the bench next to him. Because of his size, it was his television. He was watching cartoons. I imagined if he was home, he would have a large bowl of cereal and orange juice nearby—still in his pajamas (if they made pj’s that size).

There was a commercial break, and he asked if I wanted a Coke. We were having such a good time, I decided that to decline such an offer might result in hurt feelings, so I said, “All right.”

His cell (emphasis on the word HIS) was on the first floor. He had no cellie. (I’m hoping that was because there wasn’t any room and not because he had eaten the last one!)  The cell was full of stuff. It looked like a Dollar Store. There were cases of soda, chips, soups, candy, radios, fans, hot pots—you name it. I asked him, “Mongo, where did you get all this stuff?” He replied, “People bring me stuff.” Simply put.

Mongo was at least 6’5” tall and easily weighed over 300 lbs—not an ounce of fat. His hands were big enough to palm a basketball like it was a ping pong ball. His head would do a Brahma bull proud.

I later learned that Mongo was the product of a Samoan father and a Spanish mother. I also learned his real name, Davidson Alexander Munoz, born 10/16/63.

He had been incarcerated at age 18 and had been locked away for fourteen years — that meant he was 32 years old. He had done most of his sentence on the Coffield Unit in East Texas. His E.A. (Education Assessment) score was 3.1.  However, his I.Q. was measured at 85. Mongo wasn’t stupid, he was ignorant.  He couldn’t read or write, his language skills were Cro-Magnon — his social skills were, “Mongo want that.”  And what Mongo wants, Mongo gets…

Over the next two weeks, we became friends. I learned about his childhood in American Samoa and his move to the U.S. to live with his aunt in Southern California. However, Mongo became a victim of the “law of parties.” He was with several of his “friends” when they went on a road trip to Texas, and they held up a convenience store where one of the “friends” shot and killed the clerk. Mongo was in the car.

They gave him fifteen years for being there. I doubt, to this day, he ever knew what he was doing there, in prison, or why. Taking up space—a lot of space.

I also learned that he hadn’t heard from or written to his family in ten years. I asked him why. “Mongo doesn’t know how to write. No one help Mongo.”

So, I told him to find the address, and I’d help him. “Address on left bicep.” Sure enough, there was an address tattooed on his left arm, hidden well between the tribal art. It had been there a while. I guess it was the family’s way of saying, “If found, return to this address.” I know a milk carton wouldn’t have been big enough. Heck, a bumper sticker wouldn’t have been big enough.

So I went up to my cell and brought a couple of sheets of paper, a blank envelope, and a pen. The letter, in itself, was an example of innocence and need. Short on details, short in length, long in hope.

We finished the letter in less than 20 minutes. I folded it carefully and placed it in the envelope and addressed it. Mongo pulled a wad of stamps from his ID holder and placed five in the corner.  “It’s a long way home.” I totally agreed.

So, now I knew almost everything about my new friend. I asked him one day if he needed anything done. He said, “Feet hurt. Need boots.” I looked at his feet (they looked like yards). His boots were too small. I asked him if he had any money in his account. “Mongo have money.” Well, why don’t we blue slip you a pair of boots. So I filled out a blue slip for him and asked him what size. “Don’t know.” I had him pull off his right boot. It was a size 18 ½, and it was too small. So I put 19 on the slip, and we mailed it to the commissary.

When it didn’t come back, I went with him to the store, and we bought a pair of size 19 Rhinos. It had to have taken a whole cow to make the things.

A week later, Mongo received a letter. It was from his mama. He asked me to read it for him. I read the letter, minus the scolding his mama gave him for not writing, saying that they were worried sick about him — fearing the worst had happened to their “baby” boy.

Mongo was the youngest of three sisters and four brothers. As I read the letter, Mongo was transfixed. He was silent. I told him he had a very nice family, and he needed to get out and go home. He nodded.

In the time I spent there, I taught Mongo how to read. It only took about 3 months. I doubt he would ever finish “War and Peace” in his lifetime, but he could write his own letters.

I left Mongo as I found him, sitting in the dayroom, watching cartoons. They (the Sheriff’s Department) had picked me up on a bench warrant, back to the county of my arrest.

I told Mongo I was going on a trip, and that I hoped he would be all right. He asked me if I would be back. I told him that it was up to the system, but I had his TDCJ#, and I would check on him when I got to where I was going. I received one letter from him. I kept that letter for almost twenty years—it was thrown away in a shakedown.

When I was leaving, Mongo grabbed me and gave me a hug (one that I still feel to this day, because I think he dislocated something!). But, it is his friendship I miss the most.

My dad told me, “Never judge a book by its cover.” He would have liked Mongo. That’s good enough for me. My dad also said, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”

I think he knew I would meet the gentle giant…

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

 

 

Knowing Eli

I’m not a convict. Let’s get that straight first. I’ve been incarcerated for almost 25 years. I have some convict ways, but I lean toward keeping myself safe and others that I have a feeling share the same values that I’ve clung to desperately…

I will not tell on someone if they are doing something against the rules, unless their actions would endanger others.  That includes officers, despite my like or dislike of them.

My dad, Bob, told me years ago, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.” My dad never came close to being in prison, but he nailed that one.

So, a day into the exodus of myself and my fellow inmates during an evacuation caused by a storm, I met a kindred soul.  We had only been away from our unit for a day when, on my way to breakfast, I saw a cat.  It was grey, with the greenest eyes you ever saw.  Emerald green.  Irish – a good sign.

I haven’t talked about cats, but I’ll freely admit it, I’m a cat person. I love dogs, but I adore cats. Dog is man’s best friend, no matter what. Cats are friends ‘cause they want to be.

That being said, this cat caught my gaze, and while he sat just on the other side of our fenced in enclosure, his eyes followed me for about twenty feet.  He was definitely checking me out, and as I walked the twenty feet to my temporary living area, there was definitely twenty seconds of dialog between us.

The officer at the check point followed my gaze and told me that the cat’s name was Eli.   He told me that in the five years he’d known the cat, Eli had never let a human touch him.

So, the gauntlet was thrown down. The next morning I coaxed the cat near the gate and stroked his head and scratched his ears. The officer couldn’t believe it.

“He’s never done that before,” the man said.

“That’s because he isn’t a ‘he’. He is a she. Her name is not Eli, it’s Ellen.”

“How can you tell?”

“Well, since we’re friends now, I was able to see she lacks the proper equipment to be a he.”

“I’ll be damned,” he replied.

So, every morning I brought Ellen a boiled egg.  And she let me pet her for however long I wanted.  But if anyone else approached her, she’d hiss, but stand her ground.  Territory is everything to a cat.

One morning, she followed me to the chapel (we were living on the floor).

I sat down on the steps leading in, and Ellen climbed onto my lap and started to purr. If anyone approached, she became offensive, but she never scratched me. I bought three packs of mackerel at commissary that day, and she ate well for the entire time I was there, 21 days.

One day, I went outside after a rainstorm, and she was on the outside of one of the dorms, sitting on a window sill. I called out her name, and one of the other officers said, “You’re wasting your time. That cat is feral.”

Ellen’s ears perked up, and she came running into my arms. I wish I had put some mackerel on the bet.

I saw her the day before we left to come back to my unit of assignment. She weaved through my legs about a dozen times, and when I picked her up, she licked my nose.  I guess she knew I was leaving.

I haven’t had any human contact, except for a brief visit from my daughter, in 24 years. That one instant, with Ellen in my arms, meant more to me than I can put into words.

When you separate people from the ones they love and care about, and deprive them of touch, you create a painful place inside peoples’ hearts.

But they haven’t been able to do that in mine.  Ellen knew that.  Cats know about pure hearts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

The World According To AARP

I never thought much about old people growing up.  I mean, I never really noticed the daily things that go into being elderly.  I used to hear my grandfather or my grandmother talk about their rheumatism or arthritis or the famous ‘creaking old bones’ or how their knees hurt before it rains, but when you’re twelve years old, you’re more concerned with riding your bike to town or buying comic books at the drug store.  When you’re twelve years old you’re immortal, full of ‘piss and vinegar’ like my dad used to say.

That being said, I’m starting to see the light at the nursing home entrance.  I’m surrounded by walkers, canes and crutches (oh, my).  It’s like a geriatric Wizard of Oz, without the magic slippers.   I live  in a minimum security unit in the Southeast corner of Texas, south of Houston.  There are around 1,500 inmates here, 450-500 of which are medically unassigned  – pardon the expression, ‘the broke dicks’.

We don’t work in the kitchen, the laundry or the unit cannery.  We don’t clean dorms or floors or anything.  Most of us are over the age of fifty.  Most have done the required amout of ‘flat time’ to be eligible for parole.  Most have little or no disciplinary problems or records.  Some have families to parole home to.

Some have everything an incarcerated individual could dream of, three meals a day, a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, a phone available to call their loved ones, and $95 every two weeks to spend at the unit commissary, where they can buy things like stamps, paper, envelopes, soft drinks, snacks, coffee and tea, or hygiene products like soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.

But you can’t by time.  You can’t buy a visit from your family or friends.  In most of our cases, time is the enemy now.

I’m not a soap box kind of guy.  I’m not a crusader or an advocate, however, I’m a very emotionally connected person.  When I watch the television or listen to NPR and I hear of a tragedy or see human suffering, I’m deeply affected. When I see a man in his 70’s and 80’s being set off for parole after twenty years or more of being a model prisoner, I ask myself two questions.

Why?  and How much longer?

I’m starting to ask those two questions in reference to myself.  I was 32 years young when I arrived here.  Now I’m 57, and I came up for parole ten years ago.  I have less than a dozen minor disciplinary cases over the last twenty-five years, most of these are directly related to my being a diabetic.  I’ve been a Type I diabetic since I was eleven years old.

I’ve never been in a fight.

I’ve never tested positive for any drugs.

I’ve never extorted anyone for anything.

I’ve never disobeyed a direct order or had any problems with staff or guards.

I’ve done every possible thing these folks have asked of me to go home.

Yet, I’m still here, and I’m not alone.  And I’m getting older, and so are my brothers and sisters.

It is stated that it takes $30,000 to feed, house, clothe and guard me, plus medical expenses.  That’s over $750,000 for the time I’ve been here, plus two visits to the hospital – close to a million dollars.

How many books could that buy for students?

How may hospital wings could that build?

How many roads and bridges could that repair?

How many homeless could that feed?

I want to make one thing clear – I’m not saying that prisons should be abolished. They are, as my dad used to say, a ‘necessary evil’.  There are a group of people who should be incarcerated for what  they’ve done.  But everyone deserves a chance to redeem himself, because everyone, incarcerated or not, makes mistakes.  Everyone has momentary lapses of reason.  Everyone is human.

No one is above the law and no one deserves to be abandoned by it.

I’ve met some truly amazing individuals in the last 25 years, people who would give anything for a second chance.

My dad used to say, ‘We live life forwards, but we learn from it in reverse’.  Those who learn should be rewarded.  Those who do not should continue to be guarded.  I’ve seen inmates leave here only to return two or three times because they were uneducated, unprepared, and overwhelmed, but there are some of us here who are not.

I consider myself lucky.  I had a father who was my best friend, who loved and trusted me, and who, in his 56 years on this planet, never let me down.  And I cry every day, not because I’m behind these walls, but because I miss him and I let him down.  And because my time on this earth is growing short, and I might not get the opportunity to right what I did wrong.

I can’t undo what I’ve done, I can’t change the past.  But I can undo some of the damage and I can change the future, and I will if given the chance…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583