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

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