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
Rosharon, TX 77583