By James V Allridge
I read a story not long ago about a young woman working at a wildlife refuge. She made the mistake of reaching her arm into the cage of a newly arrived tiger. She only wanted to pet it. The tiger purred, then began to lick her arm. Involuntarily, she tried to yank her arm from the cage. Instinctively, the tiger clamped down and tore her arm off.
Recently, here at the Terrell Unit, a 78 year-old volunteer chaplain stuck his arm inside the cell of an inmate (maybe to comfort him?) and the inmate grabbed his arm and begun cutting on it. I don’t know what could have prompted this action nor do I condone it. Maybe it did it instinctively? It’s 2.52 a.m. and the officer just came by with our sack meals. When asked if I wanted to eat, I replied, ‘yeah’. I put my light on and stood there waiting for him to open my food slot and slide my bag in as they normally do. Instead of getting my sack, I was told, ‘Okay, now you have to go and sit on your bunk.’ I told him to forget about it. He replied that I might as well get used to it because that’s the way it’s going to be from now on.
Apparently, we’re supposed to sit on our bunks until our sacks have been placed on the slot. After the officer has stepped a safe distance away then, and only then, are we allowed to come and retrieve our sacks, retreat to the dark recesses of our cells and hungrily devour our long awaited rations of food.
I can afford to decline a meal for now because I have commissary. I can forgo the suffering through the indignity of being treated like a wild animal or even a pet that has to perform tricks in order to get a meal. If I ‘Sit!’ and ‘Stay!’, will they soon ask me to ‘Roll over and play dead!’?
I suppose when I run out of food supply, I too will ‘do tricks’ in order to get the food that they will have for me. I have to eat, right? I have to have food to survive. Survival is a basic animal instinct.
Since we arrived here at Terrell Unit, we have been treated as sub-human. Seldom addressed directly by the guards and totally restricted from any physical interaction with another prisoner. We’ve been treated like animals at the zoo, corralled and herded from one holding to the next for either recreation, shower or on rare occasion, visits.
When you lock men up and treat them like animals it is only inevitable that some will begin to act like animals. As the debate over capital punishment increases, we have more people speaking out on our behalf. It hurts the movement when a prisoner does something as what was done to the chaplain.
But I am reminded of the incident of the young woman and the tiger. Interviewed later, she pleaded for the tiger’s life as the State of Colorado debated on whether to destroy the animal. She said ,’To kill him now would make everything I’ve done and gone through meaningless.’
Please, continue to fight for us all.