It was a dancing elephant that got me in trouble. It was a thing of beauty sitting on the shelf and I wanted it for my grandma. But! I didn’t have a hundred dollars to buy it, so I stole it. I didn’t get very far before a cop car pulled alongside me and turned on the lights. I stood still, even though I wanted to run, knowing I wouldn’t get away. It’d be a minor charge if I cooperated. What I didn’t count on was the judge using my previous record to send me up the river for two years. A string of unpaid parking tickets, drug possession, vandalism, etc.
Prison was easy for me. I’m big, muscular, and know how to fight. I was on the boxing team before I dropped out of school and my reputation preceded me. No one stole my food or smokes or tried to make me their girlfriend. Time was the enemy. I nearly died from boredom since I don’t read, have a hobby, or enjoy watching The Animal Planet on TV which is the only channel we could watch in the dayroom. The days blended into the nights as I plodded through the monotony of prison life. And then there were two more hours until I was going to be free. Provided, of course, that I passed the final interview with the prison’s psychiatrist. I was dreading that because I was a smart ass the last time that I became release eligible, and she tacked six months onto my sentence. Keeping my mouth shut has never been my long suit.
When the guard ushered me into the lobby of the office tower and unlocked my cuffs, my knees started shaking. I ran my hand across my sweaty brow and took a deep breath to steady my nerves. The elevator smelled bad, as if someone had transported a load of rotten cabbage, then tried to mask the odor with Ben Gay. I wanted to throw up but I didn’t want the guard telling people I was a wimp. So, I held my breath while we went three floors up. I was dizzy by the time we stepped into the gleaming linoleum hallway leading to what inmates call “the door of doom” due to how many dreams of freedom die behind it.
After the guard took a seat by the door, I knocked, then entered, hoping I’d never have to do this again. Hopefully, I could answer questions politely and honestly. The psychiatrist, a blocky, dark-haired, stone-faced woman, sat behind her massive desk as usual, but I felt a different vibe this time. She bade me to sit, then ran me through the usual drill. After telling her that I hadn’t had sex with inmates or found Jesus in a Sears Roebuck catalog I felt I was on the brink of success. “If I allow you to leave, would you be willing to do something for me on the outside?” wasn’t part of the usual drill. When I hesitated, she continued. “You see, my husband left me recently and I need a big, strong man to help me out.” Oh no! Did she want me as a lover? The thought of that was so appalling that I almost stood up to run. But I held tight to my seat, thought of the alternative, then nodded my head yes.
I’ve never regretted that decision. Since being freed, I’ve eaten well, earned enough money to buy my grandma a dozen dancing elephants, and a new car. It turned out that Mildred, yes Mildred, had a tract of land in need of clearing. Lots of brush to hack, trees to chop down, boulders to move. Heavy work that has kept my mind out of the gutter and my body in shape. When this job is done, I’m thinking about buying a backhoe and going into the excavation business. While I’ve done all this, Mildred quit the prison, met a woman at a Gay Pride event, and is planning to build a house for them on the property I’m clearing. It’s amazing how things work out when you transcend your former self and embrace the new one.