Posted: February 14, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

Stinky was a fat, gray-striped alley cat.  He was an inmate in a federal prison.

alley cat  I first saw evidence of Stinky one Friday morning on the way to teach my weekly creative writing class. As I walked to the school building, I noticed a series of paper-mache bowls shoved underneath a chain link fence, near the back door to the kitchen.  There was an inmate standing outside the kitchen.  He noticed me looking at the bowls.  “They’re for the cat,” he said.

“What cat?”

“Stinky.  He’s a stray.  I’m the only person who can feed him.”

“Where does he live?”

“In them bushes over there,” he said, pointing to some low-growing evergreens near the sick bay.  “He comes out at meal time and I feed him.”  Then he pointed beneath the kitchen steps, where I saw a box with a cushion in it.  “This is where he sleeps at night.”

“What’s he doing here?”

The inmate blinked and gave me a deadpan look.  “Life.  He’s doing life.  Killed a rat.”

I laughed and the inmate went on to tell me that Stinky was the only inmate who could crawl under the main gate of the prison and chase birds.  “I seen him there yesterday.  He must have got a pass.”

The next week I saw another guy standing outside the kitchen.  Again the area on the other side of the fence was littered with bowls.  I pointed to the bowls.        “Stinky?”

“Yeah.  I’m the only one that can feed him.”

A few weeks later a third inmate was outside the kitchen. I asked about Stinky and he informed me that he was the only one who could feed eating

Clearly, Stinky had it made.

I noticed him every week, arrogantly sitting among his many bowls, licking his paws.

But Stinky gave as much as he got.  Men cared about Stinky. They worried about him in cold weather, padding his bed with extra blankets.

Stinky was not on the roster of rehabilitation programs at this prison, but he was a rehabilitation program all by himself.  Psychologists have known for a long time the value of pets for giving and receiving affection and for teaching responsibility. Stinky’s gone now, but he was a harbinger of the day when prisons will not be warehouses, but places of cat with prisonertrue rehabilitation.


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  1. What a beautiful story, and such a break to have this light relief among the usually heavy posts these have turned out to be. In Aust’a, in Old People’s Homes there is a policy in place called Pets as Therapy, so there is always at least one animal running the show. Where my mother was for the last year of her life after she became immobile (she broke her hip in a fall) it was a big, fat Golden Labrador. He made a lot of people happy. Something like that in the less hardened section of prisons would be great, wouldn’t it?

  2. Joanne Kehayas says:

    They used to officially allow cats at some prisons. I’ve been told that it was a really good thing for many reasons. Prisoners who had a cat would never put themselves in a position to go to segregation, for example, because then there would be no one there to feed their cat. The program allowed long-term offenders to have a sense of normalcy, responsibility, and family.

  3. hg says:

    A wonderfully *unstinky* story from prison — and one that reminds us of the important role animals can play in ‘humanizing’ lives.

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