The first animal I saw on the yard that was neither bird nor rodent was a white cat. The Summer heat broiled the cell, and on this evening I lay on my bunk half-naked beneath a small clip on fan praying for relief. I had one of those atomic clocks, you know the type: time, date, day of the week, and the temperature for good measure. The digital numbers had just flicked to 9:00PM. I snatched at the clock and eyed the temperature: 95F. Puh.
The temp outside probably hovered in the mid-eighties, but the cell block is always a good 5 to 10 degrees warmer. Tons of steel and concrete baking beneath a Summer sun for days on end, and it’s like living in a giant oven–literally. The building doesn’t cool down at night. And, no, there’s no air conditioning–this is the Joint.
I contemplated rolling my boxers up for maximum relief. It wasn’t the fact that I shared the cell with another dude that stopped me, hell he was laying on the top bunk sweating his ass off too. When you pull time, you learn to let go of minor inhibitions like the worry of others seeing you naked. There are so many times through the course of day to day events where you may find yourself naked in front of strangers that it all becomes blase.
You get strip searched after visits; strip searched during major shakedowns; strip searched working certain jobs; strip searched if you go to the hole; strip searched at random sometimes for reasons you may have nothing to do with. Privacy showering? Ha, ha, ha! That’s a good one. I abandoned the idea of stripping further, opting to wedge the fan in the window instead in hopes it might pull cooler air from outside.
As I rigged the fan in between the bars, I saw something white moving in the distance on the yard. To my surprise, casually sauntering about was a cat. White as day and as carefree as any prison yard cat dared to be, moseying about unconcerned for anything.
The cat prowled ankle high grass, crossing my field of view before disappearing behind a neighboring cell block. I must’ve watched in amazement for a long time, because at some point I’d forgotten I was hot.
The guys had named the cat “Bubba.”
“Bubba?” I had asked.
“Yeah,” said one of the guys. “Bubba. ‘Cuz he be out there preying on dem mice.”
I crinkled my nose. It was a crude comparison, but I got it.
In the days that followed I discovered that Bubba had a routine. Every evening around 9:00 PM, Bubba came cruising the same path, stopping here and there to occasionally snatch up yard mice, before vanishing from view. The yard was Bubba’s oyster, and he knew it.
Then one day Bubba had a companion, a small black and white cat that I was pretty sure was Bubba’s girlfriend. They’d cruise the backside of the yard together like lovers at a buffet. I’d watch them hunt down voles and mice before pausing to lay down in the grass together.
A debate had raged for weeks over whether or not Bubba’s friend was offspring or girlfriend. Then one evening the debate was decisively laid to rest. One moment Bubba was the boy next door, the next he was the Tri-State rapist! Ah, I thought, not his offspring. Someone above me began humming 70’s porn music from their window.
Eventually someone lured Bubba and his girl near. They’d throw them tuna or mackerel and both were always happy to accept. Bubba seemed content to be near people so long as you didn’t reach for either of them. One guy made the mistake of grabbing ahold of Bubba’s girl by the scruff, and was assaulted by 20 pounds of pissed off boyfriend. What a dumbass.
Bubba and his girl brought back fond memories. I grew up with cats. I had a cat named “Baby” that I’d spend days with as a teenager. When I was feeling under the weather, Baby was there to cheer me up. When I was happy, she was there to celebrate. Her favorite passtime was to follow me to nearby ponds to explore while I fished. She knew that whatever I caught I’d share. So seeing Bubba and his girl was bliss. No matter how difficult my day was going, come 9PM I knew I’d be okay.
Oddly, no one ever named Bubba’s girlfriend. She was always referred to as “The Other Cat” or “Bubba’s Girlfriend” or “Salt And Pepper,” but I knew otherwise. She was Baby to me. Baby, because she was always at Bubba’s side, always there for him no matter the circumstance.
Over the winter months we still saw the duo. When the snow wasn’t very deep they’d be out and about, but when the weather turned nasty I wouldn’t see them for days at a time. I often wondered where they went or how they survived the -5F nights. Maybe they sought refuge in the drain pipes? That would be gutsy, I had thought, because we had sewer rats the size of grown cats down there. Living on the yard probably involved close quarters combat from time to time. Bubba DID have visible scars and scratches. Yet, come Springtime, there they were fine as can be.
Watching Bubba and Baby was a bright spot in my days. I was at a high security prison, and the atmosphere was always charged and on edge. You were lucky to make it through the day without having to deal with some sort of craziness. On those days when you didn’t have to deal with the madness yourself, you certainly witnessed it because it was always all around you.
I eventually transferred to Medium security. I heard that Bubba prowled around for another 10 years before guys lost track of him. Now, Baby and a new companion prowl the same pathways.
In a world of darkness they are beacons of light. Like they did for me they are certainly doing for others, lifting their spirits and showing that no matter our circumstance, everything will be fine.
*With the state of the world right now, we all could use a lttle Bubba in our lives. Share freely, and remember, everything will be okay.