Ironic encounter with life on the other side of the prison fence. Reviews appreciated
| It was a sweltering day, even in the minute shade provided by the concrete walls of the recreation yard's three towering hand-ball courts. An afternoon of hand-ball was a great release from the tedium of prison life, even if the sun-heated black-top of the courts nearly melted the soles of my sneakers. I knew I would find the release I sought.
The courts lie approximately fifty feet from the dual, razor-wire lined fences that separated those of us inside from the outside world. The world as I can see it from the courts is a short span of low grasses which touch the perimeter road traveled by the guards in their Jeep Cherokees. Beyond is a gentle, upwardly sweeping slope of taller grasses and weeds which reach about a hundred yards to a small stand of trees. Looking to the left and to the right of the fence this is all that can be seen from my vantage point other than a change in the type of trees lining the grassy slope. From left to right above the grassy slope are several maples and oaks which give way to a small society of standing pines.
I had lost the game of handball I was playing and was now shagging balls for the players presently on the court so that I might again have another shot at taking the court. Bored with the scenery in front of me, my eyes wandered as they so often did to the world on the other side of the fences. I noticed something; movement in the tall grasses, about fifteen feet from the tree line, straight in front of me about twenty-five yards. I stood there mesmerized for a moment or two until I realized I already knew what it was that I saw but yet somehow disbelieved. Two dogs; one appeared to be a yellow Labrador Retriever while the other appeared to be a black Lab mix.
Up until now, I had not seen a living, breathing dog in the flesh for just about four years. If you could understand just how much I enjoyed their companionship in the outside world you would understand how incredibly thrilled I was to bear witness to what was now before my eyes. The two were playing what appeared to be a canine version of tag intermingled with a touch of hide-and-go-seek. One would hunker down in the high grass while the other would root him out. When one discovered the other they would bounce up and down, banging into each-other and run in circles. Hiding, tagging, bumping, circling. Again and again. Not a care in the world. Life on the outside; life in the world. I think it a fair assumption to say that the two were on some sort of hiatus, escaping their restraints of chains and cages for a daring day of tall grasses and tag.
A blue ball whizzed past me. My job as shagger was to retrieve and return it to the court so that the players could continue their battle. I was oblivious to the game, had to make contact with the beautiful creatures before me, had to somehow encourage them to come closer to the fences for a brief visit. I knew I would not be able to stroke their fur or scratch behind their ears but to just have them closer would be fulfilling enough.
I whistled and called to them. To my amazement they stopped their games and their ears stood up. With tails rigid and their eyes turned to me, I could see the recognition in their eyes, the training they must have received to respond to such a call. Training instilled by their keeper perhaps. Hesitantly they they began to trod down the gentle slope of taqll grass leading to the dual fences. I called again and they picked up the pace, bounding one after the other to a point about fifteen feet back from the fences. They stopped there and they stood staring in at me, contemplating. I was certain of it. They stood in contemplation.
My heart did a little jig and I sighed and laughed inwardly as I realized what it was they were contemplating. These two canines, one black and one yellow, were looking in at me; looking in at the man in the cage. And that's when it happened. In the blink of an eye, one turned to the other and I swear I saw the smirk on the snout of one which led to a smirk on the snout of the other. With that, the two turned their tails to the fences and bounded up the slope to the tree-line beyond. There, now faint figures of black and yellow, they began their game of tag once more, oblivious to the man in the cage.
As I stood there, handballs flying, players cursing, I contemplated what had just occurred. Two dogs having escaped their humanly restraints for an hour or two, perhaps more; enjoying each-others company; romping in high grass and lining bees back to hives they cannot reach heard a signal significant to their captured hours. With ears standing and eyes alert they answered my call as conditioned to do so by their keepers. Having arrived at the source of the signal they saw me, the man in the cage and they knew. I too knew what had just transpired and the stark and bitter reality saddened me.
Our worlds had been inverted; the dogs with mine. I was now the one in the cage. Although I have never kept a dog on a chain it mattered not to the two of them. To them I was just another man and it was man who had kept them captive even when their spirit so desired to be free. I just know that they too recognized the irony of the scene. I wonder sometimes still today if they remember their time spent free. And if they remember me, the man in the cage.