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Through the window in my prison cell I can see the ground squirrels run and frolic on the prison grounds. One of them stopped outside my window and watched me. It made me wonder if the windows in the brick wall looked like an aquarium from his perspective. Was I just a big fish looking out at him? (I decided it’s a he because we’re in a men’s prison.)

As I opened my window, he braced himself as if to flee. As if I could get out of a window with bars. I tossed him a couple of tortilla chips and he ran over to it and smelled it. He picked one up with his small paws, stood erect and watched me as he ate the chip.

“Did you just speak to me?” I asked him. Those little black orbs just stared at me in the silence.

“I could have sworn you said ‘Thanks,’ but I guess not, huh?” I asked him. I wondered if I was going mad. 

He stood still on his hind legs as the wind buffeted his small lithe body. I decided to ask him something that I always wondered, “Hey, Mr. Ground Squirrel, why would you choose to live on the prison grounds when you could be free beyond the gates?”

He continued to stare, but I got the impression he had rolled his eyes. “Why would I go anywhere else when all you fishes throw me free food?,” he seemed to say. 

I promised to keep feeding him, but advised him to stay six feet away to stay safe from the coronavirus going around. 

“It’s like the world out there just forgets all about us in prison … They forgot about the correctional officers and nurses who have to come and work in the prison everyday and be exposed to the virus. They are overworked and burdened and short of staff … If they didn’t come to work then I wouldn’t get fed and I wouldn’t be able to feed you.”

I continued to talk to him. 

“Some officers are kind to us, seeing as we are in a bad way. Some of them just keep being mean, but they all think that the prison is just not responding to the pandemic in a good way.”

I got quiet for a moment. I turned my radio up and heard the words,”You can check out but you can never leave …” They were playing the song “Hotel California” by the Eagles. I turned it back down. “Maybe I am stuck in here,” I thought to myself. 

I looked at the squirrel again. “Hey, I think COVID-19 causes madness. Run while you got the chance. Free food is no boon. Save yourself! Maybe you can go to Austin and tell the governor to let the prisoners go home. Will you do that Mr. Ground Squirrel? Will you?”

I suddenly heard a voice snap at me. 

”C’mon inmate! Do you want your vaccine or not? Get up here.”

I turned to give a pointed look to the squirrel, but he was gone. 

“C’mon!” The mean officer yelled.

The nurse asked me if I was okay. I asked her if hallucinations were a symptom of COVID-19. 

“No.” she said. “What did you hallucinate?”

I am almost embarrassed to tell her. 

“Well, I was telling the ground squirrel that you and this guy are the real heroes,” I pointed to the officer who was with her. 

“I’ll refer you to psych, but that’s not COVID-19, that’s just normal craziness. Do you want your vaccine?” she asked. 

“Yes! Maybe that will stop this cycle of insanity,” I responded as she swabbed my arm and stuck me with the first shot of Moderna.

Now, if only they would let me and Mr. Ground Squirrel out of this prison, then I might not go mad.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

David Jones is a writer and the author of “Living in Reality: Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Prison.” He is incarcerated in Texas.