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A bright green caterpillar sits across a tree branch.
Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

Squishington. He — or possibly she — was the first pet I’ve had during my life sentence. 

I found him in the prison yard one sunny day decades ago. His gargantuan, fluorescent green body caught my eyes as it slowly crawled against the dark brown, brittle bark of the only tree inside the prison fence line. 

I moved closer to him and was astounded by his enormity and the peacefulness of his presence. I had never seen a caterpillar quite like him.

He didn’t look real. He looked like a child’s plastic toy. He was longer than 2 inches and had a diameter of nearly an inch. He was a giant. A goliath. A colossus, compared to any close or distant relative of his I had ever seen. The texture of his skin made me think of rubber, but was somehow hollow and squishy.

My heart swooned with love for this most peculiar creature. I cradled him gently in my palm and carried him to my drab prison cell. I used scraps of plastic canvas that had been given to me and assembled a dwelling for him. It was held together with fragments of yarn and filled with grass, twigs and leaves. 

I hoped he would be as happy as he made me. I watched him ceaselessly and marveled at his magnificent existence. I wondered if anyone loved me the way I loved him. Each time I held him or felt his tiny steps upon my flesh, I was reminded of humanity and life.

I eagerly introduced him to a friend. She was equally delighted by him. We created dialogues in which we explored what he must have thought of us. We invented stories about where he had come from and where he was going. We fantasized about what kind of butterfly he would become. Would his new body and wings be as enormous and vibrant as his caterpillar body?

As days passed, my joy turned. I hadn’t seen him eat, and he moved less and less. I had begun to realize that I had imprisoned him, and unlike me, he had done nothing wrong. I had already caused so much pain in this world, causing further harm to any living being was not an option. 

My heart grieved as I decided to release him. I held him and cried and caressed his tiny, frail, squishy body.

I placed him back in the exact location where I had found him. I hoped he would continue his life without any scars from the plastic prison I put him in. I hoped his captivity would not stand in the way of him becoming all he was destined to be.

I let him go.

As I watched him crawl away, I wondered if I could ever become like him. Is it possible to transform from one of society’s most vile into something beautiful? To undergo a metamorphosis? To somehow become new? To become someone who can give light and not take it? 

Perhaps this was a start.

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.

Jennifer Kszepka is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.