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Colorful illustration of a beetle on the tattooed arm of a prisoner
Illustration by Jessica Garza

I was sitting on the edge of my mattress when I first saw Ringo. My feet were on the carpet, one dainty foot upon the other. My stocking-covered toes curled in quiet meditation. 

I was looking down at the drawing and writing tablet resting on my thighs, feeling and flowing with my inner spirit’s creativity. I was so drawn into my artwork that I was nearly oblivious to all around me. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small dark movement.  

We saw each other at the exact same time. So, I don’t blame him for freezing like a statue. If I were a beetle bug entering a prison cell, I would do the exact same thing. 

He may have been trying to fool me into thinking he was just a shadow on the ground. But then he moved jerkily, hesitated, then took another, braver step closer to me before freezing again. This time he bent his head sideways at an odd angle. It almost seemed like he was curious to get a better look at me. 

I sat completely still, looking at him, and wondered: Was this the same beetle that visited me last year?

Perhaps, I thought, he wasn’t scared of me despite how immense any human being must seem to a small insect. My appearance was different from most of the prison’s tough residents, after all, who stomp in heavy boots all over the grounds, scaring all the tiny insects into hiding. 

“Well, hi there! And what’s your name?” I said to him before long — as if he really understood me. 

“Well, little fella, I guess I’ll call you Ringo. You’d do well if ever you wanted to pick up some sticks and play the drums. I’ll listen!”

So this is the short and true tale about a little black beetle named Ringo who came one night to visit a lonely prisoner doomed to die, and who decided to stay for awhile.

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.

Jessica Garza is a writer and artist incarcerated in California.