Jason CooperMy cellmate, Travieso, often stared and scuffled the dirt of the prison’s yard looking for a dropped morphine or twist of speed. And while rarely successful, those few finds and their resultant “highs” made the countless hours of bug-eyed shuffling worth it to him. One blistering summer day with sweat dripping down the pentagram tattooed on his forehead and disappearing into the wild growth of his beard, he was stopped in the midst of his stoop-shouldered search. An unusual glint, flash, beacon called to him from the dismal dirt. He bent. He knelt. He bowed his head.

It must’ve been something valuable. Travieso stayed there, stuck. I stared. This wasn’t his usual swoop and grab. There were no suspicious eyes darting about. This wasn’t him. I watched him reverently lift something and cradle it to a soul I didn’t know he had. His whole body hunched protectively about it.

Others had noticed by now. Dope fiends left their roosts and circled about him like vultures spotting a meal. They wondered.

I wondered. What did he find? Their hopes were not mine. For them it was a crystal, a pill, a powder large enough to be shared A moment’s escape from the bars, the razor wire, and the guards. When they landed and pecked at his hands there was no cringe, no backpedal, no fear of loss. Instead, he offered up his find for inspection. This wasn’t him.

They looked. They smiled. They nodded their heads and clapped him on the back. Then they left, grinning. This wasn’t them.

I was about to go over and see for myself, but the the tower in its booming, crackling voice announced yard recall. I would have to wait. I didn’t want to wait. But that was prison, one restless wait after another until freedom or the grave. So I waited restlessly, pacing the cell. Four steps, turn, four steps turn. Again and again.

Finally,  with a jarring clang, the cell door opened. In stepped Travieso, eyes glazed, smile twitching at his lips.

Before I could say a word he went to his locker and with an uncaring hand he swept away his most prized possessions, his girlie pictures.  And in that empty space he placed a treasure. Moving back, he proudly pointed at what he’d found.

A dime.

A fool’s grin stretched my cheeks. A laugh bubbled up from my throat. This wasn’t me. But, it had been five hellish years since I’d seen a dime.

People love money, but have you ever worshiped a dime? Have you ever fondled its stamped and ridged coldness close to your heart? Have you ever placed it on a shelf and made it into an idol of capitalism? No? My cellmate Travieso did.

Money is the root of all evil, right? The world would be better off without it, right? In the end, it’s nothing more than a concept of worth. We don’t have money in prison. That dime was a rare link to the outside world. A world of freedom.

And to an inmate, nothing is worth more than that.

Don’t miss Jason Cooper ‘s other stories: My Crime and Why We Have Violence in Prisons


Jason Cooper #AA2968

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