Women here in the Hobby Unit have pets, or “babies” as they are referred to in prison. These consist of frogs, turtles, mice, rats, and sometimes baby birds. The baby rats and mice are collected by the hoe squad workers when they are discovered in an underground tunnel or den. They can go for $20 or more (in commissary). These “babies” are kept in boxes or cell lockboxes while “mom” is at work. Or a babysitter will look after the little critter. Otherwise they are toted around in mom’s bra—yep, bra. The older mice can be trained because one little guy popped out of his mom’s bra to play or explore (or escape?) and when the woman said “no” he turned around and climbed right back into the bra.
Frogs and turtles tend to die more often because their food is harder to come by—as is a proper living environment for them. This goes for the baby birds too, I hear. And obviously frogs are immune to training, as you might imagine, because one adventurous amphibian leapt right out of a woman’s bra in front of an officer.
“Get that damn thing outside!” the correctional officer ordered. The lucky frog was set free—which saved his life, I hope. I’ve been on four different units and seeing mice and frogs leaping from the boobs of women is an experience unique to Hobby.
One day, we have some unusual visitors from the animal kingdom. It’s a cool spring evening when the bats arrive. Amber, my roommate, is on the top bunk reading one of her vampire books, coincidentally, and I’m puttering around our cell, washing a t-shirt in our tiny metal sink. Suddenly there’s squeals and shouts coming from the women downstairs in the day room.
“What is going on down there?” Amber inquires. I rinse the suds off my hands and peer out of the narrow window in our cell door. What I see is both disturbing and perplexing. There are five or six bats gliding around our dorm and ten or fifteen uneasy women beneath them.
“Uhh…it’s bats. There are several bats flying around inside the day room.”
“No way!” she says. At that moment a bat glides past our cell door window. Amber’s eyes get big.
“Yes way,” I reply. Then I give her a play by play of the action downstairs which only consists of each inmate’s response to a bat invading their personal space. Some of our tough inmates suddenly aren’t so tough now. Not with fuzz balls with fangs coming at them. Eventually the hullabaloo dies down and all is quiet. The bats are gone.
The next morning there is no sign of our fuzzy friends so Amber and I get ready for lunch. We venture down to the dayroom two hours later and wait for “chow” to be called. I’m watching The Price is Right when Amber, who is sitting next to me, gives a death grip on my arm. When I look at her she has a funny look on her face—like she’s gonna lose her shit at any second.
Then I see why…several bats are popping out of a hole in the ceiling and descending upon us like paratroopers. And since there are now eight to ten bats and fifty or sixty inmates in the dayroom, instead of just a dozen, mayhem ensues.
There are a variety of responses. About ten women keep watching TV and eye the bats reproachfully when one wanders too close for comfort. The bats start out twenty feet above us but after ten minutes they have descended and are now darting among the crowd. There are five or six ladies brandishing their coats, attempting to take out any incoming bats by knocking them down. Mostly they miss, swinging wildly. When they hit their mark, a brave soul named Finn scoops up the fallen critter — with her bare hand — and shows it to the officer in the picket who pops open the door for her. She then slung the little creature heavenward. Some are able to keep their skyward course while others land with a thud on the ground, too stunned and bewildered by their circumstances to “get their composure together” quick enough to fly away. It takes them a minute but they eventually all fly off, according to Finn.
Inside chaos still reins. The noises being emitted from our dorm (k-wing) remind me of childhood visits to the zoo. Some women hide out in the bathroom/shower area because the ceiling is a lot lower there. When one bat finds his way into the bathroom area, a dozen frantic, screaming women run out.
I find a perverse pleasure in watching all of this, I must admit. Not to mention glancing at Amber’s stricken expression which makes me slightly giddy. Maybe because we are all ok. Just freaked out. No one was being attacked by a bat. And bats have—as we know—a pretty foolproof system of navigation called echolocation. So I knew a bat would not crash into anyone…until it did.
One clumsy little bat bounced right off of the boobs of a large Hispanic woman when she stood up abruptly from a TV bench. This unhinged the poor woman and sent those around her into orbit. The Hispanic woman was boxed in for a moment so she labored clumsily over the bench in front of her, all the while spilling forth a colorful string of Spanish cuss words.
Looking back I think the bats were ill or something. Why else invade our dorm in the middle of the day? Normally we could see them diving and swooping around outside at night, hunting for insects outside of our tiny windows.
Finn was able to finally capture and toss each tiny trespasser outside. She was indeed bit—once—and received a disciplinary case for it.
Throughout all of this, our useless officers sat comfortably in their picket, safe from the bats and quite amused by our predicament. The only thing they did to help was allow Finn out to free each bat she had captured. After being bit on her finger, Finn was taken to the hospital and given some shots. Then she was sent back to the Hobby Unit where she was promptly deposited in segregation for 14 days of quarantine. This could have been to ensure that she didn’t turn into a vampire, sprout wings and fly out over the prison razor wire to freedom. Or maybe it was to make sure she didn’t bring back corona from the hospital. I dunno. Either one.
The bats are gone but we have other critters here. A few days ago I woke up to something skittering down my leg around 3am. So I sat up and I knocked the creepy critter off my leg. When I looked down to see what had intruded upon my personal space, an indignant 3 inch cockroach was there. UGH! I wiped him off my leg, dropped a heavy book on him and went back to sleep. When I woke up 3 hours later, his disgusting head had made its way from under the book and his stupid antennae were wiggling around. So I picked him up with a tissue and flushed his butt down the toilet.
While I’m not particularly scared of bugs, I’d rather they didn’t go for a stroll down my person, thank you very much. Out of all the insects, flies and cockroaches are my least favorite. These are the most disgusting and disrespectful of the bunch.
This cockroach incident may have been Karma for what I did to Amber after her own bug experience. All insects terrify Amber, first of all, even crickets, and especially arachnids. One day she was on her bunk reading a book—like usual—and I was doing the same down on my bottom bunk. The next thing I knew, Amber is screaming her head off and she throws her book.
Then she yelled, “There’s a damn spider up here! And it just ran down my face!” At that same moment said spider landed on my arm.
“Yep and now it’s on me,” I inform her just as she’s catapulting herself off the top bunk. She arrived just in time to see me flick it off my arm and punch it. Gross, I know, but I didn’t have anything handy and I didn’t want it to get away, you see. It was bigger than a quarter but not by much. I would’ve used my book but it jumped out of my hands and landed beneath my bed when Amber got to hollering.
A few days later Amber, is peacefully sitting at the desk writing a letter. I discover a ball of black fuzz on my blanket. It’s the size of a small mouse. So I took it, flung it at Amber and yelled, “SPIDER!” It bounced off of her shoulder and onto the letter she’d been writing. Her shocked and distraught expression was priceless and after she had regained a little of her composure, she remanded me with astonishment and anger.
“You nearly fell off the stool, sweetie,” I inform her. I was delighted since it was just the reaction I was hoping for. And no one got hurt, including me. (Okay, the spider didn’t have such a good day).
So there you have it, all of the creepy critters we face in here, keeping us company whether we like it or not. \
Christine White is serving 20 years in Texas for Aggravated Robbery.
Christine White #1884794
1500 State School Road
Gatesville, TX 76598