Ernest T. Bass

Arguably the best television comedy in history was The Andy Griffith Show, set in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, in the 1960's. And one of the most colorful characters in Mayberry was Ernest T. Bass who made infrequent appearances, as he wasn't in town often. He was usually up in the mountains hunting, fishing, moonshining, and blowing up stuff. When he did get to Mayberry, he would announce his appearance with his usual, "It's me, It's me. It's Ernest T." He was odd but harmless, with one noticeable flaw. He liked to throw rocks. And no window was safe when Ernest T. came to town. Now, you might wonder what ETB has to do with Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, and that would be a reasonable question. So let me try to explain.

We currently have 182 campers from all walks of life. We have all races, sexual orientations, hairstyles, tattoos, and religions. We get along remarkably well considering we're crowded into a facility designed for half that many inmates. We all have our eccentricities, but occasionally someone rises above the others in weirdness, like Ernest T. Bass did in Mayberry. We have one inmate; let's call him Ernest T (not his real name). He's white, in his late 60's, about 5'4" tall with a shaved head and weighs maybe 135 pounds soaking wet. He's been incarcerated for most of his adult life, doing time in a dozen state and federal prisons, mostly for drug related charges. He loves golf and is prone to randomly utter inappropriate racial slurs.

Ernest T has, shall we say, taken an interest in our cat population. We currently have 6, but have had over a dozen more than once. They've all been trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and returned here except for one slippery and slutty female who can't be trapped and is about to become a baby-momma yet again. One creative inmate even built them all a "Cat House" that oddly looks like a tiny chapel. At first Ernest T fed the cats daily with scraps from the Chow Hall. That's pretty normal, right? But apparently that didn't quite provide what he was looking for in a relationship, so he changed tactics. He decided it would be more fulfilling to chase and throw rocks at them.

Normally, I let weird behavior here slide, as I just want to stay in my lane. But in this case my curiosity got the better of me. One evening when Ernest T was in his rock throwing windup, I happened to be nearby and surprised him with the question, "What the hell are you doing?" I got a startled response consisting of several nonsensical words along with a guilty expression. Unwilling to let it go, I asked the question in a more leading fashion, "Why are you throwing rocks at the cats?" This time he replied, "I don't know. It's just a habit." Fair enough, but the conversation ended with me telling him, "Maybe you should find another habit, because I like the cats, and they're helpful in puppy training." I walked away thinking that, for a conversation which could have quickly and easily headed south, it had actually gone very well.

All did go well for a couple of days until Freddy and I were walking around the building, and we caught him again. This time I said, "Ernest T, you've got to stop chasing and throwing rocks at the cats. It's not normal behavior. It's weird and creepy even for here, and you can't do that." He replied, "Other people are doing it," which we both knew wasn't true. So he went on, "Well, I've been doing it since I was 10 years old," which probably was true but clearly not an event I wanted to unpack. So, to confirm we were on the same page, I simply said "You've got to stop this, OK?" He replied, "OK." So all was good.

The reason I know all was good is because the next day I was asked, "Did you know Ernest T was seen today peeing on the Cat House?" While you may think that's weird, and you'd be right in most environments, I see it as clear and convincing evidence we're moving in the right direction as no rocks were thrown.

Maybe I should try my hand at becoming an unlicensed counselor when I leave here, as I seem to have a gift for intervention, helping others make positive behavioral changes.