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       CAGED ANIMALS
                An Essay By Napoleon Beazley
      

Have you ever been to the zoo?

Scientists say that there is a certain territory, or space, that is needed by every animal. If this certain amount of space is not given to that animal, scientists report that it is bound to go insane. So, a zoo is like a human phenomenon because it's an unnatural situation, of which animals are forced to live in a closed, aberrant state, for an inhumane exhibition.

Wild animals need miles and miles of area to remain free and to remain sane, which is definitely not available in cages. Behind the locks and keys, they go crazy. They attack their own species, they become destructive; they even sometimes commit suicide. Insanity, for them, is inevitable. Because their domain; has dramatically decreased from the whole, wild world to just a small cage surrounded by tourists, visitors, and strange unsympathetic people.

When I was 13 years old, our eighth grade class took a field trip to the zoo, and being an avid animal lover, I was very enthusiastic about seeing the wildlife. Unlike what was shown on National Geographic, on my first trip to the zoo I found wildlife that appeared to be lifeless. There were lions that rarely roared, tigers that constantly paced, monkeys that laid in their urine, and elephants that laid in their excrement, depressed and inert. Everywhere I turned it seemed there was another tourist, another classmate, or another foolish person taunting and ridiculing the caged beast. After that day. I never returned to the zoo, at least that is  not as a visitor. Within me, to the very core of my being, it hurt me to see those animals suffering and humiliated, but instead of dwelling on it excessively, I chose to look the other way. Only now I see, as the animals did that day, looking the other way is not an option when you're the one in a cage.

I live in an exclusive area of Huntsville (Texas) in a place quarantined from daylight, where men live to die. It is a region with no justice, only treachery. And a place where, at times, death itself is the least of the terrors.

Some of you know this exclusive area as the Ellis One Unit. Some of you know it as Deathrow. Yet, despite what tourists call it; for some of us it's hell, for some of us it's home, and for many it's the last place they'll see before they die.

I've lived in this zoo, this prison, amidst the atrocities of trapped and terrified beings, for over half a decade. Fortunately, you can not hear what I hear, or see what I see, and even if I had the wit to describe it to you, I doubt I could. Poor words and the pictures I can create with them could never reflect the feeling you get while living like sub-humans in cages. Waiting until the last paper has been filed, the last appeal has been exhausted, the last good-bye has been said  and you're granted what amounts to the mercy of a needle.

Men die here long before they realized it happened. Time and attrition can destroy a caged animal as surely as poison sent throughout the veins of his body. After years of being drug through the swamps of the appeal courts on a kite of promises that never come true. men here get tired. Not just physically, but morally. They reach a point where they want nothing more than the end, for that's the only feeling they have left.  Not anger. not pain, not love or hate.  They simply want it all to stop. Dying is something they look forward to.
I imagine a trip to Deathrow to see caged men is no different from a trip to the zoo to see caged animals. The dementia behind bars is the same. Tigers walk up and down in their cages, men pace and stare in their cells. Each brain sick from having been stripped of all that which was natural and dear. Each deteriorating slowly, each going insane, each living with the pain of the moment with hopes that they will be better later.

Often we get visitors here who are seeking to get a glimpse of we, the so-called dregs of humanity, the most vicious of killers, live day by day. One tourist stood two feet away from me one day. As I stood in the confines of a cage, she asked the escorting guard, 'Is it me or does he not have a mattress? It looks like there is just a steel bunk in there."

The guard duly noted that she was correct; I had no visible mattress, but before he could provide an excuse, I answered. Please don't speak to him as if I'm not here. If you have a question about me you ask me. The mattress is under the bunk. I do not sleep on it; I sleep on the concrete floor, the steel, or anything else uncomfortable. I distrust comfort in a place like this, it dulls you to the reality of where you are and why you're here."

The tourist just gazed at me blankly, while the guard reprimanded me for what he believed as an unworthy right to speak. The woman was not angry by the way I addressed her, but utter shock emanated over her face which is a reaction you and I both can understand, right?
I mean, of course, it's not every day that you go to the zoo and the animals actually speak.

Deathrow was here before me, and will probably be here long after I am gone, while the walls that stifled the screams and carried the tears will hardly know the difference. It does not reside in any state, or country, but rather in the hearts of men and women who are inflicted with the same disease called ignorance. The only remedy, cure, and vaccination we have from such is the knowledge of understanding that comes with social tolerance, compassion, and acceptance.

The average folly of the average individual brings inadvertent pain to the entire world. We can not walk away from ignorance and expect our life to be unsullied by the neglect. The day that I went to the zoo and turned away from the torment of those animals, I dishonored myself. When I look back on my memories and see their eyes, I understand. When and where human beings and animals endure suffering and humiliation; not to help them, not to voice dissent, would mean to betray them and myself. Our silence, always, helps the tormentor, not the tormented. Just as out neutrality encourages the oppressor, never the oppressed.

Our lives do not belong to us alone, they belong to all those living who need us desperately. That is why I encourage you to take a stand in what in your heart  you believe is right. Do not be like the 13-year-old boy I was, and turn your back on animals or people suffering at the hands of a nation's ignorance. For, in doing so, you turn your back on the future of human nature. A thousand years from now it will not matter what your bank account was, what kind of car you drove, or home you lived in, but whether or not the world was made a better place to live because you lived in it.

So, after reading this, the next time you go to the zoo and look in the eyes of the animals...remember these words, then close your eyes, and listen. Trust me, you will be surprised by how often caged animals do actually speak.
 
 
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