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There were two or three at first. Then twelve. Then twenty. At one time, there were thirty some odd cats that lived at the Cold Pines jail.

The jail in Cold Pines, Arkansas used to be in the town square. It’s in the county now, where the Kmart used to be. Economy goes down, crime rates go up. Businesses close. Before the county took it over, the empty retail outlet was a graffiti-covered eyesore.

The cats weren’t in the jail, you understand. They weren’t bad kitties. They lived outside, in the woods. The cats were looking for food, and found their way to the jail the same way a lot of the inmates did. Desperation. Circumstances.

The prisoners brought food to the cats, which in turn, brought more kitties, and the inmates and the cats sort of adopted each other. The men needed something to care about, and the cats needed someone who cared. It was sweet. A nice arrangement for both.

Those who ran the jail weren’t at all happy about this kitty cat convergence. It was a relief to them when one by one, the kitties disappeared. Those behind the bars of the Cold Pines jail maintained, it was also around this time that their appetites disappeared.

Every Thursday morning a collective moan ran through the revamped Kmart store, as guests of the jail remembered the meal du jour was chicken a la king.

It was dotted with rubbery cubes of tendon-laden meat, some green and orange things that looked like peas and carrots and were hard as poker chips; a chicken toenail here, a bit of intestine there. All of it, swimming in little lakes of grayish-yellow goo. The chicken a la Cold Pines was an unwashed gym sock of a dish, and the fact that cats were vanishing at roughly the same time it was introduced gave some men pause. No pun intended.

The fare is always questionable, in prison or in jail. Those who can afford it buy food from the canteen or the commissary.

That’s in city jails, mostly. No canteen to speak of, for the inmates at Cold Pines. There was a vending machine in the break room for people who worked at the jail. But bringing the guy in Cell 4 a bag of Doritos wasn’t exactly a high priority.

You have so little, in prison or in jail. Anything that comes your way, that you can keep, is precious. A bag of chips, a bar of soap. If you get it, you are thankful, and the men in the Cold Pines jail were thankful indeed, for Jerry Loveworth.

Jerry Loveworth was a former Cold Pines deputy who was supposed to retire at 62. He stayed on, and worked in the jail; Jerry was one of those guys who just liked to work. He was also kind and giving, sometimes to a fault—in other words, completely unsuited for corrections.

On weekends, Jerry went to DollarDaze, and loaded up a cart; on Mondays, he brought his haul to work and handed it out to the prisoners.

Whatever his faults might have been, Jerry Loveworth hardly ever missed a day. By 10 a.m. when he hadn’t called and hadn’t shown up, they knew something was wrong. The sheriff took a deputy and went out to Jerry’s place.

The smell hit them as soon as they got out of the car.

Inside, it was like a warehouse, or one of those big box stores. Ramen noodles, peanut butter crackers. Oatmeal crème pies.

PrittyKitty kitty food.

And some thirty odd cats.

Last week, they finished putting in a real canteen in the Cold Pines jail. The kitties all got good homes; people saw the story on the news, and they called from everywhere.

The menu’s been revamped to be a bit more heart-healthy. No more you-know-what. Some good came out of Jerry’s passing, sad as it was.

Under “Cause of Death”, the medical examiner wrote “Cardiac Arrest”. He couldn’t say exactly how Jerry died.

And you might say there are people more deserving of Jerry’s efforts. That he wasted his time on criminals. Let them lie in the beds they made, without their kitty cats to cuddle. Boo-hoo. They got what they deserved.

But the world doesn’t move by giving men what they deserve, and everyone needs something to protect; there's a hunger in the kind of men who live in the Cold Pines jail.

For anything, but the chicken a la king.

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