Elmer got in the food line. Wonder what kind of slop it’ll be. Breakfast had been soupy
oatmeal and he didn’t expect anything better for lunch. Why does my cell block always
have to be the last to get to eat? Looking ahead to see the offerings, he heard the
server humming as he served and greeted the prisoners. Rage, his constant
companion, flamed in him.
The server’s grin revealed several missing teeth. “Hi Elmer! How ya’ doing?” as he
slapped the unidentified, greasy pile on Elmer’s tray,
“Shut up, Deke. And stop that infernal humming. Always the same song. Don’t cha’
know nothin’ else?”
“Now Elmer, I got a song in my heart, a melody in my soul. I jest can’t stop singing it.”
Elmer took his tray and slammed it down on the counter. “Ya’ can’t sing, and nobody
wants to hear it neither.” he hissed and walked to his assigned table to sit with the rest
of Cell Block J.
“Everyday it’s the same thing,” he snarled. “I hate that humming, that cheesey grin, the
lousy food, and I’m sick of looking at these walls and your faces.”
“What’s got you so riled up, Elmer?” Bull asked through a mouth full of the mystery
“Why’s he always smiling and singing?” nodding his head toward Deke.
“I heard he got religion.”
“What’s he got to be happy about? He’s a lifer like the rest of us. Stupid tune, what is it
“I don’t know, Elmer. Some church song. Eat before we get in trouble.”
Elmer and his fellow inmates were herded to their next meal, and his gut tightened up in
knots. Why does that jerk and his singing get to me? He arrived at the line, and as
usual, Deke was humming the same melody.
“Don’t cha’ know any other tune?”
“But I love this song, Elmer. Why don’t cha’ come to Bible study and learn it too.”
“Bible study? They wouldn’t even let me in the door! I’m a murderer,” he barked,
“Yeah, they would. I murdered too, ya’ know, but Jesus took care of all that.” He
grinned as he piled an extra bit of beans on the tray.
“That ain’t fer me. I’m not good enough anyway.”
“Ya’ don’t have to be good. Jesus takes the worst of us and cleans us up. He did it for
me, He’ll do it for you. But listen, they’ll let cha’ come, but ya’ gotta ask and get it
Elmer shook his head, “I’m the worst of the worst. Done every bad thing and more.
God wouldn’t want nothing to do with me.”
“Come and find out.” The melody erupted from Deke again as he slapped beans on the
As the days wore by, Deke continued asking Elmer to attend Bible study. Elmer argued
with him, but alone, battled with himself. One minute, hate and rage. The next, a
glimmer of hope of escaping despair, depression, and... guilt. How can you clean me
up, Jesus? Look what I’ve done. Ya’ can’t get lower than me.
He daily argued with everyone, shoved people and spit at that them when guards
weren’t looking. Self loathing stormed within him, yet he asked for permission to attend
chapel. The following Wednesday evening a guard unlocked his cell. “Come on,
Elmer.” He chuckled, “You gonna go get religion?”
With effort Elmer kept quiet, dropped his head and followed the guard, his stomach
churning. The guard opened the chapel door and gave him a push. He sat down in the
back as he heard the door lock behind him.
Thirty blue denim shirted men sat in rows, Deke near the front. The server waved and
displayed his missing teeth. A man strummed a guitar while everyone sang. Elmer sat
glowering, arms folded across his chest.
The man sat his guitar down and began teaching. Elmer learned of a love so pure, so
complete, it could even change murderers and rapists. He heard of a God/man who
sacrificed His life for everyone, no matter how bad they were.
Even me, Jesus? Even me?
“Come and meet him,” the preacher said. “He’s waiting for you. He’ll forgive you, make
you clean. You can’t do it yourself, but He can.”
The group began singing the same melody Deke hummed everyday. Elmer felt a pull in
his heart. A drawing. He stepped out and answered the call as the prisoners sang, Just
as I am... I come, I come.
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