Deke grew up in the slums of L.A. He never knew his father, and his mother was an alcoholic. Welfare checks provided money for her habit, and Deke was just a liability. From a very early age, he roamed the streets; stealing, and begging for money. He was always hungry and never trusted anyone. As he got older he became interested in drugs -- both using and selling. There was a lot of money in dealing, but it was dangerous. He had to beat people up, and finally, to kill them.
Deke ran into law trouble at age 11, and was in and out of juvenile lockups until adulthood caught up with him. Prison gates slammed behind Deke forever, on his 24 birthday. The conviction was murder one, and the sentence: life.
Now Deke didn't like prison at all, and the longer he stayed, the meaner he got. He started fights in the cafeteria and on the yard. He was big, mean and brutal. Six foot six and 247 pounds of muscle and anger. He beat up other inmates for the fun of it, and killed a cell mate over an argument about a cigarette. He choked him to death before the guards arrived. He was put in solitary confinement, didn't help, then was transfered to a maximum security prison for incorrigibles. Deke was considered hopeless by penal system authorities.
His behaviour was so bad at the maximum lockup he had to be kept in solitary. He would attack anything that moved. He could not be allowed outside his cell without four guards in attendance, so he stayed in his cell nearly all the time. At night, he would rage against the bars, hitting them and shouting obscenities at the guards, pleading for them to kill him. This would continue for hours before Deke became exhausted and fell asleep.
The warden petitioned the state to place Deke in an institution for the criminally insane, but was turned down. The mental health people refused to take Deke due to his history of violence. So Deke soon held the record for days in solitary, his food pushed under the bars, and his cell hosed down weekly to keep it somewhat sanitary. More animal than human, this was Deke's lifestyle.
On the nights Deke wasn't raging at the bars, he would sit on his cot and watch the rats scurring around his cell looking for food. He tried to hit or kick them, but was seldom fast enough. They came in the evening, when the sun went down, to clean up bits of food Deke spilled from the flimsy paper plates the guards brought him.
One night when the rats came, Deke noticed one of them was different. Moving slow and lighter in color than the rest. This rat was lean and small, pulling itself across the floor with two front legs. Deke noticed the rat had been injured, one back leg was totally useless, and the other just kicking at the floor, more like a rudder than a propeller of its tiny body. Deke's first thought was to smash this small varment to put it out of its misery. As he waited for the injured rat to get closer, he noticed how the other rats nipped, pushed and took food away from it; thinking only of themselves; not caring if the injured rat had anything to eat. When Deke started to kill the rat, something deep inside him, long forgotten, buried under a thousand fears -- stirred. Just for a fleeting moment Deke saw himself as that injured rat. He thought: "that's me, I am just a crippled rat that no one cares about." Holding this thought, Deke allowed the small rodent safe passage from his cell that night.
When they brought food the next day, Deke stuffed some bread in his pockets, hoping the crippled rat would return in the evening. He had thought about the rat all day and chose the name Eeke for it. That's what women would scream when they saw a rat and it rhymed with Deke. "Deke and Eeke;" he thought; "two cripples living in a world where nobody cares if they live or die."
Sure enough, Eeke showed up at dusk, dragging his pale, thin body across the floor with his two front feet. Deke quickly removed the bread from his pocket and placed it in the corner of his cell, between the bunk and the back wall. Several of the healthy rats started to make for the food, but Deke met them with hands and feet flailing about, kicking and swatting, chasing them away from the small pile of bread. Eeke started for the bread also, however, the injured Eeke seemed to sense what was happening and made for the back wall of the tiny cell and eased down to the corner, making it easier for Deke to allow him to pass while keeping the others at bay. For the first time in days, Eeke ate a good meal, undisturbed by the other rats.
This same scenario was repeated for several days. Each day Deke would find more things to barricade the corner. Cardboard, paper plates, and clothes, provided a wall between the food and the rats. A small space near the back wall was left open for Eeke to enter. In the corner "food fort" Deke provided water and a bed of clothes as well as food for Eeke. After a couple of weeks, Eeke stopped leaving the cell after he ate; content to sleep on the bed provided.
Deke still wanted to do more for his friend. He asked the guards if he could get a book from the prison library on the care of small animals. Now, the guards had noticed he hadn't been raging at the bars for awhile, and even seemed a little pleasant when they brought his food, so they got him the book with a warning that if he destroyed it, he would get no more books. They knew why he wanted it, making pets of rats was nothing new in prison, they just didn't know the rat was injured.
Deke had a hard time reading and understanding the book. He had missed a lot of school. So, he asked for a dictionary and some books to help him read better. He got these too. Because he seemed so different now, the guards asked him if he would like to have yard priviledges, but he declined, muttering something about defending an eek.
After a month or two, Deke read enough to know he couldn't help his friend Eeke medically, so he sent the book back to the library asking for some regular reading material. The guards brought him some Biographies and books on History. Deke would set, and read these books all day. Often reading them out loud and discussing them with Eeke, who was usually asleep at this time. He reached the point where he was reading two or three books a week. During this time, the guards would often ask if he wanted to go to the yard for exercise, or to the cafeteria to eat, but Deke always declined, saying he needed his privacy. The guards came to respect him and were glad he had changed, so they didn't push him to do those things.
Then one day, it happened. After many months of close friendship, Eeke died. Deke found him early in the morning, on his little bed, he had died during the night. After Deke had determined that his friend, (the only friend he had ever known), was really dead. He did something that he had never done before in his entire life -- he cried. He cried for hours, his tears washing 35 years of pain out of his system along with the grief of losing Eeke. He had never loved anyone or anything before Eeke.
Early the next morning, Deke called to the guard, and asked to be taken to the yard for exercise. The guard was aware of what was happening, but said nothing. He even noticed the small bundle of clothes Deke carried with him, but said nothing. As soon as Deke was in the yard, he quickly walked to the corner of the prison wall and stooped to dig a small hole in the ground. He used a metal spoon stolen from the cafeteria years earlier. Swiftly, he put the small bundle of clothes and the spoon in the hole, closing it, patting down and smoothing the dirt with his hands. Turning to the guard, Deke asked to go back to his cell, the guard complied, saying nothing.
Deke asked for books on death and dying, emotions, love, self-help and God. Before long, he was granted library priviledges and spent hours there, just looking and reading. He also ate in the cafeteria and walked in the yard every day. Deke made pets out of other rats, but it was not the same as Eeke. He would never forget Eeke. It was Eeke, he came to understand, that saved his life. The more he read and understood about himself, the more he noticed the pain in the faces of other inmates. He saw it in the yard, the cafeteria and especially at night in the cells.
When Deke went out into the yard, he would talk to other inmates about their feelings. Try to help them control their anger and fear. A small group of men would form around him to listen, as Deke talked about himself, and how he had changed because of Eeke. He gave them hope for the future, how to stay out of prison, once they served their time. Deke was respected in the yard, and looked up to by the guards, who noticed that those listening to him were becoming model prisoners.
The warden of the prison heard about Deke's recovery and called him in to talk. Deke and the warden talked a long time, most of the morning. When Deke left the warden's office, he had a new task at the prison. Deke agreed to teach a class on a regular basis, telling about himself, and trying to help other inmates in the way he helped himself. This was the beginning of a new career for Deke, one that would last the rest of his life.
Deke's class went from a handful of people once a week to crowded classrooms three times a week, in less than a year. Deke was like them, he knew their language, what they were afraid of, and how to help them. Wardens in other prisons soon heard about Deke and wanted to set up similar programs, so Deke was escorted to four other prisons to talk, hold classes, and help set up those programs with inmates, who like himself, had learned to love.
While Deke had learned to love through the help of an injured rat named Eeke, he never lost his roughness completely. On one occasion he picked up a heckler, chair and all, and through him out the door of the classroom so hard that he hit the wall on the other side of the hall and was knocked unconscious. Everyone knew that you didn't mess around with Deke. (The heckler, a con named "Red," asked to come back to Deke's class after he recovered, and eventually became one of Deke's best students.)
It was Deke's habit to get to the room early, and as the inmates arrived he would greet them and ask a couple of questions. He asked: "Do you think you are street smart," and "Do you believe you know what life is all about." Nearly everyone answered these questions with a big "Yes." After the class was seated, Deke would stand in front of them with a big scowl on his face and say something like this: "I asked you men a couple of questions, and you said you were smart and knew what life was all about." "Well, if you're so goddamned smart, why are you living in a six by eight foot cell, eating slop for food, and doing what someone else wants you to do all day." "While only two miles south from here, there are people swimming in their own pools, eating steak, coming and going as they please and doing what they want." "You don't look very damned smart to me." That got their attention, and the class would begin.
Deke was very effective. Those who attended his classes regularly almost never returned to prison after their time was up. Deke helped hundreds get out of prison, and stay out. The program continues today, even though Deke died many years ago. They had to hold two memorial services for Deke, one inside the prison, in the yard, hundreds came. And one at a local stadium, thousands came to honor this man who taught them to love.
Now the moral of this story is: it doesn't matter how many people love you or don't love you. What matters is THAT YOU LOVE. Learning to love is not that hard. There are lots of "Eeks" around. You see them every day, people that need your help, things that need to be done. You learn to love yourself by loving others.