I went to visit Alex yesterday (6/24). We sat down outside at a concrete picnic table underneath the shade of a cloth umbrella as the heat of the day kept us lubricated. About an hour into the visit I heard Alex say the name ‘Bob’ and as I looked up I saw an older gentleman walking across the yard headed our way. In his left hand were two clear drum liners (large industrial trash bags) and I watched the man as Alex began to tell me about him.
He said that he had worked with Bob briefly in the clothes house, but Bob missed his custodial duties and opted to return to collecting the prisons trash and recyclables even though it was about a 60% reduction in pay and somewhat of an increase in responsibility. It’s also a lackluster prison career, one that’s afforded little prestige, if that’s even possible.
I watched as Bob disappeared behind one building and then another, making his way over to the visitation area where Alex and I were seated. As we continued to talk my eyes remained fixed on Bob because I could tell that this fella held a favorable spot in my young son’s mind. Thin, early to mid 60ish, neatly dressed and wearing his hair in the 1960′s style of “dove tail” I was very interested to learn of his story and why Alex held this man in such high esteem. When I asked Alex for the man’s story he told me that 22 year old Bob had murdered his wife and lover when he came home and found them in bed together. The court had sentenced Bob to 50 years with no possibility of parole.
Bob removed the lid from a huge 55 gallon drum labeled “plastic bottles.” He then reached in and pulled out a clear drum liner filled with a myriad of colorful soda bottles, some empty – some still containing small amounts of beverage. He then replaced the bag and returned the lid to head of the drum. What he did next was very peculiar and instantly earned my curiosity; he took the big bag of recyclable plastic bottles across the yard and sat down underneath the shade of a large hickory tree where he began to remove each bottle one at a time, unscrewing it’s lid and pouring the remaining contents out onto the grass. After a dozen or so bottles I recognized what appeared to be piles of bottle caps forming, and not just any piles of caps, these piles were color coordinated with all the red caps in their own neatly arranged pile, the blue caps in their own pile, the yellows, the greens, etc. After a few minutes I looked over at Alex and he instantly chuckled with that smurck on his face he’s became so famous for. I asked Alex, is that guy off in the head or something? I know the caps need to come off prior to recycling the bottles, but why in the world is the old man taking the time to separate the caps into colored piles? My son’s reply made every hair on my body stand on end:
“To keep him as busy as possible for as long as possible. Ya see, the guards lied to the old man and have him convinced that the caps go toward helping kids who are battling childhood cancer and that the caps color represents it’s value.”
My stare focused sharply as I began to notice everything that Bob was doing. The care he was using with the caps and his systematic, almost methodically ritualistic approach to the collection and his careful tabulation of each and every one of the brightly colored little dots, as if each one represented another child that would escape the suffering and loss of innocence due to childhood diseases. This was his mission, it was his sense of self worth, it was what he believed in; saving the babies.
It was all I could do to push the lump in my throat down and get back to visiting with my boy. After 30 minutes or so I noticed out of the corner of my eye Bob standing, in his right hand the large bag of de-capped bottles, in his left hand, 5 or 6 clear plastic baggies, each one housing a special color of bottle cap, which in Bob’s heart I would suppose were actually golden coins that he could send to the suffering kids in exchange for chemotherapy treatments.
After a while Alex and I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter that the caps were worthless (caps can’t be recycled and the American Cancer Society has labeled this as a hoax, as has Snopes) and would eventually find their way into the garbage, it’s what Bob believed those magic caps did for the suffering children that really mattered – each one, whether it be blue or red or green, representing the hopes and prayers of one old man who had spent nearly his entire life in prison.
Alex concluded his story of Bob by telling me that after 45 years Bob was scheduled to be released in a little less than 5 years from now at the age of 72.
I’m thankful for Bob and men like him, who are teaching my son valuable lessons in humility and compassion, something that all the liberal college professors the world over would fail at doing. Not until we live in a society in which success is gauged by the contents of a persons heart instead of their wallet, will justice ever truly thrive.
I was really moved by what I witnessed during this special visit with Alex, which led me here to write this blog post to share the story of the old man and the bottle caps. But the story doesn’t have to end there; you and I, we know bottle caps don’t save kids, but we have the luxury of clicking a few buttons and making the hopes and prayers of one old man who is trying so hard, come true. Where you touched by this story? Did you feel the spirit of love and compassion while reading this? If so, would you help me make sure that Bob’s bottle caps aren’t collected in vain? If you click the banner below and make a contribution to St. Jude you will in fact complete the circle comprised of Bob the collector, me the writer, and finally you the contributor, and ensure that his efforts and his love and compassion are passed on to the sick children. If you do make a donation please come back here and leave a comment, which I will pass on to Bob (without revealing the secret of his caps true value of course, lol).
You can also contribute by sharing this story with all of your social media friends: