It so happened Ernie was in the final stages of stomach cancer and his inability to consume food or drink was the beginning of the end. Three weeks after he left the block, messing with a few guys about being back in time for Thanksgiving, Ernie’s organs shut down and he died.
Ernie liked to gamble. Cards, dominoes, fantasy football leagues, basketball and football pools – the game didn’t particularly matter to him so much as the chance to win big. Usually though, Ernie preferred seven card and low ball, sitting at the table all night chasing hand and trying to win back the two dollars he borrowed. More often than not when Ernie gambled he lost and ended up owning way more than he had to give.
It made sense in a way. Ernie liked living but he wasn’t good at that either. Not many of us are, certainly none of us on death row, but we try and Ernie tried harder than most. Eager to please and get along with everybody the man was often stepped on for his easygoing nature. He was no shark in this pond, but he did his best to survive as much as one can in prison. That he lasted thirty years in this place with most of his mind intact is both a blessing and a curse.
Death row is only a sampling of Ernie’s difficult and troubled life. Both he and his brother were abandoned by their parents at a young age and were sent to live in an orphanage. His brother is physically handicapped and Ernie was thought to be mentally challenged. Abused, addicted to drugs, unable to get qualified for a job above minimum wage, Ernie rarely won in life, but when he did win everything else was okay.
When his daughter was born perfectly normal and grew into a smart young woman despite his past and circumstances, Ernie couldn’t have been happier. For once, the cards were in his favor, if only for a brief moment.
Even though Ernie lost a lot when he gambled he kept coming back. Not because he was addicted. Not because he owed huge amounts of money to loan sharks. He continued to gamble because there was always the chance he could win. That feeling of being on top, of succeeding where before there was only failure, is something anyone in his position wants.
Maybe it can be said there’s a time when knowing about “holding” and “folding” a hand is central to any game of cards, but Ernie never did care for Kenny Rogers. He was more of a Johnny Cash kind of guy. Rest in peace Ernie.