The Cellmate by Crystal Arbogast: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Based on a true story, 'The Cellmate' by Crystal Arbogast introduces us to an illegal moonshine maker and a manipulated murderer. In this lesson, we'll summarize and analyze the story.

A Night in Jail

What would you do if you were forced to spend the night in a cell, alone, with a convicted murderer? Would you cower in the corner or sleep like a baby? Would you be grateful to get out or saddened by the murderer's fate?

An untimely jail encounter leads to a lifelong promise in this tale by Crystal Arbogast.
cellmate, arbogast, murderer, execution, horse

In this story, author Crystal Arbogast takes us to jail - literally! While there, we'll meet an illegal moonshiner and see the softer side of a convicted murderer. Let's dive into the story.

Summarizing ''The Cellmate''

''The Cellmate'' opens on a beautiful morning in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The narrator calls it ''God's country.'' It's not a thriving metropolis, but for Andy, it is perfect.

Andy has plans for the day to venture into town and pick up supplies for making moonshine. Moonshine was a type of liquor distributed illegally during the 1920s (the period when this story is set), in an era known as Prohibition. Prohibition disallowed the creation and sale of alcohol in the United States. Andy's moonshine business is profitable; just one jug could net $40 to $50.

Headed to Town

On an Indian summer day, Andy sets off for town, aware of his need to be discreet. Local law enforcement is hot on the trail of moonshiners. Andy has even decided to move his distillery operation, the place where he manufactures his moonshine, to evade the police.

Despite Sheriff Turner's preoccupation with catching illegal moonshine operations, another big crime has consumed his time - and the minds of the locals - as of late. Lloyd Frazier, the son of Annie Frazier, has been convicted for killing a woman. Lloyd, it seems, killed the woman, a romantic rival of his mother's for the attention of a man in town, at his mother's cunning request. Annie promised her son a horse in exchange for ridding her of her competition. Lloyd was slated to die by hanging the next day.

Town Gossip

As Andy arrives in town to sell a few jars of moonshine to Old Man Tribbit, the pair discuss the impending execution. The understanding around town was that Annie lied to Lloyd about the woman and paid him off with the horse to get him to commit an act he never would've on his own.

Leaving Old Man Tribbit's, Andy is confronted by Sheriff Turner and hauled to jail for questioning about a stash of bootleg liquor.

At the Jail

Arriving at the jail, Andy is faced with the option of bunking with Frazier or staying elsewhere. Andy says he's not afraid to stay with the boy.

Inside the cell, Andy observes Lloyd watching his horse outside the window. Lloyd comments about the horse needing brushing and a shoe fixed. Lloyd continues watching the horse as Andy drifts off to sleep. Andy awakens in the night to feel Lloyd hovering over him, but Lloyd only covers his cellmate with his own blanket.

The Execution

The next morning, Lloyd is removed from the jail to be executed in the town square. Andy cannot bring himself to watch. By the middle of the day, Andy is released from custody and questions the sheriff about the fate of the horse. The sheriff says he's too busy to worry about some horse.

Andy heads home with his supplies and the horse Lloyd had loved, pausing on the road out of town to whisper a promise to take care of the horse.

Analyzing ''The Cellmate''

Though a fictional story, ''The Cellmate'' is based on an experience from the author's family history. Arbogast's great uncle, also named Andy, did indeed spend the night in jail with a boy who was executed the following morning. It was the last execution to take place in the town of Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Arbogast has said of the story that it ''has always haunted me.''

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