(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“When We Were Wolves” opens in a Wyoming state prison with the narrator reminiscing about convict life in 1949 and how inmates were forced to wear the Oregon boot, a heavy iron device designed to discourage their escape. This device is turned into a training tool by him and the other men who play on the prison hockey team, the Wolves. To condition themselves for the game, they wear the boot and also don ice skates when walking and running across the exercise yard. They learn to think and act as a team and adopt a pragmatic version of Christianity in the hope of improving their lot in prison, gaining privileges, and perhaps winning quicker release. The Wolves adopt brotherly love out of necessity to avoid fighting among themselves, which is punished by solitary confinement in “the hole,” and so that they can play hockey in the Oil League. They are in pursuit of the Oil Cup, awarded to the best team in the Rocky Mountain Oil League, while Pastor Liverance, their prison chaplain, a former Canadian hockey player, team coach, and a man possessed, is in pursuit of the Holy Grail. By playing hockey, the Wolves believe that they are on their way to improving their lot as prisoners. Pastor Liverance becomes so convinced of the merits of prison hockey that he begins to write a book on the subject.

The context is the oil boom of the 1950’s when Wyoming created oil barons, some of whom supported city hockey teams and leagues, providing uniforms, coaches,...

(The entire section is 495 words.)