I had six guys to see. The last one on my list is this small, old man who can be either really, really crazy and mean or just a little crazy and not mean. When he's mean he's awful. He spews racist slurs, threatens people, and gasses (what we call throwing liquids on people) indiscriminately. I noticed when I walked up to his cell that there were sandbags in front, so I braced for the worst.
I don't know why the sandbags were there, but he was not super crazy. The first thing I noticed, though, is that perched on a roll of toilet paper on the desk in his cell was the biggest, shiniest pigeon I've ever seen.
Now, in case it wasn't obvious, inmates aren't allowed to have birds in their cells. It's not unheard of (remember Dennis?), but it's not something that we're allowed to promote. And sometimes "unfortunate" things happen to birds in cells. This man has had birds before, and sometimes it's fine and sometimes its... not.
So I wasn't sure if I should mention this giant pigeon perched gracefully on one leg in the corner of the cell. I got nearly completely done with my interview, and finally I couldn't stand it anymore and said, "What's your bird's name?"
This man LIT UP. He was so excited to talk to me about his bird, "Pet." He told me that he likes to stand on one leg, and that he usually hangs out on the toilet paper. That's helpful because "that's where he does his business" so it's easy to keep clean. He eats spaghetti and rice and soups (instant noodles) and doesn't try to escape when the man leaves the cell.
We talked for a few more minutes about Pet and then, as I was leaving, he said quietly, "I'm a lifer. I know we're not supposed to have them, but sometimes its nice to have someone in here to talk to."
I sometimes struggle with the existential meaning of my work and whether what I'm doing contributes to a greater good. I spend a lot of time getting lied to, treating people who couldn't care less, and negotiating the finest of state government bureaucracy. But today? Today I made a connection with a (slightly less than usual) crazy old man and the fattest bird in prison and that feels like it was a pretty good day.
|Not Pet. Pet wouldn't smoke.