Friday, May 28, 2010

I Went To Prison - Big Box Birds

A few weeks ago, I went to the Maine State Prison. I went there to attend the graduation ceremony of a friend who had just completed training as a Corrections Officer. After I got home, I delighted in calling my other friends and saying that I had gone to prison that day. I imagined them quickly checking their caller IDs to see where I was calling from and thinking, "Oh God, I hope she isn't going to ask me for bail money!" I'm sure some of them also thought things along the lines of "It's about time they locked her up!" I never went in to the actual prison, only the administration building. There were speeches, cake and coffee and a slide show about prison life as it is today. It was all very benign. Nonetheless, I was moved and found it deeply thought provoking. First of all, my friend, the new Corrections Officer, is a woman and the only woman in her group of graduates. Many of her fellow C.O.s fit the stereotype of a prison guard in that they are big, burly guys. Two of them are former United States Marines. I'm told that one is never an ex-Marine, only ever a former Marine, "Once a Marine, always a Marine." In the case of those new C.O.s, that is definitely the case. My friend, however, is a quiet, soft spoken, very gentle woman. She doesn't swear nor raise her voice. She has never been married nor had children, so prior to her prison guard training, she never had any reason to swear or holler, either. During her C.O. training, she had to learn to scream which did not come naturally to her. The Maine State Correctional Facility, which houses only men, takes great pride in being a place that is safe for the inmates. As much as possible, they try to make a kind of normal life for the men who live there. The hope is that when they are released, they will have a better grasp of how to live with other people without committing crimes. If they never leave the prison, they hopefully won't hurt anyone inside either and can live with dignity and the respect of the other men with whom they'll spend their lives - fellow inmates and C.O.s. My friend's inherent gentleness is representative of the new corrections mindset.  The prison is new with a modern campus design without prison walls. When it was built and they moved the prisoners from the old facility, they not only left behind the scenes from The Shawshank Redemption (which was filmed there), they left behind a certain barbarism. The men who live in the prison are human beings, after all, even those who have behaved like monstrous animals. We owe it to our own sense of dignity and self respect to treat them as human beings. Unlike the inmates, I got to go home. On my way, I turned on my car radio with the volume high for a song I liked. I rolled down all the windows and sang along loudly, because I could.


A man in a cell
will learn
to live
the simple rules
and swirling hell
his head.
The window is high
"Can't see nothin',"
he said.
Fist clenched at his side,
He must look upward
to see
the sky.
His time will teach him to see
it all,
meaning in the clouds,
the quick, single dove.
His hand will open
he will
learn love.

                                                             Robin Riley Robinson

House Sparrows are widespread in this country though they were only introduced here in the 1800s. They are concidered a pest because they eat agricultural products like grain seeds and spread diseases to humans, like West Nile Virus. There's no law against killing them and lots of programs are employed to do so across the country. One of the reasons they are ubiquitous is that they adapt readily to living around people, even taking advantage of things like dumpsters and nesting sites. This pair was nesting under a corrugated tin roof of a car dealership. House Sparrows are what I call the Big Box Birds or Wallmart Birds. They are the birds you hear and see high up in the warehouse rafters and chirpping around in the lawn and garden centers of the big box stores. They poop on merchandise and rip open bags of dog food and you guessed it: bird seed, too. Even birders don't care about the Big Box Birds because of the problems they cause other birds. But, the House Sparrows don't know any of this; they are just being birds. They fly; they are acrobatic in flight and shenanagins employed to get food; they sing socially, not just for mating; they are monogamous, and they mate for life.

For more on the Maine State Prison, click here ,or here.
Check this Wikipedia link to learn more about House Sparrows

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  1. Very thought provoking post Robin!!

  2. Robin, you are a woman of many facets. This is a most perceptive piece and truly hits the target. My son-in-law is a prison guard in Florida and, though not a former marine, is of the old school in his idea of his job. Florida is trying to move toward a gentler approach to prisons and Alex just doesn't fit. He has rank and a lot of seniority so they have put him in charge of gate duty where his rougher approach is appropriate. He would say that your analysis, and mine, is "for the birds"


  3. Sorry; I found your description of the male guards sexist; imagine if I wrote something like that in that vein and that tenor about wommen; there would be hell to pay!

  4. I did not generalize negatively about the guards, male nor female; I said "many," not all of the guards fit a sterotype. I said "two," not all of the new C.O.s were former Marines. I quoted what the former Marines said of themselves to me. I did not actually say that those former Marines were men, either though they were. And, it's true that they do fit a stereotype. Had they been women of who fit a stereotype, I would have said that, too. If my friend, the new C.O. were a man, and a soft, gentle man, I would have said the same things. Perhaps the reader has applied his own sexism to how he read the piece.

  5. There can never be enough eagle photos. The ibis is very cool.But,what is phishing ?

  6. BMC, glad you like the photos. I will keep them coming because I can't help myself, basically! 'Pishing," is the noises birders make to attract a subject's attention. It literally sounds like 'pish, pish, pish.' I'm planning a post on the subject for later.