Yard Birds

Uncategorized Posted May 20, 2015 by chenpr

I’m a volunteer with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. I’ve been working inside prison walls for over a decade facilitating a small inmate fellowship. It’s fulfilling work and I’ve learned a lot over the years, but unless I have permission I’m not allowed to talk about my experiences on the inside. Nor am I inclined to betray the bond of mutual trust I’ve earned by spending time each week with the men who come in to listen, share and take away whatever it is that they come for. There is, however, an experience I’ve had on a number of occasions that stands out to me and that I am comfortable sharing.

Security is obviously a top priority for the DOC. Every visitor, employee and volunteer must be screened. Every move that takes place happens within view of the staff. The safety of everyone inside the facility is just as important as keeping inmates confined. Whenever I enter the prison compound I am screened by corrections officers who make sure I’m not carrying in any contraband. Once I’ve been cleared I must pass through a series of seven locked doors and gates to get to the building where my program meets.

The yards are wide open. There’s no place to conceal yourself from the many security cameras that monitor the facility and my progress as I make my way from processing to the school building where my group meets. Each wall and fence I traverse is topped by a menacing crown of razor wire.

Yet even in this place of confinement there is freedom to be found.

Small birds of various sorts—sparrows, wrens and other songbirds—are common in the prison yard where they scour the ground for forage. Normally they would be vulnerable to the raptors that soar in the skies over open fields in search of prey, but these small birds flit about without fear. wire They dart in and out of the tight coils of concertina wire, lighting on the sharp points and edges that are designed to cut and rend and deter any ill-conceived plan to vault one’s way to the other side.

Within those twisted bands the birds find safety, comfort… refuge.

Although I’ve observed these birds for many years and marveled at the dichotomy they represent—rapturous freedom inside disconsolate prison walls—I’ve kept my thoughts to myself. After two hours I get to go home and enjoy my personal liberty as I see fit. The men I leave behind have forfeited that right. Where I’m able to appreciate the birds’ lack of concern for the boundaries, their carefree nature may be taunting to the inmates. I don’t know, nor am I willing to ask.

These thoughts come to mind as I contemplate the concept of perspective. I’m a creature of stubborn habit and at times I make it difficult for myself to see beyond the usual. Although I spend my days looking for creative ways to tell stories that might be difficult to tease out of the routine, in my own world seeing such opportunities is more often difficult, and always involves effort. But when I force myself to invest in that effort, the results are always worthwhile.