Photo illustration by Teresa Tauchi. Source photo by Jacques LE HENAFF on Unsplash.

After spending the last three weeks in administrative segregation, also known as the Hole, I had become immune to the constant yelling, complaining and cell door banging. 

Guys would yell out for things like toilet paper. They’d call out about improper treatment, to be let out, and most commonly, they would swear. I could normally block it all out. However, what I heard that morning got me off my bunk and looking out the small rectangular window in my cell door, secured with a plexiglas flap.

“CO, get the bird out of my room, cell 581!” someone was calling out to the corrections officer (CO) and the yelling echoed throughout the wing.

I had seen the small brownish sparrow in the wing. The front door to the housing unit was normally left open to allow airflow into the stagnant environment and the bird flew throughout this massive area that holds 156 inmates. 

By then, at the end of May, Midwestern humidity had begun to show its oppression. Birds would accidentally fly in and get stuck in the main rotunda area where the COs were stationed. 

At the top of the wall was a gap where the trapped birds could find some semi-freedom in one of the four wings of the housing unit. 

I felt blessed to see that little guy. Not only was he fun to watch through my small window, he brought something natural into an unnatural environment.

The bird would swoop around the wing and land to find scraps of food on the floor. Some of the men would throw out pieces of bread to help out our winged mascot. 

At the base of each gray steel cell door was a five-inch gap to allow trash removal, sheet exchange, and to shove the meal tray out when finished. Otherwise, you were locked in the 9-by-12-foot cell, 24 hours a day, until released back into the prison general population.

This little guy must have landed, hopped under a cell door and become an unwelcome surprise.

It took the COs about 10 minutes to respond to the cries for help. The threat must have been confirmed because the two men in cell 581 were handcuffed and escorted to a holding cell. Their cell door was left open to allow the jailbird to escape. After about 30 minutes, the threat had apparently come to an end, and the two tough guys were escorted back to their cell as the entire wing erupted in laughter and lighthearted jibes.

In my time confined to the Hole, this was the first instance of joy that I experienced. The little feathered friend that is a natural part of our Missouri ecosystem made his way into the cell of a couple of bad boys and forced them out. 

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Shon Pernice

Shon Pernice is a contributing writer, a veteran and a Kansas City native, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medic and came home with traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He is incarcerated at Moberly Correctional Center in Missouri, serving a sentence for murder. He hopes everyone can learn from his experience. He has been published in Veterans Voices, The Beat Within and Military Magazine, and he is a contributing author to the book, "Helping Ourselves By Helping Others: An Incarcerated Men's Survival Guide".