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Pigeon flying in the sky
Photo illustration by Jillian Wesner. Source credit Unsplash

One morning in May, while leaving my building for roll call, I heard a ruffling behind me. I turned my head and saw an injured male pigeon lying on its stomach, just on the other side of the metal fence.

The pigeon was struggling. At first glance, it seemed as though he was trying to get a red-tailed hawk off his back. 

As I approached the fence for a closer look, I noticed that it wasn’t a hawk standing on the pigeon’s back, but another pigeon, almost twice the size of the one beneath him. The large pigeon was standing on the smaller pigeon’s back, plucking away at his feathers.


I had never seen a pigeon attack another pigeon like this, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt obligated to walk closer to the fence for a better look. 

I wondered if the gun tower correctional officer (CO) on the opposite side of the yard was watching me, getting ready to order me away from the fence.

At the fence line, I saw a flock of pigeons beyond the barbed wire, hopping around as if they were trying to encourage the big pigeon to get off the injured one.

I was growing nervous that the CO on the gun tower would yell at me, so I turned and left. 

Later that day, I stopped by the law library window for some legal research and met my legal buddy, Ali. He let me take notes from his legal manual. 

While I was writing, I saw the same pigeon from earlier. 

He was lying on his belly, several yards from where I was sitting. Near him, what appeared to be his female partner was pacing back and forth anxiously. I decided to ignore the scene and continued with my legal notes.

Several minutes later, the injured pigeon took off, quickly rising about 14 feet above the ground before flying headfirst into the building wall. He fell straight down and landed with a loud thud.

Inmates rushed to the pigeon’s aid. One inmate gave the bird water and rubbed cream on its lower back. 

I wanted to run over and see if the bird was OK, but I didn’t want to be distracted from my notes. 

As soon as I finished and thanked Ali for his help, I walked over to the injured pigeon, picked him up and carried him back to my cell. The female pigeon was still pacing back and forth when the male pigeon hit the wall and fell to the ground. 

I felt guilty for taking the male pigeon away from his loyal partner, especially since pigeons stay in monogamous relationships until death does them part. That said, I might have felt more guilty letting her see him die before her eyes. 

Back in my cell, I placed a towel inside a cardboard box and set the pigeon down. I named him Peter. 

I gave Peter food and water. He was in really bad shape. The left side of his wing was damaged and tattered. His lower back had several feathers missing, and I could see what looked like lacerations.

Peter stood still with his eyes closed. He remained that way every time I checked on him.

At about four in the morning the following day, I opened up the cardboard box to discover Peter lying with his head down as if he was a desk lamp that had been tipped over. 

I felt around Peter’s neck and noticed a gash with dry blood underneath his feathers. 

If I was a trained veterinarian, maybe I could have saved him. Even though his presence was fleeting, it had been deeply felt. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Tue Kha is a writer incarcerated in California. He is working on a novel titled "Kormic."