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Winter scene of a Canada Goose standing alone on the snow covered frozen marsh
Photo by CH-0001 on Depositphotos

A prank gone wrong resulted in the deaths of six Canada geese on Jan. 2, 2023, on the grounds of Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, a low security prison in Littleton, Colorado.

The culprit faces possible federal charges after admitting to prison authorities that he willfully fed powerful painkillers that inmates call “brown bombers” to six of the institution’s resident birds. He said he thought it was funny.

Canada geese routinely winter in Colorado and visit FCI Englewood because the facility offers them both safety from predators and sustenance. Soft-hearted men incarcerated there squirrel away rolls and other pieces of food for the fearless fowl that will nab them straight from the men’s fingers.

At about 9 p.m. that Monday, Englewood’s evening count time, several geese were found dead with the rest in their final death throes. I personally witnessed several struggle to hold their heads up, walking and generally flopping around like fish out of water.

One inmate told me the drug dehydrated the birds even as they tried to swallow enough of the still-falling snow to survive.

At about 9:30 p.m., two witnesses came forward with information about the man responsible for feeding the birds painkillers, and he was taken for questioning, along with his accusers.

Upon returning from questioning, one of the men said authorities said they weren’t going to throw anyone in the special housing unit for killing some birds, pending the warden’s approval. He also said if anyone hurt the guilty man, he’d lock down the entire compound.

During a trip to fetch some ice water, I heard several people grumbling about this, including one of the witnesses. “We need to lay hands and feet on him,” the man said.

Nearly all of the 200 residents in the culprit’s housing unit huddled together in small groups, talking among themselves and looking on. Around 11 p.m. the man in question returned to the unit. Guarded by men from his 10-man cube, he packed up his belongings and left the unit under escort.

The bodies of the migratory birds which lay in the upper compound outside the housing units, chow hall and administration building, were left overnight. There was some dispute among residents over whether or not the birds were protected by federal law and what penalties, if any, might be imposed for their deaths. Authorities removed the dead birds from the compound by 8 a.m., and reportedly resettled the accused in one of the western housing units.

Everywhere I went the following morning, the alleged crime dominated conversations among people in custody, who expressed feelings of regret and anger. The accused had been spared any violent retaliation, but his disciplinary fate remained unknown. 

I and many others now mourn the geese’s senseless deaths. Many of us have come to think of our resident geese — all of them hatched here — as wild pets, something that takes the rough edges off an otherwise unpleasant place. 

The geese came here seeking safety and something to eat. What they found was a lesson: Nowhere is truly safe. The geese who evaded poisoning must have sensed their peers’ deaths, as one man told me, for they were absent by daybreak the next day. How I wished I could have gone with them.

Some did return later in the day, but I had no way of knowing if any of them were survivors of the previous day’s attack.

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.

Daniel K. Talburt is a former journalist and has written two science fiction novels, “Destination Unknown” and “Dead In Space.” He is incarcerated in Colorado.