It’s funny but only fairly recently did I realise that every prison I’ve ever been in has predominantly housed a different kind of bird. They all have pigeons of course but in none of the prisons I’ve been in have they been in the greatest numbers.
I started my sentence at Feltham which was home to at least two dozen peacocks and peahens. As anyone who’s been there will know, they’re great to look at and watch but at six in the morning when they all start letting out their high pitched cries, they become the subject of a few shrill cries themselves.
At Stoke Heath the predominant residents were jackdaws and crows. It suited the place. The atmosphere was grim and everyone who ever came to see me there said they could feel it as they walked in. It was a place of darkness, without a doubt.
Warren Hill was within sight of the sea and home to many a nesting gull. Now I think about it this was probably the prison with the quietest birds. Gulls aren’t usually known for keeping schtum but I can’t remember being woken by them even once.
Swinfen Hall was built next to a hotel of the same name with a lake in its grounds so we often got a visit from various ducks. The most common ones were the mallards who actually nested in the prison, resulting in a parade of extremely cute ducklings every now and again. On one occasion they were all following mum along an interior fence, occasionally tripping and tumbling, when one tumbled under a gate in the fence and kept following from the other side for a good ten metres or so until it realised and started making a hell of a racket, all of the ducklings and mum too running back and forth until they found the gate again and were reunited, immediately calming and waddling off on parade again. All this happened outside my cell window and, as I sat watching, I remember thinking that if an officer saw they’d probably try to write the duckling up for trying to escape.
Frankland was all about the pigeons on the inside, but one of the teachers told me how there was an abundance of swallows that used to nest near the front gate and would swoop about, playing in the sky. I didn’t see them myself until my final week there when I was moved into the segregation unit and had a cell window from where I could watch them for hours on end doing exactly what the teacher had described to me. In many ways it felt like a goodbye display because I was transferred here to Wakefield just days later.
Here there are many pigeons too and at least one pigeon carcass shows up and is left to fester for a couple of weeks before being removed each month. However, my favourite birds here are the little grey wagtails and I’ve often seen one from my window, darting back and forth. What I didn’t realise until recently is how many there are here. When I recently moved into the segregation unit I was shocked to find that a flock of at least thirty or more wagtails congregated right outside at sunset every day to play in the razor wire making more noise between them than I ever thought them capable of. Most shocking, I had always thought that the only birds able to hover in one spot are hummingbirds, but no. Just a matter of weeks ago I watched the grey wagtails do it too.
Such things may not sound so amazing but it is surprising how a little taste of nature takes the edge off such an otherwise cold, concrete environment.