On my second day here at Grendon, sitting in my friend Ray’s cell (all names are changed on this site), I looked out of the window, across the small wing exercise yard and through the yard fence just ten metres away or so, to a large area of grass. There, for the first time in nearly two decades I saw a rabbit.
I had to wonder how a rabbit could get into a prison like Grendon. From what I’ve heard, the fences are buried too deep for it to tunnel under.
It is possible that it slipped under the front gate, but what are the odds? Then, from nowhere, another one appeared, accompanied by no less than three little baby rabbits. They were tiny and they couldn’t sit still, jumping back and forth and running around, chasing each other.
“They have a warren here,” said Ray. “The entrance is over there by the bins,” he pointed to a small brick but shading a pile of black bin liners on one side.
I sat and watched as those bunnies played under the late afternoon sun for at least an hour, and then I got my second surprise.
On the far side of the grass, around a hundred metres away, where the prison fence rises from the ground and blocks out the horizon, was a fox.
I always loved foxes, especially as a kid. But when I spotted it I prayed that it wouldn’t spot the rabbits. So far it hadn’t, it was just trotting past along the fence line from right to left, ignoring the world around him. A good thing too since, when I returned my gaze to the bunnies, it was clear that none of them had noticed the threat.
The two adults were sprawled out on the grass, legs pointing in every direction of the compass, just bathing in the glow of the sun. I think I identified with one of the babies in that it seemed shy, and so I immediately came to the conclusion that he was a boy. He hung back by his mother’s side, occasionally jumping at an insect in the air but never straying beyond a few meters away even as the other two set off exploring. They were taking it in turns to run backwards and forwards along the other side of the exercise yard’s wire mesh fence. Eventually the one in the lead found a gate in the fence and rolled under it before running over to the pub garden style table and hiding behind one of the legs. Meanwhile, the other baby stood up on hind legs with a bemused expression. It took a full minute before it found its way under the gate and then started to slowly explore the yard. I determined that the rabbit under the table, though smaller, was clearly the sharper of the two and, therefore, was probably the only female of the litter, having learned quickly to use her superior wits to overcome her smaller size.
Her brother started by first circumventing the tarmac walking area, and then climbing a gravelled slope, slaloming his way up between the plants and shrubs that grew out of it until, at the top he stood up on his hind legs and took a good look about. Spotting his sister, he let rip, racing back down the slope towards her and chasing her around the table leg in a repeated circle until, at last, she ran so fast that she came right up behind him and started chasing him off instead, crossing the tarmac and diving back under the gate to the other side in a blur. But then they stopped. Suddenly they were still and the little brother they’d left behind with mum and dad froze too.
This time they spotted the threat before me and I only noticed as the distinctive shadow of a Red Kite flew directly overhead.
Either it wasn’t hungry, or it was paying no attention because, without so much as a single glance down, the Kite flew straight past the rabbits and beyond the prison fence until it was completely out of view.
A few days later I saw it again. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether it was the same one but, either way, this time I was at my own window as the Kite engaged an entire flock of crows in a dogfight. At least, that was how it seemed at first.
They were no more than a dozen metres from my cell window, and I could just see them over the top of some of the branches of my silver birch (yes, already I have claimed ownership of the tree outside my window!). They were diving and swooping and then flapping and soaring, and repeating it again and again and, to begin with, I thought the Kite was hunting the crows. However, as I watched a little longer I noticed that it was the Kite attempting to avoid the crows, not the other way around. They were chasing him. And then I realised why.
As the Kite put a bit of space between it and the crows it bent its head right down and raised its talons up to its beak, tearing at something it had in its grasp. There was no way that it would have stolen the crows’ lunch, but suddenly it occurred to me that what it was eating was most likely to be a baby crow that it had snatched either from the nest or from one of its first forays into the sky. The crows were attacking it in a desperate attempt to save their young.
I have written before about how every prison I have been in has presented me with another new experience with watching birds. Already Grendon has lived up to the tradition.
However, whilst every other prison I have been to has been defined by a single species of bird, Grendon has raised the bar significantly. Not only have they introduced rabbits and foxes too, the birds are far from limited in their variety. Since being here I have already seen Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtails, Wood Pigeons, Jackdaws, Crows, Magpies, Red Kites, and even a solitary Robin.
I am spoilt for nature here, and I feel blessed for it too. There is no doubt that the therapy here is going to be intense at times, however, at least I have my very own nature show to relax in front of when I’m feeling tense.