Don’t Feed The Birds

By Mike Powers

Some of you may recall one of Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic films, "The Birds", which features mesmerizing scenes of enormous flocks of birds that begin violently attacking their human prey. I've come to believe in the last couple of days that Lt. Trahan, an exemplary officer of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, must have not only seen this classic movie when he was a lad, but also been severely traumatized by it. (And when I say "exemplary", I don't mean diligent or, or praise-worthy, I simply mean that his behavior is typical of a TDCJ officer.)

What would cause me to have this suspicion, you may ask? Let me tell you. There are two staples of every lunch or dinner meal you will ever be served if incarcerated in a Texas state prison: beans and bread. The beans will always be pinto, black, or black-eyed peas. The bread will always be sliced loaf bread or a piece of cornbread.

You might recall that I am trying to watch my weight as I prepare to reenter civilized society, and part of my program has been to cut out all the bread products on my food trays. Nevertheless, because the "diet" trays come from the kitchen without us having any input in their preparation, I get all the bread they serve. Since none of my fellow inmates ever want it, I've a custom, like many of my erstwhile associates in white, to crumple it up in my hand and carry it out to feed the wildlife, read that the birds.

It may be wishful thinking, but I've grown to believe that the birds even recognize me apart from some of the other inmates due to the frequency with which they get fed out of my hand. I like to "play" with them by tearing off little chunks and throwing them out a, bit at a time while the birds race to get to the next bite. It also deeply amuses me when one of the little sparrows (I GUESS they're sparrows; I know virtually nothing about ornithology except that fancy name) gets to the bread before the big, black ones (crows?) and darts off with his supper. Also, I am by no means the only one who feeds the birds, which is probably why there are so many and they stick around as they do.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I came out of the chow hall yesterday with two pieces of sugar-laden white bread squashed in my hands, started my circuitous journey back to the building, and threw several chunks to some of the birds and heard, from a distance of fifty yards, "Hey!" That was all that was yelled, and since I was at the head of a group of fifteen individuals, and we were not the only group on the walk, I paid it no mind. Especially since my name isn't "Hey". Our group had proceeded on, and we were about halfway to the dorm when the inmate behind me said, "Here he comes, Powers." "Here WHO comes?" I asked as visions of Clint Eastwood and "Alzatraz" danced in my head. "That lieutenant Lt. Trahan."

I confess that I wasn't too moved by that, since I hadn't done anything wrong or at least as I perceived as wrong. And to better understand what happened next, you need to have a good picture of Lt. Trahan in your mind. First, I'm pretty sure he's one of the Nigerians, which, if you've been reading these stories long enough, will tell you every- thing you need to know about the rest of the conversation.

I say "pretty sure", because I've never heard the man string together a whole sentence, and what he does say is usually intelligible. That suggests to me a problem with English, but it could simply be a problem with communication that erupted in his youth after a horrific viewing of "The Birds". In any event, in seven months on this hell-hole unit, I have never seen this man smile or even make an approachable countenance. Moreover, the total extent of our prior dialogue consisted of my trying to tell him about a problem with one of our showers and his reply, "Use another." (Technically, with the implied "you" in the command, I guess it WAS a whole sentence.) This man's whole demeanor screams bitterness and rage, and frankly, I just don't have time for people like that in my life right now, so avoidance was my general strategy where he was concerned.

Not yesterday! Lt. Trahan intercepted me about fifty yards from my door and said, "Where do you stay?" I replied, "In I-wing." "That's your answer!" he cried. "Is THAT your answer?" Quite flummoxed at his evident rage, I said, "Well, I stay in 1-106 bottom." "You steal bread out of the chow hall and throw it to the birds?" It was a question, but he didn't ask it. It was an accusation made in a tone of voice that suggested that I had just ordered the death of a million innocent children in Russian gulags. "Uh, no sir.  They GIVE us the bread. I didn't steal it." "If you brought it out of the chow hall, it's stolen. You didn't bring the rest of the tray out, did you?" What could I possibly say to this unassailable logic? Oh yeah, "Well, I ATE the rest of the food, sir." Cutting me off, he shouted, "You STOLE the food, and I'm going to see what ELSE you steal." With this, he ran ahead of my group into the building, slamming the door shut before the rest of us could enter.

Sure enough, when we arrived, he was ransacking my house, desperately searching for something I'd stolen. Sadly, for him, I suppose, he wouldn't find anything. I just don't keep contraband like that. So, of course, he "made" some by taking a bunch of stuff we're totally allowed to have.

Now listen, folks, in this time of crisis, isn't it nice that the most terrible thing this idiot had to worry about was bird food? I mean, Wuhan Flu aside, it's a good day on a TDCJ unit when the worst thing going on is bread crumbs. I survived the ordeal with flying colors, but today, as I left the chow boll, I heard an ominous, '"HEY" chased a second later be the flapping of bird wings. Poor fellow.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez