Field Trip to the Birdcage


“Damn! You look good, girl!”

“Yeah, but shake that ass!”

“C’mon up here, baby. I got somethin’ for ya!”

The misogynistic exclamations came out in frantic staccato bursts, one on top of another from all directions. Many of them included much more lewd and graphic descriptions of just how exactly how the individual intended to abuse one of the young students. Before long it devolved into yelps, hoots, and nonsensical sounds to create a cacophony of pseudo sexual excitement. I was disturbed, perplexed, and fascinated.

Just Another Day

There isn’t much to do in the Birdcage. I was staying there on a temporary court writ, so I had none of my property with me. No books, no TV. The only ways to pass the waking hours were to read whatever scraps of books or magazines that had been left behind by a previous occupant, or to talk to one’s cellie. The latter option usually got old very quickly. For me there tended to be a lot of napping and wandering aimlessly through my own mind. It was during one of my semiconscious daydream dozes that I was interrupted by the sudden eruption of voices. Desperate for any kind of distraction or entertainment, I pressed my face to the perforated steel door and gawked along with everyone else.

Field Trip

Forty feet below me a group of children was being led by a lieutenant and sergeant with a couple of adult civilian chaperones bringing up the rear. When I say “children”, I mean just that—ranging in approximate age from twelve to sixteen years of age. Rather than being in school they had been brought to prison for a more hands on education.


As far as a scared straight program goes, I believe that this was fairly effective. The Birdcage is an enormous circular structure consisting of four tiers housing hundreds of men. The sheer size of is terrifying, and made even more so by the knowledge that it is holding the encaged rage and frustration of violent criminals; men with the potentiality to erupt without notice or preamble.

I had been incarcerated in several different facilities, for nearly four years, but it wasn’t until I set foot in the Birdcage that I had a wholly visceral and fully frightening sense that I was in PRISON. This experience for me had only been a few days previous, so I could very easily imagine the degree of bewilderment and physical terror that these kids must have been feeling. My fellow inmates weren’t quite so sympathetic or understanding.


There appeared to be some silent contract negotiated in which, unbeknownst to me, the men in cages agreed to behave like the penned wild animals that the public at large assumes us all to be. The decibel level in the place tripled. Threats of rape, sodomy, murder were hurled by faceless men, many of whom had siblings, children, or even grandchildren the same age as these visitors. Howls and monosyllabic angry grunts filled the confined space with a crescendo that rattled through my body and felt like mass insanity. No matter what the circumstances or intent, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would agree to voluntarily there son or daughter to such savagery.

Deepest Fear  

Once the field trip had been hurried away the volume gradually decreased and returned to its usual eardrum thumping level. Everyone seemed to settle into various discussions revolving around the visiting schoolchildren. It was easily the most interesting thing to happen in months. I retreated into myself and wondered what kind of monsters I was surrounded by. And I worried that I might become one.


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