Nature for the Nature Deprived
For those of us incarcerated persons who were avid outdoorsmen in our former lives, being locked-up is especially irksome. It’s not that I miss it; it is almost like I have forgotten how to enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes, even reading a fishing article hurts. I used to go fishing and camping every weekend there was not ice on the roads, and going from that to nothing is more than a shock—it is like a big empty place was put in my chest and left to collect cobwebs and echo through the rest of my life.
So, I look for nature where I can find it. I report for work in the furniture factory at four o’ clock in the morning. The lights of Houston do not dim the stars nearly as much as the floodlights here at the unit. I haven’t seen more than three or four stars at night in a dozen years. Every morning, I search the skies for my “spy satellites.” Venus sits high enough over the buildings right now that she can be seen each morning.
She is a pretty jewel, set just for my wonder in the sky. I find myself craning my neck around once every morning for the twenty-six steps out of doors that it takes to get from the warehouse to the factory during our turnout, looking for a glimpse of my jewels—a few major stars, planets, and the glorious moon in its phases. They are my special little slices of nature, and I carry them with me all day. I point them out to my fellow inmates: “There’s my spy satellite. It’s put up there by Major League Baseball,” I quip, pointing to a planet.
Little chance do we get to enjoy nature. The rec yard is basketball, handball, and weights, with a running track of dirt and a few tufts of grass here and there in the margins. We really don’t get the chance to walk through the grass barefoot. I wouldn’t want to go barefoot on the recreation yard, for you never know what you might step in. It is the little things that mean so much to an inmate. We have very little we can call our own. Two sacks of property represent our lives. For many of us, what we have is all we have in the world anymore. Our world is concrete, steel, and red brick, and we must take nature where we can find it. Getting the chance to grow a plant, see the sky or water, or wiggle one’s toes in the grass, are special occurrences. The lengths we will go for our own slice of nature are unusual, indeed. One fellow I know in the hoe squad jumps in the water and goes swimming any time they lead him near. He could get shot for that, attempted escape. I’ve seen people do some strange things for their slice.
The saying goes that having a gecko in your cell is good luck, that he’ll eat the bugs. Well, it would be, if the inmates could leave him alone! But so many of the inmates are like little children—they have been locked-up all of their lives, and they never had the chance to grow up. They will play with the poor little guy, trying to catch him. Of course, his tail is lost in the process, and wriggles there on the floor. They will drop him, give him a concussion, ad nauseam. It’s not very lucky for the gecko.
But, we take what we can get, watching the moon wax full, then wane, drifting by on its nocturnal course, out of our steel-latticed windows above the $2 million worth of concertina wire strung, of all places, across the tops of the buildings. Some “good old boy” sure got rich off of that one. There’s nowhere to go, up on the roof, unless that spy satellite comes down to swoop someone up. Ah, Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Take me away to your lovely sisters: Cybele, Persephone, Deineter, and Nymphs, lost in my dreams.