Late summer, southeastern Alaska: there is a pause in the rain. In the morning, steam rises from the rocks and a few clams squirt up from the sand. The hummingbirds do not swarm the flowers but single females seem to hover high above a group of blossoms then dive down suddenly. The fireweed have almost blossomed to the very top. The apple leaves are at their darkest green. Lettuce and kale are growing in the gardens, and the rhubarb is beginning to fade. The salmon gather off the mouths of the streams and soon they will start their push upstream, while the bears get in trouble down town drawn inevitably by the smell of food from garbage cans, and open windows, barbeques, and campsites. Omnivores will have their appetites, and those appetites will sometimes get them killed.
I talk to my friend in jail every week day. His hand is healing, he finished his nearly 800 page book of stories from his particular native tribe of which he is particularly proud. An expert witness who testified in his legal proceeding sent him several books. He was able to receive the books only after he agreed to donate them to either the Prison Library or the Native Culture Club. He will give them to the Culture Club because he is currently the Secretary/ Treasurer. He says it is warm where he is, in the upper seventies but he stayed inside because he has a hall inspection tomorrow. He was enthusiastic about this because if his hall wins the inspection again everyone on the hall gets ten dollars of commissary food, which is apparently a very good thing because the food at this institution is not as good as some of the others, though my friend is not one to complain, ever. He says the inspections are thorough but very fair. He says his cellie is a good man, very quiet and private, who does not like or allow other people to come into their room. This is fine with my friend who likes it this way too. My friend does not know what his cellie is in prison for or for how long and he does not intend to ask. My friend intends to “do his own time”.
Here is a question for the department of law: what percentage of native Alaskan males are under conditions of court ordered probation or under the direct supervision of the Department of Corrections? I bet the number would be shocking. My friend tells me that when men are released into certain large bush communities they are given immunity from the provision from the law that says they are not to associate with felons because more than eighty percent of the men in these communities are already felons. The emphasis is mine. He was just mentioning it off handedly after talking to a man who had been given that immunity.
I do not know what the answer is. I think my friend will make it out of the system all right he will pay for his crime and he will be haunted by the consequences all his life but… so be it. He is young and he is strong. Others are not, and prison certainly does not help, and coming out into a community that may be close to one hundred percent convicts? One hundred percent under the supervision of the State DOC? One hundred percent of the fathers, brothers, cousins, role models, having to be searched, having to pee in a cup, having to go back to jail for owning a gun, or texting the wrong person the wrong bit of information? What is this world? What does this teach the young people who we have worked so hard to just choose respect? I do not know what the answer is but something is not right in Alaska.
Just one hummingbird
zigzagging above blossoms