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The Animals Issue

I'm Busted

“I had a black widow before. I kept it in a cheese bottle. I cut holes in it and taped down a little box it could crawl in and it just spun the web.”
Seth Ferranti
Κείμενο Seth Ferranti

At FCI Gilmer, in the hills of West Virginia, a flock of wild geese lands in the yard every morning to eat bugs in the grass. They leave goose shit all over the yard. There’s also a dude who prisoners call the Birdman at Gilmer. Unlike his namesake, the Birdman of Alcatraz, he doesn’t keep birds as pets. He just watches them. He sits in the yard rain or shine off in a corner watching the birds fly to and from freedom. “I’m college-educated,” he offers. “I’ve discovered several different types of avian species and wrote about them in bird journals.” Like anyone gives a fuck.


“That dude’s crazy,” another convict named TC says, and then recalls how one time he and his homeboys were watching two little blackbirds having a battle royale. “They were vicious, man. I got a chill watching these two little birds peck at each other. Neither one would back down, It was ugly, you know. A crowd was gathering, even the CO was watching, and then the motherfucking birdman comes and separates the little birds and takes one away. Can you believe that shit?”

You see other animals in prison. TC claims he saw wildcats at Fort Dix and FCI Fairton. “Dudes would be putting bowls of milk out for them and shit.” Another convict, T, says that Fairton had skunks running around on the compound, too. “This one crazy compound orderly from Philly called Vinny would be chasing them around with his broom trying to swat them. Dude was nuts. What if the fucking skunk sprayed his ass?” TC laughs. “In Fort Dix they had big groundhogs that got so fat because all the prisoners fed them. They’d come right up to us like a begging dog. There were rumors floating around the prison that the Chinese prisoners would kill them, cook them in microwaves, and eat them.”

A lot of prisoners keep pets. Barry, a convict from the Appalachian Mountains doing time in Gilmer, says, “I had a black widow before. I kept it in a cheese bottle. I cut holes in it and taped down a little box it could crawl in and it just spun the web.” Prisoners like the spectacle and the companionship of keeping a pet. “The black widow ate moths, flies, and other spiders. I would catch them on the yard and put ’em in there and it would pounce on them. I had it several weeks before it escaped,” Barry says with a manic grin. “My bunkie was scared as shit when I told him it escaped. He thought he was gonna get bit. I’ve had wolf spiders, too. It takes them a pretty long while to eat. All they do is suck the shit out of the bugs I put in there.”

At FCI Manchester, in Kentucky, dudes used to keep praying mantises in their cells. They would fight them like pitbulls and place bets. Another prisoner there, named Dink, kept a fruit bat. “I called him Ozzy,” he says. “You know why I called him that. I found him on the other side of B-dorm and kept him in my cell. I fed him bugs and shit. Ozzy was real little,” Dink says. “He’d nibble on you but he couldn’t break your skin. He would hang off the light or the vent and fly around the cell. I took a mesh bag and tied it up under my bunk and Ozzy would walk around on it. Looked cool as fuck.” Dink goes on. “I had a snake back in the state pen. A big black snake. I called him George. He lived in my locker. I fed him field mice and other little snakes. I found him on the road squad. He was like four feet long and he would leave messy shit all in my locker. The mice would come out all dried-up and whole, but shitty.” Nasty, but that’s the price you pay if you want to keep a pet in prison.


Seth has a blog now. Jesus, the whole planet has them. Check his at