Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bearing Bad Weather

Last Friday night, June 21, the Twin Cities saw some nasty-ass weather. No tornadoes or anything, but straight line winds and flash-floody rain. Thousands still don't have power -- nearly a week after the storm. Random trees and branches are scattered throughout the city.

Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis
after Jun 21, 2013, storms.

So what does this have to do with prison camp? Because last June, almost to the day, I was at FPC Duluth during the storm that caused the worst flooding on record in northeast Minnesota. 

Built on a hill above Lake Superior, where the St. Louis River, along with numerous smaller streams, empty into the lake, Duluth received almost 10" of rain over a two-day period. That is bad.

According to the Washington Post, "Massive flooding swept throughout the region. The floodwaters submerged two-thirds of the Lake Superior Zoo, drowning 11 animals. MSNBC reported: 'All but one of the zoo’s barnyard animals died, zoo spokeswoman Keely Johnson said in a statement earlier. That included the zoo’s donkey, goats and sheep'” The Associated Press said workers safely recovered two seals and a polar bear which had escaped."
A June 20, 2012, storm caused the worst flooding in Duluth,
Minn.'s history.
Unlike the zoo animals, those of us living in the faux-natural habitat of FPC Duluth were pretty much fine. Wet. But okay. That's because the camp is situated on high ground, next to the airport. The rain was so hard that they recalled the compound to the dorms at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night and didn't reopen it until 2:30 p.m. the next day. We lost power in the dorm for a short time during the night, and the PA system in our unit shorted out.

It started with an electronic hiss that keyed with each fat drop of rain. It was Wednesday night by the time they cut power to the PA all together. The had rain stopped, too. The obtrusive silence was broken only by breathing inmates and a slight breeze rustling the trees -- no AC, so windows are open -- in the dark, amber-lit air. I had to pee.

I climbed down from the bunk and slipped on my shower shoes, walked the dozen or so steps down the hall from room 214 to the bathroom, which was shrouded in shadow -- only the auxiliary light in the shower room was on. But I could see my way to the urinal by the light coming in from the compound through the window's broken screen.

I exhaled, savoring the relief of my relaxing bladder; finished, shook and flushed. I washed my hands and stepped to the window, surveying the compound grass in the 3 a.m. dark. The rusty red of the nextdoor commissary building was washed to an amber gray by the streetlights scattered throughout the camp. Behind the commissary, a bright white light shone from the door of the compound officer's station. All the lights were out in 211 and 210, the wide dip of law between the units reflecting the pale orange of halogen lamps. A polar bear.

A polar bear.

A polar bear glided silently, one giant paw in front of the other, its snout swinging vaguely left side to right, across the dewy grassblades. As it approached the sidewalk between unit 211 and the commissary, the bear stopped and turned its head, aiming his gaze up the length of his snout, targeting me. I sucked in a sharp breath and pressed an open palm and my forehead against the screen, as if waving goodbye through a bus window, trying to get a better look.

The bear turned away and quickened his pace as he pawed off behind the admin building, past the Special Housing Unit -- the SHU, or "hole" -- and not 20 feet from the open compound office door, disappearing down the hill toward the visiting center.

I stood there in the quiet bathroom. Water dripping echoed off the tile walls and floor. The image of the white (amber in the light) bear on the dark compound, burned in my mind like a retinal spot after a a camera flash. I waited until I was convinced the bear wasn't coming back. Then I walked to back to the room.

I was distracted as I climbed up to my rack, shaking the frame. Kou, my bunkie, started awake: "Jonas..."

"I saw a polar bear."

"Mmmm." He rolled over and went back to sleep.

Berlin, the Lake Superior Zoo's polar bear, escaped
during the June, 2012, floods.

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