One of the advantages to being incarcerated in a Federal Prison Camp, as opposed to a more secure institution, is that we usually have the freedom to go outside when we want. And one of the advantages of being a puppy trainer is that Freddy and I get to walk all over the campus. Puppies need their walks, so we get to enjoy the flora and the fauna of central Texas, weather permitting, every day.

We experienced thousands of young Monarch butterflies earlier this year passing through on their way to Mexico. With the warmer weather, birds have suddenly reappeared. There are Mallards, Barn Swallows, Killdeer, Mourning Doves, and Purple Martins everywhere.

Freddy, being a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix puppy, is fascinated by every one. He quickly learned the word "bird."

Mockingbirds are not the friendliest birds, and Freddy and I recently encountered one sitting on a fence. To my surprise, it didn't fly away as we approached, so we sat and listened. What we heard was more than a song. It was an entire jazz playlist of endlessly improvised melodies changing every few seconds. There were cat sounds, dog sounds, sirens from different countries around the world, and every bird sound imaginable, a cover that continued without pause. I had never been 6 feet away from and eye-to-eye with a Mockingbird, and I'm still surprised it allowed Freddy and me a front row seat to the concert. Finally it flew away, and we waited for an encore that never happened. Disappointed, but not disappointed at all, we continued our walk.

For the last 34 months of my 44 months of captivity, I've ended each day trying to re-enjoy 3 encounters from the day, to squeeze a little more joy from them and to be thankful for them. Some days, there are only 1 or 2, but most days there are at least 3. That night the Mockingbird was at the top of the list. And that day was right at the end of one of those periods that come around every 6 weeks or so when I despise everything about this place, particularly myself for making this place possible for me. I can usually write my way out of the despair. This time listening worked much better.

Thank God for Mockingbirds.