Posts Tagged ‘Dumpster Diving’

This blog was initially posted at Firedoglake here.

Deep diving a dumpster in Seattle. (photo: sea turtle via Flickr)

This morning’s Over Easy is an addition to the first diary I ever posted at Firedoglake, with an update on our dumpster diving experiences during the holiday season.

WikiHow has an excellent article on dumpster diving technique, to which I only add: 1. Never dive a medical or hospital dumpster 2. Never dive a compacting or off-limits (ie, gated/not in the public domain) dumpster 3. Dive in quadrants. This way, you never have to throw anything outside of the dumpster in order to get at the contents at the bottom. 4. Double your configuration, like  a cave diver, and carry two of everything (flashlights, wire cutters, magnets), except your wallet or money, which you should not take with you, into a dumpster.

Scrap metal recycle prices vary a bit from one junkyard to the next. The money scrap metals are copper, brass, aluminum, and non-magnetic stainless steel; junkyards want your scrap load sorted prior to reaching the scale. January is the best month of the year for scrap metal divers (scrappers) because Christmas is now a disposable holiday. Post-holiday Christmas lights are abundant, for example.

I am a baby boomer, born in 1960. Christmas was sacred and magical for as many years as I can remember until recently. We hand-made many of our own ornaments (remember felt, glue, sequins and styrofoam?) and saved everything from year to year. My mother kept our precious ornaments in the same box, each carefully wrapped in newspaper and saved. We saved our bubble lights and ice cycles.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Christmas is manufactured overseas, sold in the Big-box, and disposable, including all ornaments, lights, fake trees, nativity sets, and gifts, toys and clothing. We are losing our craftsmanship and precise arts as quickly as the Arctic melts.

People begin shopping on Black Friday, and get a tree up shortly thereafter. Late November/early December dumpsters may deliver insulated copper in the form of last year’s lights that have been inexplicably replaced by this year’s model, a few fake trees and even Christmas wrap, tape, bows, ribbon, lace and tags, still new in packages as though people are actually afraid to use anything from last year, God forbid.

December 26 through the New Year are generally cardboard box days, and although cardboard brings $60.00/ton at recycle, cardboard transport is problematic without a modified truck bed.  After the first of the year, the land of dumpsters is most interesting and productive. Lights. Rejected presents,  New With Tags. Fully decorated trees. Appliances, if new gifts replace the old, and even furniture, again if old must be discarded to make way for new.  We have not been to the mall in years. Every appliance we have was retrieved, new, boxed, and never used, from dumpsters. Same with all of our furniture and all of our clothing. If you live in an area where people don’t take down their trees until February, you can vicariously celebrate the holidays for two or three straight months.


The year after I wrote this, our local recycle center reduced the cash payment for all Christmas light strings and other plug-in cords by sixty percent, causing many scrappers to discontinue retrieving cords in lieu of collecting bulk magnetic scrap metal.

Last year we exchanged our truck for a motorcycle and quit scrapping. Our most lucrative scrap dumpster was related to infrastructure, and when the company itself began to recycle and disallow scrap dumpster divers, we made a decision to give up scrapping.

We are now entering our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters. About 75% of our nutrition comes from dumpsters. We did observe what we believe to be an abundance of meat in the fall due to the sell-off of livestock during the exceptional drought season of the summer. We most often eat steamed vegetables and crock pot meals, with salads, abundant fresh fruit, and some sweets. We must purchase coffee and tea. We have been sick only one time, and that was after eating a fast-food meal inside a restaurant and not from a dumpster meal.

Our appliances, dishes, household items and many clothes now come from our own apartment complex dumpsters or curbs, during end-of-month move-outs. We are transitioning from diving due to great need to diving by choice, because we continue to believe strongly in the principles of reuse and living with less.

Years ago I began this strange, stigmatized hobby because of need, when I inadvertently discovered my real passion of looking for things that show sociological or historical trends and stories, so for me, the fun is in the urban archaeology. What media and social culture wants us to see is on the surface. If you want to know about the real world, look at what people throw away.


Northwest Cook: New reality cooking show starts with Dumpster diving

From Trash to Table: Austrian Activists Launch Freegan Cooking Show

Dumpster divers swoop in to grab $40,000 worth of pricy fresh food

photo by jasonbolonski under creative commons, flickr

Proverbs 6:6 HNV
Hebrew Names Version
Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise; Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

A lazy, sluggish person.
idler – lazybones – slacker – loafer – slug

For folks who do not know us, we self-describe as poor but not miserable. Like many others in America’s ninety-nine percent, we cope with ongoing issues associated with an economy in decline. We consider ourselves fortunate to have our health. Mason received his Medicare card today. I thought that meant that he has health care now, but there is no coverage for medication, so, you know. I suppose if he gets his head chopped off, he can go to the hospital. But whatever. We are happy to have that, at least.

Since November of 2010, we have been eating out of dumpsters. We quit scrapping for metal a while back, and our vehicles now are a motorcycle and two bicycles. We continue to eat well, and we have not been sick since we started dumpster-eating. ‘Our’ favorite food dumpster is dive-friendly, so it receives many visitors.

Yesterday’s dive was a near disaster, because when we rolled in on our motorcycle and parked, the chicken lady was already there. We’ve seen the chicken lady before, driving a long bed pickup truck, but this time, she had a van. We call her the chicken lady because she claims to dive this particular dumpster to feed her chickens, because it is so expensive to feed chickens. Of course, and the chicken lady admitted as much, chickens don’t care for the likes of huge bags of red potatoes and assorted working, boxed, new-with-tags kitchen appliances, but it is none of my concern, really, who eats what. Unless, that is, there is nothing left for our small backpacks.

Me: This is a disaster. It’s the chicken lady.

Him: Yup. And look. She’s got a van.

Me: She’s gonna fill that van like a bank robber. We’re not gonna eat tonight unless we do something.

Him: Like what?

Me: Park this thing. We’ll sit on the curb right next to the dumpster with our little backpacks and just, like, look pathetic.

So, that’s what we did. The chicken lady is really sweet, by the way, red-cheeked embarrassed, always explaining her hungry chicken situation, but I have to say, she puts seasoned dumpster divers to shame. She is extremely thorough, like that other guy I dive a different dumpster with who always shows up packing and gives away everything he collects to needy children. He does that, BTW, when he is not in Nashville, making his records. Turns out, he is a singer. I will not name him, but I say this only to put the lie to any dumpster diver stereotypes that MSM may want us to conjure in our wildest imagination.

What are we eating this summer? Well, I have stuffed myself sick with strawberries, for one thing. The rest of the list: apples, red onions, potatoes (red and bakers), cauliflower, broccoli, bagged organic salads, bread, hamburger,hamburger buns, thin-sliced steaks, London broil, stew meat, ground chicken (you have to be careful with poultry in the heat, but we got this still cold), top sirloin steaks, carrots, beefsteak tomatoes, oranges, cantaloupe, pears, zucchini and yellow squash, danish sticky buns with nuts, soda, hot dogs, hot dog buns, kielbasa,chips, salsa, cheese puffs, crackers, onion ring puffs and blueberries. Oh. And that to-die-for Fage Greek yogurt. I am almost sorry I found that yogurt because it is so unbelievably good that I now buy it when we have money. Better than sour cream, I could almost swear it is mislabeled sour cream.

What else? Well, garbage bags are expensive, even at the Dollar Store that isn’t really the Dollar Store. It is the Six Dollar Store. So, I visit a dumpster where donated items have been emptied from black bags, and I re-use the dry bags. The last time I was in a dumpster with my singer friend, I actually got, believe it or not, garbage bags, along with as many books as I could stuff into my backpack. As long as I am in confession mode, there is the toilet paper issue, which I would not mention but for a conversation we had with our neighbors (working poor) who mentioned occasional visits to a local fast food chain store that I won’t name, to get toilet paper. After our neighbor confessed, we also confessed, and learned, thankfully that we were sometimes visiting different places for this item of need, and it made me wonder how many ninety-niners are raiding the likes of local chains and big boxes for pockets of paper towel strips.

Driving home after one of these dives, we look like pregnant hippies: Mason has all this shit stuffed in his shirt- he drives- and I lift up his heavy pack and stuff more shit underneath it. Thank goodness for one of those, what do you call them? A sissy bar. Or else I’d be in the street, flat, with a pack full of fruit.

Yesterday, Mason unpacked his backpack and found an ant. He said, “We have to take this ant back to his dumpster. This is not his community. We have to take him back.”

“Put him in this jar,” I said. “I’ll put a snack in the jar with him and we’ll drive him back.”

But, the ant died in the jar, because it turns out there was some liquid, probably cleaning fluid, in the jar.

“Your ant died,” I reported to Mason. “And we’re both going to Hell. We are going to Burn. Like. Twigs. Right there in Hell, waiting in line at the AT&T store to fix our phone bill, in line for hundreds of years with the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Oh, yes. Hell. The both of us. With the length of Satan’s boot right up our asses.”

Mason was near tears.

So, today, when we picked up our apples and squash and hot dog buns and all, we were very careful to leave the ants, in their own community.

Dumpster Diving Items in the freezer
Everything in this freezer came from dumpsters. These meats include a large ham roast in the center middle aisle; we removed ice trays to make room.

Eating Out Of Dumpsters: This Year Compared To Last Year

Because site stats at my small website indicate continued interest in the subject of dumpster diving, I am writing this to inform the discussion by continuing to share some of our personal experiences.

We continue to observe a declining economy in our experiences with dumpster diving. Six or seven years ago, when I dove out of hobby more than need, I only told a few people what I was doing. Dumpster diving felt wrong, maybe not as wrong as robbing a bank, but at least as wrong as some good Southern sin like skipping church to watch football and covet the neighbor’s wife. Fast forward to 2012: we dive out of need, in the light of day, and we are not alone. Since even seasoned scrappers and dumpster divers are often reluctant to pick up food, I never thought I would see the day when there was great competition for discarded food in the United States, but that is exactly what we have observed.

Last year we joked about eating out of dumpsters and about how much we hate it when people actually put garbage into a dumpster. We asked ourselves why we had waited so long. This year, it is no longer a joke. Our competition is varied, clean and extremely thorough. We have directly observed people picking up food in the middle of the day, and we have varied our routine and reduced our food choices accordingly.

It is now harder to find thrown away fruits, vegetables, and grain products, and we believe that we are observing the direct effects of unemployment as well as…struggles. Not everyone who picks up food, and this includes ourselves, is technically below the poverty level, believe it or not. No one appears disheveled or otherwise compromised, and in some cases, people drive high-end vehicles to dive dumpsters. We believe that we share with a good many others, what one might call ‘borderline.’

Borderline is a hop-skip-and-jump thin grey line between making it, or getting by, versus totally falling apart. One does not have to be technically poor to be borderline. I suspect that a good many people with money are one flat tire and a ten minute half-life away from absolutely losing it. There is no security, no assurance, no sense anymore in this country today that we will somehow work hard and do better than our parents did before us. Borderline people thank goodness for their health and pray that no one gets sick. Borderline people dive dumpsters. They are you, me, the neighbor, the grocery store manager, the person walking next to you. This is what America looks like to us, today.

We began writing about dumpster diving with full awareness that there may be increased competition, and in fact, we quit scrapping all together because the scrap we collected was no longer sufficient to cover gas prices, which were, in the end, higher than God. A motorcycle fixed our gas problem, and there are days when I still see mouth-watering scrap, like that gigantic Shop-Vac I saw the other day, and had to just, like, leave it there in the trash. Who throws away a Shop Vac? Who does that? I’ll tell you who. It is people who cannot afford to move anything when they relocate. People are less and less able to move their things. This is yet another sad, direct observation, more noticeable this year than last year. People who are less and less able to move their things when they relocate are you, me, and us. Dumpsters are a great leveler. There is no talk of right, left, rich, or poor at a dumpster. We are there because of what we have in common.

Here are some things that I have collected from dumpsters, that people have left behind. Everything in this picture, including the glass cabinet that the display is on, was abandoned by somebody and has a history, with one exception: The blue purse hanging on the vintage mirror to the right was a gift from my son:

Dumpster Diving odds and ends

There is a lot that is not in this picture. I only show, for example, a small jar full of a giant seashell collection that I cannot bear to send to the landfill. I suspect that many of the items may have been abandoned because, for whatever reason, it was too painful to keep them.

One last miscellaneous observation has to do with the climate. It must be twenty five degrees warmer this year than it was last year. This has reduced our laundry costs. I used to dress in layers, and I went through an outfit a day. Last February, I got frostbite to my hands, and was unable to do much of anything for several weeks. This year, I honestly cannot remember wearing layers or even much more than a jacket. There was a brief period of long sleeves but that was it. This February brought the songs of frogs.

PS: Some might argue that it is the banks, and not the robbers, doing the robbing.

Some of you may have already seen some of the things I have found in dumpsters. For those who have not, here are a few photos from past dives:

quilt from dumpster

angel from the dumpster

Stuffed ape with fruits (scrap recycle in background):
Ape and fruits from dumpster

Fruits, vegetables on dumpster chair, in dumpster basket, with dumpster drape:
Dumpster fruits and vegetables

Porcelain doll in perfect condition, with certificate of authenticity (doll has stamp on back of her neck as well):
Porcelain dumpster doll

Protective clothing (massonbennu on flickr is Mason, my husband):
The dumpster delivers.

Jars, new, in sealed boxes from the factory:
jars from  a dumpster

I will make an effort to share more photos of dumpster finds in the future- interesting and beautiful things!

In a country where nearly forty million daily struggle to get enough food, millions of meals are literally being wasted.

Lost Calories: US trashes $ 1 Bln worth of food (per year, which constitutes 30-50% of produced food)

Please watch this 2 1/2-minute Russia Today clip, which discuses America’s throw away culture even as poverty rises, and features New York and Los Angeles dumpster divers:

Out of the dumpster at 2 PM and into the crock pot at 2:30 PM

This morning for breakfast I had a delicious egg white omelette sandwich, an apple, and coffee. For lunch I ate lean turkey Italian sausage. For dinner, I just finished some delicious leftover crock pot beef stew with sweet onions, spices and red potatoes, that started with Italian salad with caesar dressing. Later on, for desert, I am planning to eat some great big strawberries, because they are in season early due to the unseasonably mild non-climate climate change.

Everything was served on stoneware and eaten with flatware from dumpsters. The coffee brewed in a coffeepot from the dumpster, and currently, in the crock pot, also from a dumpster, is a ham roast so large that even with halving it and trimming it, the lid does not quite fit. After breakfast, I switched from coffee to iced tea; the two drinks I mention here are the only consumable items we purchased. The tea and coffee are always served, of course, in dumpster cups and glasses. Everything else came from the trash. Sometimes for fun, we pull out china and silver plated dinnerware, also from dumpsters, and eat off that.

The ham roast was pulled from the dumpster at 2 PM, and placed into the crock pot at 2:30 PM. We will put the pot on low, and begin eating the roast tomorrow.

To search for the YouTube video from Russia today, I used a back lit gaming keyboard called a Razer Lycosa, in perfect condition, from a dumpster. The keyboard retails or EBays for $79.99 USD. Then, I listened to the clip with padded Phillips headphones with volume control on the cord, Model SHP 2500, also from a dumpster.

We were beginning to worry. Competition for dumpster food is on the increase as it was with scrapping, which, as you know we quit because the gas was too expensive and the competition for scrap too stiff. By the way, we are saving a fortune in gas on this motorcycle. We do not miss the truck at all.

We know for sure that we have one major new competitor and probably more, at one of our food dumpsters, and while we welcome others who are poor and just now discovering America’s throw away culture, I will say this: These guys are really good at it. They take everything but the echo from the dumpster. That is not really that cool, as dumpster etiquette goes, but the new competition is clean, and I am sure that over time, they will take only what they need.

Still, we needed a plan. We looked at the dumpster early to get a look at the baseline, and then basically posted up. Then, a while later, we hit it pretty hard for a dive. Still, we left plenty, and, of course, just like hikers, we left the area cleaner than it was when we got there, which was clean to begin with.

The other guys are neat and tidy as well, but they leave little forensic telltale signs of their presence, such as leaving the side door slightly ajar, which we never do.

While I am aware that folks often skip the videos in posts, I hope you see the one above from Russia Today, because I will add a couple of comments regarding the dumpster diving. Our experiences are pretty consistent, but one thing I notice especially is the gigantic industry that Big Meat really is. I do not care for the cruelty behind the Big Meat blood empire; just today my mother emailed me from The Humane Society yet another egg production cruelty investigation. These cruelty investigation documentary films are elephant films for me, and I cannot watch them because they break my heart.

If we had money, we would likely not eat meat or poultry, but at the same time, in an odd sort of way and being poor, I feel as if ethically driven to keep these items from going to waste in the landfill. All of our eggs, cartoned egg whites and meat, as well as most dairy, including that to-die-for Greek yogurt, therefore, come from the trash, except for the occasional half gallon of whole milk, because believe it or not, I still drink milk.

On those same green lines and since we only have backpack room, we avoid plastic bags at the retailers we do visit. Early on, someone called the police when I carried a backpack into the store, so we usually leave our backpacks outside and carry items with receipt out of the store to the awaiting packs. Where retailers know us, we take the packs in, but it is not necessary, because there is so little crime in this area, and the way I see it, if someone steals my back pack or his, which both came from dumpsters, the person needs the pack more than we do.

For novice dumpster divers reading, our experience is that we keep a very close eye on food in the warmer months. We smell-test everything, but we have had to discard little, one of the items being something that we purchased inside a store. This has worked well for nearly a year and a half now. We have not been sick. In fact, we are sick less now than we ever were when we had money (excepting my migraines, which are not bacterial or viral). The exception is poultry. Poultry does not keep at all, for some reason, so we usually leave it.

That said, our freezer is so full that I had to remove ice trays to get everything in, and our refrigerator is equally full, such that we keep an eye on the thermometer, because we may still have to abandon some items to their original destiny at the landfill.

Hostages Trapped Inside Walmart Insisting They Never Shop At Walmart:

Each morning, Mason and I drink coffee and read the news. We do not have TV, and turn on the radio only when we leave, so that our parrot can listen to music. The news is so depressing that I want to jam a pen as far into my eyeballs as I can. After much heated discussion, I decided to share my dumpster diving fail story for a little comic relief.

I have one phobia and one passion. The other day, March 2, they met each other.

I am tornado phobic. This is not a light thing, it is absolutely terrifying, and I have had recurring, almost nightly nightmares about tornadoes since I was five or so, and I think it was related to an incident where a tornado passed over our home in Sedalia, Missouri. I awoke in my father’s arms; he was carrying me to the basement, and I remember hearing a train, only there was no train nearby. I have the nightmares so often that I now just mention them in passing, “I had another one last night. Again.”

We live in Western Kentucky, as you know, and the area is often under tornado watch during tornado season, which I consider to be every single day of the year, so for this and various other reasons, I live in terror much of the time.

Since we have moved here, my phobia has evolved into a sick fascination that I do not really understand, but for example, I follow all the weather people and storm chasers, and I read all the FEMA stuff and watch all the twister videos, and I have adopted a strict fatalistic belief that if a tornado touches down, you are fucked.

I think that hiding in your apartment bathroom is exactly as effective as hiding under the school desk with your head between your knees in the event of global thermonuclear war, like they told us to do in the sixties. What a load. We actually did drills, back in the day. To my utter horror, my son told me that not only is he not afraid of tornadoes, he would like to see one, and after much discussion I even decided that seeing one might be interesting, if it was really far away.

By the way, FEMA says, hold on, let me get this because it’s counter intuitive…Do not get under a freeway overpass during a tornado. Here is FEMA: Their first bit of information is a massive understatement: “The following are facts about tornadoes:

They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.”

So there’s the phobia.

Then comes the passion. I love dumpster diving and looking for junk. You guys probably know where this is going. Mason and I were at a dumpster on tornado day. Yes. And we had just a ridiculous philosophical argument about life and death right there at the box. At the time, there was just a little light rain, nothing more. Remember, we have no TV, so I had not seen any warnings, but he had. He had seen the warnings on his computer weather bug, which, for some odd reason, I had ignored.

“This is serious,” he says. “This right here. I’m not kidding. It’s everything you are afraid of, and it’s coming at sixty-five miles an hour.”

“Uh-huh, okay,” I say. “And if it touches down right here, I’ll die doing something that I love doing. Have you seen those drapes? They’re beautiful.”

“I am not messing with you. This thing is really dangerous. I swear. I’m taking cover.”

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. This box, that bathroom, none of it matters and we won’t be having this conversation if the thing touches. There is one safe place in this town. The hospital basement. And we don’t have time to get there. End of story. Come on, son.”

“I’m not gonna die with you in a goddamned dumpster. I’m outa here.”

“Enjoy your Darwin bathroom!”

And with that, Mason was gone.

When a natural disaster hits, there is some sort of animal instinct that takes over and tells you exactly what it is, I think, because this is what I learned from the LA earthquake in ’94. BOOM!! And you go, “Shit, that’s an earthquake.”

Well, this tornado did not touch down here, but it passed over, quickly and violently as tornadoes do, and it started with a similar BOOM, where it slammed the door of the dumpster so hard you would have thought a bomb dropped. This was about the same time as the sirens. As I was running through the hail back to find Mason, the animal instinct kicked in and I found myself oddly looking for ‘it,’ like “Where is it?” But then, I remembered a couple of things, like they can be invisible or rain-wrapped or whatever. Others were not so fortunate on that fateful day, where the tornado outbreak was deadly.

Here is FEMA, what to do during a tornado:

A sponsor once told me, “Don’t do anything you think of.” I think she was right on that one.

The deadly EF-4 Henryville, Indiana tornado of March 2, 2012. Absolutely terrifying, my heart goes out to victims of these tornadoes.

” In a special post-speech analysis, panelists discuss what America did to make President Obama so angry he was actually spitting while he yelled at us”

Have a look, and I mean seriously, for these Onion people to keep a straight face during this thing, they must consume enough Valium to be higher than God.

teaser: “Mitch McConnell, you can eat my balls'”

Several events led to us getting a motorcycle:

Competition for scrap borders on the insane; I know people who work through the entire night, to get a ‘leg up’ on daytime scrappers. We often spend as little as fifteen minutes at a dumpster, because others are also waiting for a chance to junk and scrap. We met a man in a thrift store, an antique shop owner, who was culling the store for books for his shop. I was too selfish to tell him about my secret library- the dumpster, which is way better than the store.

The 1994 reconstructed Dodge Ram pickup truck was costing us, in the end, a dollar a mile to operate. The transmission was stuck in first gear for the most part, the suspension springie thingies sounded like loud people who had just fought, and then, to save the marriage decided to fuck, furiously, on loud, rusty bed springs as people tend to do sometimes (I am sure no one here the Lake at has ever done that though), so every time you turned the steering wheel a loud, bedspringing noise sounded. Also, seveal fan belts were frayed and making different noises: ‘a-squeal, a squeal- a fling fling-squeak.’ One time we were driving down the road and the brake cable simply ruptured, and so the there was this violent suck-suck noise as the last drops of brake fluid were pumped out of the brake fluid container in a futile attempt to stop the vehicle. The grill, I absolutely kid you not was held on with dollar-store zip ties, because one time, when we parked at the dollar store to get some oil for the constantly leaking oil, the front grill simply fell off, with a clang, onto the parking lot Only it is not really the dollar store. It is the six dollar store. But that is another story.

Believe it or not, we were easily able to replace our truck/carbon producing money pit with a Honda Shadow that we absolutely love. So, we only scrap locally in our dumpsters within walking distance, and we still eat out of dumpsters. By the way, in the more than a year that we have been dumpster eating, we have never been sick, and the only thing that was bad that I had to return was a package of cottage cheese- that I bought from the store!

At this point, I would like to re-post something I wrote a while back called What It Is Like To Be In A Community, because when I returned to MyFDL after my manic hiatus, I noticed some interesting group dynamics. I guess that one thing I learned when I was is prison is that sometimes things just ain’t that serious, so here is a little metaphor (I like the sharks especially) to ponder:

A while back, I blogged What It Is Like To Live In A Community on Firedoglake/MyFDL.

I actually wrote the essay while I was in prison.

I have always been fascinated with groups. Anything more than two people, I think, is enough to formulate a group. I find group dynamics most interesting. In women’s prison, the group is a group of people in nearly constant crisis. Inmates have been separated abruptly from everything that once defined them, and they become a faceless number. A criminal outcast, whose life is forever divided into two parts: the before and the after. This division is sometimes compounded when a family member, a child in particular, dies on the outside. I saw this happen, more than once.

Incarceration is akin to being psychologically raped. I have always been a loner for the most part, and being forced to live with women was like being forced to befriend a group of feral cats. Still, I had hope that the members of the group could recognize their commonality rather than their differences, and work together toward a common goal of redefining the second half of their lives to incorporate the prison experience in a positive, rather than a negative way.

The key, I think, is in forgiveness, and in letting go of resentments. For me, this is a work in progress, or, as they say in the recovery program, “progress not perfection.”

What It Is Like To Live In A Community

A community is like a boat. Everyone must grab an oar and row. Otherwise, the boat just sits in the water.

Some people have oars, but their oars are not quite in the water, so it is really good to help them, to find their oar and get it into the water.

Sometimes half of the people are working really hard, and rowing forward, while the other half is working really hard to row backward, or sideways. In this case, the boat does not go anywhere; it just zigs and zags and circles and sits, attracting attention from other boats in the sea, who look and point and laugh and laugh. So it is really good to try and be sure that everyone rows in the same direction.

Sometimes people get tired and mad, and they throw their oars, so you have to be really careful and duck. Otherwise, an airborne oar could chop your head off, and your head would flop and splat across the deck, and slip and slide and splash into the water, where the hungry sharks are waiting, to tear your head to bits and eat it.

Other times, people may get to fighting over their oars, and they say things like: Your oar is ugly, or Yours has holes and so does your mama, or Well, your mama’s so fat she plays pool with the planets, or You don’t even have an oar, do you, or You do you and I’ll do me, or Who’s the bitch that stole my motherfuckin’ oar.

And then they all start fighting and beating the living crap out of each other with their oars, and throwing each other overboard, where the hungry sharks are waiting, to tear them to bits and eat them.

People might fall in love and forget to row altogether. So they sneak in and out of portholes, and up and down the ladders at the back of the boat all hours of the night, and write notes to each other, and set up meetings. Since no one is really rowing, to speak of, the boat goes nowhere. It just rocks and rocks and rocks, and the hungry sharks laugh and laugh because they know that sooner or later a couple of lovers will fight, as they always do, and someone will get tossed overboard, for the sharks to tear them to bits and eat them.

It is good to have a nautical chart. Otherwise, the boat will get lost, and people will try to jump off and swim, but they don’t stand a chance, because the sharks will tear them to bits and eat them, and stuff themselves, then sink to the bottom of the ocean and sleep.

One day, when everyone is rowing in the same direction and following the chart, the boat will be the envy of all the seas. Other boats will notice that everyone is tan and healthy, and they will never know that there was a time when its occupants were beating the living crap out of each other and turning each other into shark food.

People on the boat will notice a whole new world out there, and they will say, we don’t have to stop at that little piece of land after all, because we can row to the land of our dreams!