Jailbird request has officials all aflutter
9 June 2004 , HAMBURG - A prisoner in Germany has vowed to appeal to the highest court in the land after bureaucratic officials refused to budge on his request to have a budgerigar - calling a pet bird a potential security threat. The 55-year-old jailbird, serving a life sentence at Berlin's Tegel Prison on an armed robbery and murder conviction, says all he wants is a little feathered friend to provide some companionship. A budgie would be best. Green, preferably. Or blue. "A little bird would cheer me up
9 June 2004
HAMBURG - A prisoner in Germany has vowed to appeal to the highest court in the land after bureaucratic officials refused to budge on his request to have a budgerigar - calling a pet bird a potential security threat.
The 55-year-old jailbird, serving a life sentence at Berlin's Tegel Prison on an armed robbery and murder conviction, says all he wants is a little feathered friend to provide some companionship.
A budgie would be best. Green, preferably. Or blue.
"A little bird would cheer me up no end," the prisoner, identified only as Reinhold T., told a Berlin newspaper.
"They don't take up much room and I promise I'd look after it," he was quoted as saying. "I know the animal shelters are full of abandoned and unwanted budgies. Why can't I have one?"
He filed a formal request stating, "Authorization of a budgerigar can only serve to further my re-socialization."
And noting that he has served 20 years already, he added, "It would also help pass the time and ease my loneliness."
But officials at Tegel prison flatly rejected his request. Prison regulations strictly forbid inmates from having pets, according to Berliner Zeitung.
Reinhold appealed the decision to two courts, being turned down on both occasions. In the latest case, the Fifth Criminal Court issued a 10-page ruling saying a budgerigar could "pose a threat to security" at Tegel prison.
The court sided with prison authorities who pointed out that weapons or contraband could be smuggled into the prison inside packages of bird seed or that Reinhold could use the cage tray bottom to conceal hack saws or illicit drugs.
In addition, the judges ruled that the bird's chirping could constitute "an intolerable nuisance" to other inmates.
Finally, the judges said Reinhold has no reason to feel lonely. Tegel is Germany's largest correctional institution for men, with some 1,600 prisoners from 60 nations.
There are plenty of "opportunities for interaction of a social nature" with specimens of his own species without having to resort to avian creatures, the judges ruled. They noted that the prison has exemplary recreational facilities and sports activities.
Reinhold says that is beside the point and he intends to fight for his right to become the birdman of Tegel.
"It is well known that birds can be very beneficial for inmates," he says. "Everybody has heard of Robert Stroud, the 'Birdman of Alcatraz'. He was a lifer like me and he raised over 200 birds and became an authority on them, writing two books about canaries and their diseases."
He points out that other prisons in Germany have no such restrictions against pet ownership by inmates.
At Bavaria's Straubing Prison, for example, out of a prison population of 860, more than 100 inmates have caged birds.
"We've never had a problem related to inmates having pet birds," a Straubing official said. "And though some slip out of their cages and flutter about the corridors, not one has ever escaped the compound, I might add."
Reinhold says that if his attempts to have a bird at Tegel fail, he will seek transfer to another prison where pets are allowed.
One thing is for certain. The door will always be open on the cage of any bird he ever owns.
"Knowing how it feels to be locked away," he says, "I'll let the little fellow have free flight in my cell."
Subject: German news