Working with the Oregon Spotted Frog

Introduction by SPP Frog and Turtle Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom.  Blog by SPP Frog and Turtle Program Inmate Technician, Mr. Anglemyer.

Mr. Anglemyer, the author of the following blog, is one of the inmate technicians for the Sustainability in Prisons Project’s Frog and Turtle Program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Each technician brings unique skills to the program. We like to provide opportunities for all of the technicians to develop the skills they have in addition to learning new ones. Anglemyer is an aspiring journalist and expressed interest in writing about his experience with the frogs and turtles. The following blog is Anglemyer’s first piece. Although dark at times, I think he provides an interesting and important perspective to consider. It has given me insight into how working with an endangered species can stimulate deeper thoughts and self-reflection and how some aspects of the program may be improved by providing the technicians with more hopeful information for the future of the frogs and our world.

Rearing OSF Tadpoles at CCCC

Taking care of Oregon Spotted Frog [OSF] tadpoles is fairly easy…yet, stressful. It’s easy because the tadpoles pretty much take care of themselves. All we have to do is keep them supplied with food and clean water. The stress factor comes in the form of “unknowns” and “what if’s”. The “unknowns” are only a factor because of our lack of experience. When I say “we” and “our”, I’m speaking of me and my co-worker. We’re both prisoners at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, and neither one of us had ever heard of the Oregon Spotted Frog before we started working with them. The “what if’s” are: What if we make a mistake somehow, and they all die? What if we don’t make a mistake and they all die? What if it is thought that we were neglectful, incompetent, or even malicious?

Mr. Anglemyer holding an Oregon spotted frog. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

I have no rational reason to have any of these fears. The staff at the prison and the people connected to the program have been helpful and supportive. They give us clear instructions and everything we need to carry them out. Furthermore, these fears are my own. My co-worker does not share them. I’ve always been a bit of a worrywart—it’s been a rough go. Once bitten, twice shy and all that jive. Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong) has been a constant companion in a large part of my life.

On top of all that, taking care of an endangered species engenders deeper and darker thoughts concerning mortality. Not just the existence and mortality of the animals under my charge, but of the entire species, and my own species as well. If the OSF is doomed, aren’t we all doomed? On a long enough timeline everything and everyone is doomed. Frogs, people, even our planet and solar system will one day be gone. If that were not the case, life would be bland and meaningless. Please don’t regard me as some type of banal armchair (or in my case, steel cot) philosopher for expressing these sentiments. I’m fully aware that these thoughts and feelings are not new and original. Since the first caveman contemplated his own navel, people have struggled with these notions. In the past, present, and future people have and will continue to ponder this stuff, until…well, until…there’s no one left to ponder anything (think about Buddhist teachings on impermanence, and Shelley’s poem Ozymandias). All I’m trying to relay is that working so close to a species that is close to the brink of extinction magnifies these feelings.

Now enough with the heavy stuff, apart from the above stresses, fears, and existential baggage, working with the Oregon Spotted Frogs is extremely rewarding. It’s the most interesting thing that I’ve taken part in in the last decade—and I’ve only been in prison for half that last decade. In that last half decade, I’ve been relegated to necessary yet menial work; I spent three years mopping a top tier at Coyote Ridge. So working with endangered animals is a new and stimulating change. Watching the tadpoles change into frogs and documenting these changes, studying conservation biology, working with people from an educational, rather than, a correctional setting is a great experience. I’ve been exposed to critters that I would’ve only read about. Caring for them connects me to them in a way that reading about them alone would not. And through this connection to these creatures I’m connected in a larger way to the plight of all the other species that will soon no longer be because of my and my species affinity, no, not affinity, rather addiction to strip malls and track housing.

And the great hope that can be taken from the existence of programs like these in the prison sphere, an area of society that is traditionally punitive and reactionary, is that maybe the pendulum is swinging towards a more compassionate world.

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