"Birds love marijuana."
Those were the first words I ever heard coming out of the mouth of Dr.
Sitting in a theater-style classroom, I stared in wonder at this little
woman who couldn't have been more than five feet tall, and who was
about four feet around, with out of control dyed red hair, tomato red
lipstick, obviously applied when she was not wearing the coke-bottle
thick glasses that kept sliding down her nose.
Jackie Bowles was the reason I became a criminologist. She and the
class Deviance and Social Control changed my life. During that class,
Jackie taught us about carney cons and scams, unions for prostitutes,
cross dressers, transsexuals, sado-masochistic hanging which enhanced
sexual pleasure and carnival geeks - men who bit the heads off small
animals for money - in short - every kind and variety of deviant
behavior that could be talked about in a classroom, and probably some
that shouldn't have been talked about in a classroom.
I later learned that Jackie Bowles grew up, pampered and privileged,
in a prominent Atlanta family. In response, she ran away at the age of
sixteen with Don Bowles - a carney huckster and magician. They traveled
across the country, Jackie doubling as a fortune teller and a helper in
Don's magic act.
Sometimes,when things weren't going especially well with the magic act
or the audience, i.e., they were throwing things at the stage and
feeling as if they had been robbed, Don would set up some especially
impressive and mysterious sounding feat, turn off all the lights, and he
and Jackie would put everything they could get in the back of their
station wagon. They were betting that the disgruntled audience would
wait for the trick long enough for them to get out of town.
So, by the time Jackie Bowles stood in front of me in that classroom,
she knew about every kind of deviance imaginable, and seemed to regard
them all with equal fascination and delight. The weird side of life was
definitely where Dr. Jackie Bowles was at home.
During that the term, I became convinced that it was where I belonged
as well. I could identify with inmates, homeless geeks, and cross
dressers. It was middle aged men in business suits I had a problem
with, and I knew even then, I didn't want to spend the rest of my life
No, I wanted to be around people like Jackie Bowles. People who had
run off the rails, broken the rules, been on a side of life that most
people never even glimpsed. It just suited me.
I had never then, and have never now met an institution I could
respect, and the more I am around "normal" people, as society regards
them, the less well I am able to understand them. Course, it's not like
they exactly identify with me, either.
The last time I ran into Jackie, she was spending all her time sitting
in a lawn chair just outside Atlanta.
"Doing what?" I asked.
"Virgin spotting." She replied.
"What?" I asked.
"Virgin spotting." Haven't you heard, there's been a virgin sighting
just outside town."
She was just as excited telling me about this as she had been telling
us about birds and marijuana over thirty years ago. "There's thousands
of people." She said, squinting up at me and pushing her glasses back
up on her nose. "They just stand there, for hours at the time, waiting
for the blessed Virgin to appear. It's fascinating, just fascinating."
That little woman changed my life, and I've never regretted it. It's
provided me with over twenty-five years of constantly changing
entertaining work - from visiting prisons and jails all over Mexico, to
lecturing about drug police in Colombia while listening to gunfire in
the background - interviewing prison inmates in Scotland, and
classifying pedophiles in the South Pacific, even to the Criminal
Conspiracies Division of the Justice Department.
I may have been tired, I may have been stressed, but never bored.
The deal, by the way, with birds and marijuana was that, as Jackie
said: Birds love marijuana, and it makes them sing, but at some point,
manufacturers were prevented from putting marijuana in bird seed, and
consequently birds don't sing with as much interest and abandon as they
Now, I ask you. Who but Jackie Bowles would know that?