By: Christina J. Johns




RA File

"Birds love marijuana."

Those were the first words I ever heard coming out of the mouth of Dr. Jackie Bowles.

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 around them.

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 used to.

Now, I ask you. Who but Jackie Bowles would know that?

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