“Food, For Thought”

Food, in prison is not only a source of sustenance. It is also a thriving industry, a hobby, a way to pass time, as well as something to talk about, complain about and be thankful for.

Food is – other than the color of our clothes and the same confined habitat – the one thing we, as prisoners, all have in common.

I have written before about the food here and – while not great – it is edible and plentiful enough for its primary purpose, which is to keep us alive.

The typewritten menus, which are provided weekly in the units, often make the items being served sound much better than they actually are, but then again, that is very true of many menus in many restaurants (not that one would ever mistake a prison dining facility for a restaurant).

Consider the following items: Chicken Parmesan, Baked Meatloaf, Chef’s Salad, Chicken Fajitas, Beef Tostada, Turkey Pot Pie, Steak and Cheese Subs. . .


My mouth is watering and my stomach rumbling just writing the items down and I’m quite sure I know what delectable images were conjured up in your minds as your read the list.

Well – you can get those images out of your head right now!

But that is all I will mention about the quality, or lack thereof, of what we eat because I am thankful for what we do get.  I also feel strongly that everyone else should be as well, and we all should be ashamed and embarrassed at the amount of food that goes into the dumpster following every meal.

You have no earthly idea. None.  There should be a homeless camp outside the gates of every prison in the country. I’m sure we could feed tens of thousands of people daily.

Life in prison seems to revolve around the dining hall and the next meal.  I’ll be mopping up a spill and someone will pass me with a full tray on their way to sit down and eat and they will ask me what we’re having for the next meal.

If you’ve been a bad boy – or are a self-surrender like I was – and you find yourself in the “S.H.U.”, I can tell you that the passing of time is measured by the meals you get.  You look forward to dinner because then it will be time to go to bed, whereupon you can then look forward to getting up and eating breakfast,  which you can think about what it is going be for lunch, after which you can pass the time waiting for dinner . . . and on, and on to infinity and beyond (at least until they send you back to general population).

Even in the general population, the different meals like mileage markers on the highway of your prison sentence.  Some people actually mark the time by the number of ‘Burger Days’ – Wednesdays – ‘til they get out.  But for the most part the next meal just brings you closer to the end of another day which brings you closer to home.

As I mentioned earlier, food is also a thriving industry in prison, and a major part of the underground economy.  Take milk, for example. Well, ok. . . the inmates will take the milk, but I would like you to consider milk for a moment.  Our milk comes in 8 oz plastic containers that – now that I think of it – remind me of pictures I have seen of breast implants.  Kind of gives a new meaning to the question “Got Milk?” doesn’t it?

I digress.  Of course,  a pouch of milk will “sell” in the units for one stamp. Postage Stamps are currency in all prison everywhere. I won’t go into too much detail about all of that, you’re just going to have to trust me. Yes, ME, a convicted felon.  Everyone knows what a stamp costs, so you might say “that’s not much for a ½ pint of milk”.   Of course, the average inmate probably makes about 12 cents an hour.   Take how much you make per hour and multiply it times 3 or 3½ .  Pretty expensive milk now, huh?  Darn stuff costs almost as much as real breast implants!

Many food items are “trucked” back into the housing units daily.  I would think the taxpayer is losing many hundreds of dollars per day in the game of tug-of-war.

Chicken leg quarters, apples, oranges, bananas, onions, pepper, tortillas, cereal, pork chops, sliced turkey, cheese, and on and on and on.  . .

For the record, I do not participate on this since I didn’t come here to hone my criminal skills.  I also have a fear of the S.H.U and get nervous if I have a couple of salt or sweet n’ low packets in my pocket.  It is impossible to exist her and not see, however.

And like the song says, “These rules were made for breakin’”.

Food can be – and is – a hobby for some. For many the hobby is in merely “cooking” back in the unit to avoid having to the sameness in the dining hall. In fact, some of the things that are made are quite creative considering we only have hot water and a microwave.

You can ‘Google’ “prison recipes” and find many examples of what I mean. I have seen some of the end results first hand and I am impressed. I have seen – and tasted – excellent burritos, soup, ‘apple pie’ and even ‘cheesecakes’ that are made from powdered non-dairy coffee creamer. Pretty impressive stuff, for sure and some of the guys can tie up a microwave for a loooong time.

Food is also a hobby in another way – for me, anyway. I collect recipes.  My friend Pete made me a notebook from 3 pads of white unlined paper about 4” wide and 7” long. He removed the cardboard backing and used one piece each for the front and back cover.

They are bound together with a plastic spiral that is attached with a special tool in the library that first perforates the top edge. I peruse newspapers and magazines that circulate through the unit and if I see something that looks worthwhile, I clip it and tape to one of the pages.

The title on the front cover:  “Thoughts about food – things I want to try when I have a kitchen again Cookbook”.  Laugh if you will, but I live for the day I can try “Bisteca Tagliata” (slightly Americanized).  Which is a Tuscan rib eye, sliced and served over arugula with maybe some walnut-studded dark chocolate brownies or a slice of Kahlua Cheesecake for dessert.

Or, for the holiday season, how about some peppermint Whoopie Pies? Yum!  My mom used to make Whoopie Pies, God bless her.

Get back here, Woman!

I have many other mouth-watering recipes too, like asparagus with orange Hollandaise sauce, and appetizers like pancetta wrapped scallops, sweet sausage and bacon bits, and a baked green chile and artichoke dip.

Men’s Fitness, Reader’s Digest, The Guidepost, Dallas Morning News, the Des Moines Register, Better Homes and Garden, Family Circle – these are all good sources.

The way I look at it, the more I do to project myself positively into the future, the more positive I am that I will have one.

No matter what the angle, food plays an important part in the day-to-day lives of inmates above and beyond the simple act of eating,

A little something to think about.

Bon Appétit!

2 thoughts on ““Food, For Thought”

  1. Diane

    Philippians 4:11-12 (New International Version, ©2010)
    I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.


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