Many of you may have wondered what inmates eat (at least I have). We’ve seen them swallow crushed glass in the television series Oz, and be served used tampons in Orange is the New Black, but what do they actually consume?
Since every country has different prison-diet laws and requirements, let’s focus on the United States (as that’s clearly where all my TV show references come from).
All prison-food in the US is prepared with the blast-chill method, which –similarly to plane-food– allows a large number of meals to be prepared and then reheated. A typical meal usually includes three to four ounces of meat, a half-cup serving of vegetables, three-quarters of a cup of starch, three-quarters of a cup of salad with dressing, a bread item, a beverage and a dessert. While this may seem appropriate, there have been recent worries about a serious decline in prison food.
According to Crystal Jordan, a corrections officer at the Burlington Country Jail in New Jersey, “the big shift came in 2004 when the state got rid of the employees who worked in the kitchen and gave the food service contract to Aramark”. “The food was not great [earlier], but the officers ate it along with the prisoners. Once Aramark came in, that changed. The bread was stale. I saw food in the kitchen with mold on it [and] diarrhea and vomiting [became] common among the prisoners.” (via Truthdig).
According to Paul Modrowski –a prisoner in Statesville Prison in Crest Hill, Illinois– the food he is being served is very much getting worse with time. He writes in his “A Week of Prison Food” blog post, which was published on June 25th 2011, that “breakfast is always served in the middle of the night”, at “about 3am” and “prisoners are given a tiny flat biscuit, thrown into some distasteful soy gravy drool”. “We are never given eggs, butter or jelly anymore, and packs of sugar were taken away a long time ago”.
Families are no longer allowed to bring food to their relative behind bars during visits, but can still transfer money, which would allow the inmate to purchase snacks from the Prison Commissary, where fresh food is unfortunately absent.
This decline in prison food is made even clearer when present meals are compared to those served in the past. The notorious former San Francisco-based prison Alcatraz –which housed some of America’s most dangerous criminals– was curiously renowned for having the best food in the entire U.S prison system. Gourmet dishes included roast shoulder of pork with sage dressing, bacon jambalaya and baked meat croquette, to only name a few. Why were these inmates treated to, what they said resembled, dishes from a fine family restaurant? To keep the country’s most threatening and violent convicts happy, as to avoid a riot.
Alcatraz didn’t seem that bad after all.
Curious to get a taste? Why not try some prison cooking at home! Piper Kerman, author of Orange is The New Black– a memoir that recounts her time in prison– shares a common prison cheesecake recipe, which mixes coffee creamer, stolen margarine, vanilla pudding mix and lemon juice with graham crackers!