Stale Food, Shakespeare, and Sochi


I think it is important to remember that if you treat an inmate with disrespect, demean them, feed them food a supermarket would reject; you are slowly tearing them down while establishing control and compliance. However, inmates have a right to feel their feelings which may include anger, depression and despair. I often reflect on my wife commenting on the stale date food in commercial packaging, used to prepare meals in the federal camp where she did time. Please know that I am not a foodie, not a bleeding heart liberal, not a right wing extremist, nor a political activist. I would rate my cooking skills at a 3 out of 10 and I have the smoke billowing out of my microwave stories to back it up, unfortunately.

Where am I going with this? Many Americans will watch the Olympics in Sochi this week, observing wrenching heartache and stunning inspiring victories, all with finely tuned athletes going for the gold, literally. For many months I have wondered how you maintain hope, health and a semblance of dignity when you are “Fed” marginal food day after day. As an inmate, you obviously have little control and few pleasures; it is punishment for the crime committed. I get it. But acceptable food could be something to really look forward to, it might reduce despair, rage, acting out, improve compliance and morale in a prison setting, ultimately reducing recidivism. Treat a person like an animal they’ll act like an animal.

A BOP person could say, hey pal, you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. We’re under relentless crushing pressure to make the budget, save you the taxpayer money. We’ve got a Federal deficit in case you don’t know it and we run a facility with very unhappy people in it. We’re trying to avoid another riot like Attica; which way do you want to go here, higher taxes, lower taxes, Attica? They’re right. I don’t know what it’s like running a prison, what it’s like being an inmate or being a good cook for that matter. However, I am a taxpayer and I do know what an inmate, who happens to be my wife, went through while being federally incarcerated for 23 months. She happens to be smart and very knowledgeable about food. I also happen to know that we have an exorbitant percentage of people behind prison bars in this nation and many of those inmates ultimately will be released as damaged cargo. Why they may stand right next to you in the subway car during rush hour tonight, be your next cab driver, or eat next to you in MacDonald’s. As Shakespeare once said, in some play somewhere; “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” I couldn’t stand Shakespeare but that actually makes sense.

OK, since I don’t know what I am talking about when it comes to prison food issues, how about this 8/20/13 blog titled The BLT: The Blog of legal Times: Bureau of Prisons Settles Food Poisoning Suits. In this case, related to bad chicken in a Federal prison, the blog notes: “Prison officials in 2011 initially told the local newspaper, the Wayne Independent, there was no truth in the rumors of food poisoning, but later medical tests proved the presence of salmonella. It is well known there was a food poisoning and the staff here attempted to cover it up as well as cover up the fact that they did not give the proper medical treatment to everyone that became ill, alleged one inmate, Timothy Daniels.” Interestingly, an average claim of $1,750 was paid to 90 inmates, a result of suits filed in US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Hmmm.

In closing, before I am slammed with the “you do the crime you do the time, get over it, this isn’t Club Fed” knee jerk rebuttal, I have a couple of suggestions. I think it would be interesting to research the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 and see how the FDA rules impact the Federal Prison food system, which feeds in excess of 100,000 people three times a day; “Preventing problems before they cause harm is not only common sense, it is the key to food safety in the 21st century. We cannot afford to wait until people become ill to realize there is a problem,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. Wouldn’t it be ironic if a government agency was breaking the law while feeding those incarcerated for breaking the law. So how about this, if the Bureau of Prisons announces the date of a facility inspection ahead of time, then everybody has a chance to have everything spit polish on inspection day, right? What about regular random unannounced visits by a squad of well trained Federal inspectors with serious clout and sterling credentials; “Good morning Warden, we’re with the BOP also, we’d like to see your kitchen, food storage, infirmary and med storage areas as soon as possible. Of course without disrupting the secure and orderly conduct of your institution, today works for us.” Maybe they are doing it, who knows? The results might be surprising and credible. But I’m Fed up with all this, how about you?

Bottom line, if you have a loved one behind the wire, especially if it is a spouse, there is a role to be played minimizing the impact of incarceration. Hope, dignity and relationships can be sustained with the following: sending money for their commissary account is critical, visit regularly, write regularly, have a set schedule for 15 minute phone calls, use Corr-Link Email if they’re Federal, and make decisions about the future together despite distance involved. If you want your relationship to prevail despite prison, keep your head in the game with your spouse, pray don’t stray, plan for the future together, stay well fed spiritually and literally. Most everybody else won’t have a clue what you’re going through, it is what it is.

There is more to life than the Olympics. We’re talking about your future, your spouse’s future, your family’s future. Go for the gold.

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  1. I think this post is spot on. You are absolutely right in saying, “many of those inmates ultimately will be released as damaged cargo. Why they may stand right next to you in the subway car during rush hour tonight, be your next cab driver, or eat next to you in McDonald’s”.

    The questions that keep surfacing for me are: 1) What are our objectives with incarceration? Are they to release a prisoner with the skills and mindset to become a productive, contributing and compassionate member of society? I would argue that with today’s current system of prisoner neglect, abuse and maltreatment we are creating the conditions for exactly the opposite. Is it any wonder that our recidivism rates are so high?

    In any other area of business or other endeavor, the results achieved by our prison systems today would be viewed as an absolute failure. The CEO and Board of Directors would be sacked, and the business reorganized. We need to take a hard look at our objectives, and match those to the methods which are proven to achieve them.

    Let’s face it – the only reason our prison systems are allowed to operate as they are today is due to secrecy and a lack of oversight and accountability. Much of what takes place in prisons today would not survive in the light of full transparency. When those who are supposed to enforce the laws instead make a practice of flouting and breaking the law, they undermine the respect and credibility of the very institutions they are sworn to uphold. We cannot afford to continue to surrender the moral high ground which should serve as the very foundation of our justice system.

    And when we provide direct financial incentives to private companies (CCA) based on increasing the number of inmates vs. reducing recidivism, we should not be surprised that our prison population and costs continue to spiral out of control. As one of my corporate mentors once told me, “Show me how you plan to measure me, and I’ll show you how I will behave.”

    I say let us look to the countries whose correctional institutions deliver the best results for the lowest cost, and copy their methods. Countries like Norway whose prisons are far more humane, and deliver far better societal results for a much lower cost. Just like any other business – start by finding the best practices, and copy them. Then work to improve and make them even better.

    We’ve seen where “tough on crime” has taken us. Into the realm of utter failure – delivering results we don’t want at a cost we can’t afford. Let us begin to move towards being “smart on crime” instead.

    After all, one of the definitions of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.


    • Thanks James for the insightful response. I agree with your reference to Einstein and the insanity of doing the same thing over and over, it’s crazy; change comes really hard, especially in government where there is such bureaucratic inertia, “this is the way we’ve always done it” is that a problem? Whose side you on anyways?” Weak governance, strong lobbyists, public apathy and zero confidence in Congress, all combined, make meaningful change really difficult.

      Money talks, you know what walks. Much of the developing momentum to change sentencing guidelines, hopefully altering the mindset of career Federal prosecutors, judges and probation departments is based on dollars and cents, pure and simple; it’s not the goodness of their hearts. The current system of incarceration is blowing budgets out of the water, state, federal and local. Politicians must address the issue, these numbers don’t lie. They have nowhere to hide. Failure is a tough pill to swallow. Past policies have failed the test of time; pass out the antacid and move on.

      Those politicians out front, finally, on this issue for whatever reason should be recognized and encouraged. Even Ted Cruz is on the right side of this issue, supporting The Smarter Sentencing Act; Canadian born right wing zealot Ted Cruz, seriously, that’s a stunner. Finding logic in government is always a stretch in my opinion, but I have been accused of being cynical in the past. So applying business logic to government and sacking the CEO and the Board makes sense to me, but replaced by who is a fair question. I guess that is what elections and town hall meetings are for. Good warriors have died preserving our first amendment rights; step up, speak up, write your elected reps, be an informed voter, even run for office. Those behind the wire have little clout, but there is strength in numbers, especially taxpayer numbers.

  2. keep the faith sir.ya they arrested Duluth people trying to help lost dogs during Katrina storm.told pastor friend that feds are also trying to stop church behind bars.i recwently goolged hospice care and came upon prison toastmasters which is in lousianr angola prison.such unchurched group getting good far haven’t been able to garner support from churcy through friend thyere also selfish with rides to bible not much surprises me anymore.i admire your resolve.after my divorce I wrote some women in prsion.ahving pen pals gave me a focus.but all this stuff on the net agve some friends a easte journalso made the case that the health bill didn’t buy the hall mamrk company as siome jail inamtes enever get any greeting cards so people don’t care they think.the seller didn’t have the big idea but said her church delvered cards.small time potatoes.i wasn’t aware of food poisoning.maybe a dr oz special? they sued orpah over beef and anything is dtoo have amd yoru acquaintance.we fro get about those in need often from our ivory towers.please feel free to email me anytime.i can alwasy use another goal.dave gustafson

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