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.