Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Thursday, May 24, 2007


(Remarks enclosed in [..] are additional remarks added after I got out.)

Ahhh ... food. Everyone wants to know about the food in prison.

I hate to disappoint you, but here it's not too bad. I hear it used to be even better, considerably so, but it still is among the best in the BOP according to the inmates who have been elsewhere.

The cafeteria is centrally located [see maps at bottom of page] and after waiting outside in line, you finally reach the tray stack. The trays are dark green and slotted with 7 various shapes for the food and drink. The food is placed directly on the tray -- there are no separate dishes or bowls. Thus, everyone inspects their tray very carefully.

Eating utensils are heavy-duty plastic; they are washed, not discarded, and reused like metal silverware.

The lunch and dinner food line will have the main entree, a vegetable, bread and possibly a dessert. The breakfast shift (which I never utilize) serves cold cereal every day and rotates various hot entrees (such as pancakes, grits, biscuits and "gravy," etc).

Upon leaving the food line, you pick up a single large paper napkin [near the end of my stay, they actually assigned an inmate the "job" of handing one napkin to each person as they exited the line, which was kind of comical] and a plastic cup for your drink. Drink options are water, lemonade, fruit punch, apple juice and maybe a couple other flavored sugar drinks. No carbonated drinks in the cafeteria but you can buy them from the vending machines in the visiting room. Breakfast offers milk.

There are also two food bars in the dining area. One contains 4 hot side dishes, usually including rice, beans or potatoes; the other contains cold salads, usually cole slaw, carrot salad and a pre-mixed salad. Breakfast offers oatmeal, which tastes like cardboard. (Along with the lima beans, it is the only food I've encountered that is truly inedible.)

The dining area is populated with four-seater metal tables with chairs (which have backs) attached to the tables.

Upon leaving, you dump any unused food in a trash can, hand the tray to a dishwasher, slide the utensils through a chute, and set your glass in the dishwashing tray.

Many inmates never use the cafeteria. They purchase all their food prepackaged from the commissary or visiting room vending machines. Then they prepare their own meals. For some, it could just be a habit learned at other prisons, where the food may have beeen intolerable to them.

I have a routine in which I only use the cafeteria for lunch between 11-12p and "short line" dinner between 3-3:45p. I eat a granola bar for breakfast and mid-morning snack. Later in the afternoon and eveniing I will snack on trail mix and maybe get a small microwaveable dinner or microwave a simple rice and beans meal. I may splurge for a Klondike Bar from the visiting room vending machines. I drink only either water (sometimes mixed with Gatorade) or diet Sprite (sugar- and caffeine-free).

Overall the food experience is easier and better then I thought it would be. No breakfast mush, lunch mush or dinner mush around here!

[UPDATE: During my brief stay, there was a noticeable deterioration in the food options. I was not the only one who noticed it. I don't know what it was, but it just didn't seem that the number options was the same.

The biggest problem inmates complain about is the lack of protein options. The food budget is $2/day per inmate which means the food administrator loads up on starch and carbohydrates... lots of rice, potatoes, and beans. The menu is on a 5-week rotation. Whatever meat entrees are available are not usually high quality. Of course, you probably wouldn't expect anything else... after all, this is supposed to be prison. In fact, the food quality is still probably better than most other federal prisons and certainly better than almost any county or state facility. There were occasionally days that were surprisingly good but it was unpredictable.

The primary option for protein is buying canned fish and chicken from the commissary. You can buy mackeral, smoked kipper snacks, white tuna, chunk light tuna, pink salmon, chunk chicken or chicken breasts. (See the commissary order sheet on the Commissary page for all options.)

I knew one guy would drink 4 8oz cartons of milk in the morning and eat 3-4 cans of mackeral per day to load up on protein to he would get the results he wants from working out.

As for schedule, as I stated above, I generally tried to eat the "short line" for dinner before the 4p count and then snack on something later in the evening. I hate lines. (I will write a separate article on the different situations in which you will encounter lines in prison and how to avoid them.) The idea of waiting in line 30 minutes to eat for 15 is very unappealing. If Dorm C had priority for the dinner line after the 4p count (priority is based on which dorm had the highest inspection cleanliness rating for its rooms), then I would wait until after 4p count because my room was the closest to the stairwell, which means when they release us after the count, I could usualy be first in line. If Dorm C was not first, then I would try to eat before the count and hope to time it when the line was short.

If you worked off-site at Eglin or NAS, then you ate lunch there. Eglin inmates ate a box lunch that did not usually get good reviews. The big attraction for working at NAS is that you get to eat the same lunch meals as the naval personnel. I worked at Saufley Field, adjacent to the prison, so I ate in the prison cafeteria for lunch. Except for a brief 3 day stint at NAS in late April, I ate every meal in the prison cafeteria.]

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