This past Christmas season was filled with gifts of kindness and generosity from various businesses in the surrounding community. I’d never seen anything quite like it before in nearly fourteen years of incarceration. Perhaps those years had given rise to the cynic in me, but I was instantly suspicious of all this free stuff. However, since the usual prison cuisine is terrible—a criminal offense in and of itself—I wasn’t about to turn down the new, exciting, and scrumptious substitutes.
The bread was the best item that graced my chow hall tray. All those empty carbs were too tasty to turn down as every meal became a special surprise treat. Rye, pumpernickel, cracked wheat, cinnamon raisin, and half a dozen others showed up soft, moist, and fresh. After a steady, depressing diet of tasteless “enriched white bread,” these new varieties were exotic and delicious.
Oscar Mayer and Jimmy Dean brands were also served, and after so much low-grade “meat” fortified with high percentages of soy filler, I had somehow forgotten how heavenly a bologna sandwich could be, or the simply salty pleasure of a pork breakfast sausage patty.
The gargantuan bags of dill pickle-flavored popcorn were a bit more of an acquired taste. When some fancy name-brand yogurt cups and yogurt energy/protein drinks were handed out, guys couldn’t get enough of them. I have no earthly idea what a probiotic is, but I can attest from firsthand experience that Activia certainly gets digestion moving right along like a well-oiled machine. With all these freebies, there was a perpetually festive mood in the cell house.
Different donated items began showing up for sale on the black market. These products had been smuggled out of the warehouse by intrepid businessmen looking to turn a profit, or taken from the officers’ kitchen in the chow hall where the prison staff had been enjoying the gifts that had been donated for the inmate population.
Gummy worms, peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, egg nog, banana walnut bread, honey ham lunchmeat slices, 100% beef hot dogs. Rather than serving these treats to the inmates, they were consumed by officers or else left to sit in the warehouse and get freezer burn. There were also approximately 20,000 bottles of the aforementioned yogurt drink that simply stopped being served and were left to sit in cold storage.
As January dragged on, the special bread became a less frequent addition to meals, and everything else had dwindled to perhaps once or twice a week if we were lucky. Even more products, however, continued to show up for sale by the many hustlers who populate prison. This means the donations didn’t stop, they just stopped being handed out to the inmates.
With the onset of February, the warehouse workers began backing up their fifteen foot box truck to all the different dumpsters peppered around the prison compound and unloading their cargo directly into the trash. At first I was willing to, I wanted to, believe this to be nothing more than another stupid rumor. It wasn’t until I watched this wasteful act with my own eyes—multiple cases of merchandise discarded—that it was confirmed to me that those in authority would literally rather throw food in the garbage than let inmates have something special. Such a petty and small action for those who control all the power over us, but with zero oversight, they can essentially do whatever they want.
I wish I knew just who and where the donations were coming from so I could alert them to the wanton waste of the prison administration, but I’m not the one with the knowledge or power. I’m merely one ID number among thousands, caught in the unfeeling system, wishing for a tasty beef hot dog or a single slice of honey ham.
Apparently, that is too much to ask.