Chew on this

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jailhouse food

Jailhouse food: Most people never get the chance to discover the depths of what they give you to eat when you get locked up in county jail. In that hell-mirror version on the culinary delights of our local favorites, great places like the Garden Bistro and Mud Street, jail -- or so I am told -- offers the opposite of that and more.

(Caveat: none of these details, supplied by a source who does not wish to be named, are in doubt, but none apply to the local incarceratory lodgings. My source spent his involuntary vacation over in Northwest Arkansas.)

Breakfast? A boiled egg, a handful of dry corn flakes, a couple mandarin oranges. Those are the little ones. They feed you ungodly early, when you're too groggy to argue from sleeping all night with a towel wrapped around your head because they never turn out the lights. Plus a water glass of instant milk. The inmates refer to it as "calf formula" for obvious reasons.

Lunch? A bologna sandwich, or a peanut butter and corn syrup sandwich, a couple cookies, mini-carrot sticks or celery. More calf formula.

Dinner? Same as above. Rise and repeat.

There are two driving forces behind jailhouse food, and neither of them has anything to do with enjoying what you eat. One is the legal expedient requiring inmates to receive a certain number of calories per day. The jail gets $X a day to house and feed its customers, and according to my friend, they don't waste any of that on frills like mayonnaise or catsup or anything hot like soup or biscuits or ... well, anything. He lost 25 pounds in a month.

The other driving force is, of course, the punitive nature of incarceration in general. You are there because you screwed up somehow or other. Everything about that place will remind you at every moment, except when you are asleep, of this fact. The bunk beds are hard, everybody snores or throws their shoes at those who do, and when they let you out for exercise, it's a concrete area with concrete walls and a screened over open sky that lets you see the clouds through the grill. Plus a little keyhole in a locked door where you can peek through and see the front lawn of the facility.

It sounds dreadful. But that's the point.

There are many other dimensions to jailhouse food -- for example, trading food. You agree to trade your breakfast later for a peanut butter sandwich today, you'd better be ready to hand it over or you get a beating, which means solitary confinement, which means no more playing dominoes with crackheads or walking in endless circles around the pod because that's what there is to do.

There is a bright lining to these experiences, especially when viewed long after the fact. Consider fat farms; people pay thousands of dollars to go Out West and go through exactly the same regimen inmates do -- carefully measured calories, plenty of camaraderie, exercise. Should the steadily growing for-profit privatization of prisons fall through, the same facilities can thrive by removing the barbed wire from the surrounding walls and charging about ten times as much per person for use of the place.

According to my source, after about the third week, your system is completely de-toxed of whatever vices you have, leaving you pure. Your energy levels, aided but not overwhelmed by the food, rise to giddy heights.

By the time you get out of the pokey, and go back to smoking cigarettes and eating cheeseburgers and drinking beer etc., you are physically if not mentally sound, ready to jump back into the game of life. Except you've probably lost your job going to jail and have no place to live.

The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

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