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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Orange Is The New Black and Prison Food

I have no idea how many of you watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but I am hooked on it and have been waiting and waiting for the new season. Well, the wait is almost over and tomorrow all 13 episodes will be up and ready for some intensive binge watching. TheHub is going on a business/pleasure trip to NYC Wednesday which should give me several empty evenings to curl up with Crazy Eyes, Piper, Alex, Tayste, and the rest of the gang.

Son1 texted me yesterday with an idea.  He knows I love to cook and I certainly do love a theme dinner so he suggested I come up with a theme meal for the beginning of the new season of Game of Thrones.  I thought it  was a great idea and then I remembered OITNB airs first, so why not start with it and see if it is something I want to continue?

I started researching prison food (because yes, I am nerdy like that), which seems to be pretty much just slop that the kitchen can create on a one dollar per meal, per prisoner budget. I really don't want to begin with that kind of meal, but while I was researching it, I found several "recipes" for meals the inmates from various institutions create from items sold in the prison commissary. That sounded like a little more fun to me. (Probably no more appetizing but at least more fun).

I did have to run to the grocery store because I have very few things that are sold in the canteen in my personal food stash.  I will also be perfectly honest and admit I used my appliances rather than dropping a rigged 'hot' power cord in a paper cup of water to make it boil. (If you are so inclined to play with water and electricity you can find directions here) I also did not crush anything by stomping on it while wearing my flip flops, and had to guess the sizes of some of the items because I have never been in or bought anything from a prison commissary.  I am assuming most items are sold in smaller packages since there is no refrigeration in the dorms and little storage area for personal items. I have no idea if inmates have some method of securing their purchased items or not. I am just  guessing but I think  theft might be an issue if there was not.

I learned that for the most part the people who are able to purchase items from the commissary need an outside source of money to fund their accounts since most prisoners earn just a few dollars a week, and canteen items carry a luxury price tag.  The items they buy are not only for their personal use but can be used for trade. I guess prison is like outside life and everything has a price, but there currency is not king.  Everyday useful items reign supreme.

From the things I researched it seems breakfast is the most acceptable cafeteria meal, because it includes 2 pieces of bread and a packet of jelly or syrup along with oatmeal, grits or some similar cereal option.  It might not be the best meal but it seems far from the worst. Additionally any unused packaged option like creamer, or jelly is taken back to the cellblock and some of the inmates carry their bread slices back in their shirt pocket.

The first of my trial foods is what is known as a Cadillac. I have no idea why it is named that because I would call it a mocha. Evidently instant coffee is an important/must have item, first because it is coffee and coffee is essential for some of us, but it is also a tradable item( Second only to cigarettes). I used one spoonful of instant coffee, 1 pack of instant hot chocolate and stirred in a cup of hot water. This is one treat that could be made using hot tap water, since neither requires boiling water.  I found it to be so/so.  It was neither bad nor good and would have had a richer flavor if I had saved (as recommended) the packet of coffee creamer from my breakfast tray. I think instant coffee is pretty unpalatable by itself and this definitely made it drinkable, and after enough time it might even become an enjoyable beverage. Dunno, but I don't want to spend any time in the big house just to find out. I will give this a solid B


My lunch today was Pig Soup.  I do at least understand the name this time, because it is based on pork ramen noodles.
1 pack pork ramen noodles
seasoning pack from the ramen
3 cups water
1 pack dehydrated vegetables (I had to punt here since I have no idea what veggies or how large the packs are. They only cost a dollar so I assume they are very small. I used one envelope of Lipton vegetable soup and dip mix. I poured it into a sifter and was left
chopped summer sausage
fried pork skins

Put the water in a boiler and bring to a boil. stir in the ramen seasonings then add the noodles and dehydrated vegetables.  Cook until the veggies have rehydrated and the noodles are very soft.  Add the chopped summer sausage and continue cooking until it is warm. Right before serving toss in some crumbled fried pork skins. The pork skins do become soggy rather quickly but taste kind of like bacon would if it were cooked in the soup.  This was not bad, in fact Son3 has been my in house guinea pig today and he liked it perfectly fine also. It is a little salty for my taste but I am not a big salt fan, and to be honest if it had some fresh vegetables cooked in it, it would be a delicious soup. As is I will give this an A- but with some additional veggies I would upgrade it to a solid A.

Our third dish for the day was going to be our dinner meal.  Was is the operative word here. I made the Pad Thai, mainly because we love Thai food, but after one taste each we changed the name to Bad Thai. It was so salty it was not edible for either of us.

1 package oriental ramen noodles
1/2 tablespoon peanut butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Hot sauce to taste

Cook the ramen according to the package directions and drain well.  Stir in the peanut butter and soy sauce.  Combine well, then add hot sauce and stir again. This had none of the delicious Thai flavor I love and instead was a heavy, salty dish. The peanut butter flavor was overpowering. Possibly if I had used crunchy instead of smooth it would have been a little nicer taste and texture.  I think having the salty ramen , salty peanut butter, and the additional salty soy sauce was salt overload. Maybe if I had used tamari rather than soy sauce it might have made a difference. Maybe not, and I am not going to spend any time or effort trying to improve on it. So after one bite each this went down the garbage disposal, Son3 ran to Chick Fil A,  and I grabbed some leftover chicken salad from the fridge.

On reflecting Son3 did mention that even though we found this terrible, someone facing eating unseasoned poor quality food might find this a delicious alternative, so I am changing my prior grade of F to a C-

That brings us to our last dish. This is supposed to be a cake that is made when someone's time is up to celebrate his/her release. It is not a cake at all, but it does look somewhat like one and would be something festive to have for a special occasion if you had limitations with what you could do.


1 package Oreo type cookies
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise
few drops of water if needed
1 individual serving size pack of peanut m&m's

Separate each cookie. Crush the tops of each cookie into very fine crumbs. This must take an inmate a long time because it took me forever and I was using a mortar and pestle. When you have very fine crumbs, stir in the mayonnaise. (Don't be grossed out by the mayo. It turns out that mayo is the oil for prison cooking and you don't taste it, I promise.) Mix well than press the mixture firmly into the bottom of a bowl making a cookie crust,
Scrape the filling from each cookie bottom into a bowl. Stir all the white stuff to make a smooth paste then add the peanut butter.  Set aside.
Crush the remaining now plain cookies into fine crumbs. Add the filling/peanut butter mix to the crumbs and mix very well. Spread it on top of the crumb crust. Crush the peanut m&m's and sprinkle them evenly over the "cake'.

The taste of this was quite good.  It tasted kind of like a Reese cup with cookie crumbs in it. My only issue was that the bottom layer fell completely apart. My advice to anyone in prison would be to add all the crumbs to the peanut butter mixture and just call it a mousse rather than a cake. I was not a fan visually of the crushed m&m's. I had rather have plain m&m's on top of it and forego the additional peanut flavor. It is strictly my esthetic though.  The crushed ones still tasted pretty good. The picture to the right is a cross view of how it looks once cut, though cut is a misnomer. You actually have to spoon it out, but it is ok and still tasty even if it is messy. I will give it a B.

 And now I am gong to share a few thoughts about what I learned today. Many states contract out their prisoner food and the average daily budget is 3.71 per person. Rather than prepare low sodium meals for those with medical needs, the food is largely unseasoned and bland so no changes are needed except for the occasional uber restricted diet.. People observing a Kosher or Halal diet have must fresher , much better tasting, and higher quality foods so a lot of non-religious prisoners pull the religion card to try and get them.  Evidently here is an intense vetting process for approval, because those special religion based meals cost much more then the 3.71 daily average.

Besides the cost of the meals there is a more insidious reason for keeping the food quality poor. Many inmates refuse to eat the really bad meals and prefer to cook their own foods from items purchased at the commissary. The money generated from the commissary goes back into the prison budget, and is supposedly used to pad money for whatever is necessary for that particular institution.  But now that so many are privatized does the money go to the prison or to the profit column? I have no idea but it is a question to ponder. I am paraphrasing a quote I read from a prison guard. When the food is not good the prisoner will not eat which creates a lot of hungry people in less than ideal conditions. When people are hungry they get angry and angry people in a confined space are  powder kegs ready to ignite and is not safe for the inmates or the staff.

I have no solutions, but I do have a lot of respect for those ingenious enough to figure out how to survive.







29 comments:

  1. I do not like coffee, pigskins, or Oreos! However, I do have experience with prison food, albeit second hand. I taught in a prison and sometimes saw the food and heard continual complaints. I once saw a tray taken in to a prisoner who had been put into a pink cell because he was bad. I said it looked good and guards and prisoners alike laughed at me. Well, it had a brownie, or it looked like a brownie.

    Plus, J just turned herself in and was telling me about the canteen and how they make food. She said that the water was practically boiling out of the tap, so they let the ramen noodles soak to get soft.

    At the prison where I taught, the guys said there were no distinguishable vegetables, that everything had a bread base, sort of like too much bread/crackers in a meatloaf. And, there was never a piece of meat.

    By the way, you made me laugh. It is not a dorm; it's a cell in a cell block.

    My computer has had problems until this evening when it was fixed. I kept composing comments and then could not comment on some blogs. Just call me frustrated. I had lots to say about your son's pictures. I enjoyed his post and the pictures. Maybe I will go back and compose the comments once again.

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    1. Glad you are well even if you are having computer issues. Seems to be an ongoing thing with life. Get one thing repaired and another breaks

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  2. Sigh.
    I don't do salt. I largely gave it up umpteen years ago and even a little is too much now.
    I wonder how I would cope as a vegetarian in prison? I suspect not well.
    It is a sad indictment but when I was reading about prisoners making their own consumables, alcohol was the first thing which leapt to my mind. I suspect I would need it if I was to be confined and surrounded by people. Rather a lot of alcohol.

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    1. I do know how to make fruit brandy by burying a mason jar filled with fruit underground. I suppose in prison you could bury plastic bags of it with the same results.

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  3. This is such an interesting post, Anne. I'm afraid I never gave much thought to prison food, but I somehow assumed it would be something like meatloaf and mashed potatoes with boiled frozen (or canned) mixed vegetables, pasta and sauce with canned green beans, etc. Sort of like the rather bland food given to patients in a nursing home, type institution. I did a search and found an article about prison food in California State prisons and found this article:

    http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/how-prison-kitchens-feed-inmates-for-about-one-dollar-per-meal-8258237

    According to the article, one Friday night menu: tamale pie served with coleslaw, pinto beans, Spanish rice and pound cake.

    Oh, and the article mentioned the show, Orange is the new Black.

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    1. https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2015/dec/2/aramarks-correctional-food-services-meals-maggots-and-misconduct/ This is the biggest institutional provider of prison food

      It's 2.25 am here. I think ORange is being released in 35 minutes! I am debating going to sleep or just staying up to watch the first episode.

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  4. I have a brother who is in and out of jail. He has never been to prison but he belongs there. His biggest complaint was not enough food and being very cold. Just a cotton jumpsuit, no under garments and flip flops. Thin blanket no pillow. Not enough calories so made the cold even worse. He is a thin man so I can't imagine what it would be like to be heavy and try to get by, but then he deserves to suffer.

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    1. I am sorry he has been in and out of jail. I just wish the jails/prisons served to rehab rather than be totally punitive.

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  5. I've never watched Orange, but I read the book. I was totally amazed when she talked about the food they made from their leftovers and food from the commissary. I guess necessity really is the mother of invention.

    Good for you for trying the prison food experiment because it made interesting reading. I don't think that is one I would have tried.

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    1. It is one I will not repeat, but it was interesting learning about how resourceful inmates can be.

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  6. I've never watched the show but I've heard about it. My husband used to work in most highly secured prison in the state here, death row etc........his office was there for 20 years. The food there was awesome. Inmates ate 3 wonderful meals a day.

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  7. I meant to say maximum security prison. Funny how tv can be so different from the real thing.

    In fact, just a month or so ago, a prison employee was murdered by an inmate here in NC. It wasn't a maximum security facility. Poor woman was beaten to death.

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    1. There is no doubt there are a lot of bad ass people in jails. Here with our current 3 strikes and you're in for life has resulted in severe overcrowding. To me the worst thing that happens is drug related. If someone gets caught with amounts deemed over the personal use amount they are arrested as a dealer. 3 arrests and you become a lifer generally at a young age. Which means we house a ton of folks whose crimes are non-violent for a long long time.
      Good for your state if it provides tasty and nutritious foods. It is not that way most places.

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  8. I watched a couple episodes of OITNB when I had Netfilx but never really got into it. I do love Game of Thrones though :) Interesting info on the prison food.

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    1. I have mainly listened to OITNB all day today. I really have enjoyed watching it for the past seasons.

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  9. I've heard that Ramen noodles serve for "currency" in the Jacksonville Jail. I love OITNB. I was devastated by the last episode of the most recent season. I don't have time to binge watch today because I'm continuing my job search, but it won't be long before I start watching the new season.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I really like it too Janie, and have been doing a combination of binge watching/listening today.
      Evidently commissary (food, postage stamps and cigarettes) items are the only currency in jails and prisons throughout the states.

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  10. this was so fascinating, Anne. I like th idea of a good theme dinner, but you have taken it to new levels. I think if I wasn't on the straight and narrow, your pst will keep me there!

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    1. Me too Sam, well the food and the whole confinement issue!

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  11. I have never seen the series but do have the book (and about 20 others) sitting on my table waiting to be read. I lived in the States for 4 years when I was married but trying to feed an adult for under $4 just seems crazy. They do the "live below the line" in the UK too where people try to live on £1 a day. I know the UK is cheaper than here but that seems a tough do by any standards. I have no idea what the equivalent amount would be here in euros (it is an expensive area) but I suspect a lot of noodles/pasta/rice etc. Our lovely English chef Jamie Oliver tried to help overhaul school meals in the UK but even he was defeated by budget. Yes he could cook healthy, nutritious meals quite cheaply but as one head teacher pointed out, she didn't have that kind of budget, or she would have to let some of her staff go. So chips (fries) it was with everything. It make me realize how fortunate I am though eh. Anna

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    1. I understand the need to keep costs down, but some of the investigations into the institutional foods at prisons in the states are horrifying. I certainly have no solutions but there has to be a better way.

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  12. I'm more the Middle, Fresh Boat type when it comes to TV- I also enjoyed watching Anne of Green Gables. I like your theme idea though- I have never been to a prison or jail except Alcatraz! If you've ever watched the Middle you know most of their meals are fast food haha.

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    1. I don't watch the Middle of Fresh Boat, but I do love Big Bang. They seem to eat take out Chinese on that show.

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  13. I love that show too :) Your post got me to wondering how much is spent in Canada per inmate for food and the total is $4.91 though the gov't disputes that. Whatever the amount the food is subjected to the cook and chill method which inmates say causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Definitely a situation that causes a lot of problems in our jails.

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    1. I love it too, but now I have finished it and have to wait an entire year before I know what the outcome of this season will be. Drats!

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  14. I've never seen this show, but I can only imagine that prison food would not appeal to me.

    I do know that at some prisons here (minimum security kind of thing) they sometimes grow vegetable gardens. I would think that should be encouraged at most prisons.

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    1. I think they should try and be as self sustaining with food as possible, but what do I know?

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  15. Such a great post, Anne! Neat idea to come up with prison food meals for the day. My husband and I are currently watching OITNB and I'm having such a hard time getting into the latest season. We're on episode 7. I hear it gets really good on episode 9. Have you heard of the show Wentworth? It's a similar women's prison drama, but based in Australia. It's so good. You should give it a try. It's on Netflix too.

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  16. Thanks Brandi! I will take a look at Wentworth!

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