Christopher Reina is doing a five-year sentence in federal prison. In his writing he shares how he is surviving prison life as a gay inmate. Chris is paying it forward by donating his compensation for this column to a charity.
Entry 5: January 15, 2014
Portrayals of incarceration in popular culture always seem to have three constants; violence, rape, and really terrible food. I have seen very little violence so far, although there was one memorable incident in which an acquaintance of mine was sucker punched so hard his jaw was broken. The blow nearly knocked him out, and you could practically see the little cartoon birdies flying around his head as he struggled to pick himself up off the floor. I wouldn't say that he was asking for it exactly, but he was the mouthy, pushy type. As for rape, I have neither heard of it happening or sensed its existence, though I am certain it must occur, given the big deal the inmate manual makes of it. The food, however, is indeed as bad as you imagine it to be.
As I understand it, jails are only responsible for your caloric needs, not your nutritional requirements. Which wouldn't be so bad if your stay was brief, however, I've met some poor souls who have been locked up in jail for three or four years fighting their cases. If you ever get arrested in Broward County, I hope for your sake that you enjoy baloney, because brother, that's what you're gonna get. Twice, even three times a day. On white bread. Pity the carb counters in jail; white bread is a main component of every meal.
At breakfast in jail, served daily at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m., you will often receive one slice of white bread with your previously frozen, dry white bagel and a single slice of heated baloney.
Lunch routinely consists of four additional slices of white bread, two more slices of baloney, a slice of oil-based American cheese, a piece of fruit, or a cookie.
Dinners follow the same weekly rotation and are surprisingly, not absolutely terrible. There just isn't enough of it to fully satisfy. In addition to the obligatory white bread, expect with dinner lots of rice or some sort of noodle, inevitably cooked to a phlegm like consistency, and two more cookies for dessert.
Each jail meal is served with a cup of "juice" though I suspect that it's about as free of juice as Windex is. Persistent rumor has it that the juice is laced with saltpeter, although I have always been dubious of the cookies. And yes, at least once a week the dinner entree will be hotdogs, which we all know is just more baloney rolled into a tube.
Food in prison is a whole other animal, literally, and is simultaneously better and worse than jail chow.
Breakfast here, served at the much more humane hour of 7 a.m., is beyond monotonous; frosted cornflakes, milk, fruit, and a flat slice of over baked quick bread, every day.
Lunch can be a varied affair - tuna fish, dark meat chicken on the bone, hamburgers, or most frequently, a melange of onions, peppers and cow. I say cow because it is impossible to identify which cut of beef the shavings and abraded chunks of meat come from. I am suspicious that it is whatever scraps are left on the butcher's floor at the godforsaken processing factory it yields from. As bad as that sounds, it pales in comparison to when your good friend Don, who you run into at Chapel, tells you that his friend, who works in the kitchen, tells him that said meat comes "in expired (2012), frozen bags full of blood, sealed only with a twist tie, and marked Not for Human Consumption (!), Institutional Use Only, and Inmates Only (lest it be mistakenly served to jail staff)." Apparently, this guy who works in the kitchen doesn't even bother to come out of his room for lunch or dinner on most days.
Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. As a result of this unbidden education on prison fare, I am rapidly becoming a quasi vegetarian. I have learned that there isn't a canned vegetable that can't be made more tasty with the help of a packet of yellow mustard squeezed over it. However, this being prison with it's population of highly creative inmates, it is possible to take a fair amount of control over one's diet through the use of the commissary, which will be the topic of another column. Until then, stay safe everybody.