It’s been about a month since I wrote about jail, and following the response I got about the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Experiment, I figured I’d talk about the food situation. There are a lot of guys who gain weight in jail, but I actually lost it. I ended up serving six months and six days, and came out about 20 pounds lighter than I went in.
The food was terrible. Breakfast was raisin bran with a side of toast and peanut butter most mornings. Twice a week the toast was replaced with nasty scrambled eggs and twice a week the raisin bran was replaced with nasty oatmeal. Once a month we’d get a coffee cake or something exotic, usually the result of a bakery donating food instead of tossing it out, I was told. A small carton of juice – usually orange or apple – rounded out breakfast.
Lunch was most often a sandwich with some form of mystery meat. Dinner was just the mystery meat in stew form. Despite having many myths about jail dispelled early on the quality of food was one of the more stereotypical things I anticipated correctly.
We had trays brought to us in the pod, so there was no cafeteria time. Unless you had a visitor, needed to see the nurse, or chose to go outside for recreation time – which only happened June through October – you never left that room. I never once stepped outside that building during my entire sentence. It was a nice break from some of my fellow inmates when they went outside to pour their testosterone on the basketball court, so I stayed indoors.
I rarely ate any meat in jail and never the red meat. For side dishes, I could always count on a lot of rice, vegetable soup, cole slaw, salad and oranges and that was what I mainly ate. I’m certainly no vegetarian, but I am a bit of a snob when it comes to quality…I demand some.
While we were never given menus, those who came before me figured out we were on a rotating four-weeks schedule and what was on it, so it was never a surprise when the guards arrived at the door. I do have to admit, the once-a-month cheese lasagna was pretty good.
Despite the quality of the food, I was surprised that in my six months there, I never saw a single person get sick, or even show any digestive issues. It would have been rough if more than one person was running to the bathroom because they had some bad salami since it was only a one-person bathroom. You can read more about that situation here.
Some like me, at light while others gorged. You were either someone who gave food away or you were someone who took the food. While food was used as betting material in card games or to bribe someone to do something, it wasn’t as serious a commodity as some TV shows and movies led me to believe it would be. I never saw any intimidation tactics.
I gave my food away to my core group of long-timers, or any of the older guys who would come into the pod. If they didn’t want it, I’d offer it up to the young guys. A lot of decisions in jail are about pecking order – who sleeps or eats where, who picks what to watch on television, who is allowed extra phone time without complaint – and both my age and duration of stay played to my favor.
If I were in state prison, I’d be a short-timer, but in county jail, a six-month stay is seen as a lifetime. There were several people who arrived after I got there, left, came back and left again during my stay. Usually they had drug or domestic violence issues.
I could still be friendly with the tolerable younger guys because I wasn’t that much older than they were, but the older men saw me as one of them. It was a good position, although turning 40 years old in jail was not how I envisioned that milestone being achieved.
Along with the side dishes, I supplemented what I ate with the commissary. I’d always heard of this “jail store” where you could buy snacks, playing cards, stamps, etc. but was surprised to find for us, it was just a sheet of paper and we had to call our orders in on the one phone in the pod twice a week. That process took 20-to-30 minutes for an average order, so I made sure to do mine when most guys were sleeping. A few days later our orders arrived in plastic bags.
I loaded up on peanut butter for protein. I was also liberal with the candy bars and potato chips. Everything cost 25-40% than it did on the outside, but if I wanted a sleeve of Ritz Crackers, I was paying $4 and there wasn’t much I can do about it.
The guys who didn’t have a lot of money would often get together and chip in to make “Jail Burritos”. One would buy a bag of Doritos. Those would be crushed, along with a cup of water, to make the dough. Once rolled out, somebody contributed a sausage or two from the commissary order form. There was also cheese sauce on the commissary list and jalapeno peppers. It was all very much like the Hickory Farms stand at the mall during Christmas. Sometimes, if guys knew they were making a burrito that night, they’d save their salad from dinner and put that in there.
The giant burrito would be folded over, cut up into section and served to the four or five guys who contributed. I participated once, but found the thing so vile, I never touched it again. It was gross, but it was clever and that was one of the things I discovered about my fellow inmates. They were broken people, but many were smart and made-do with limited resources. Hearing stories of how to get high with an orange rind and stapler, or how to build a tattooing gun was fascinating.
I never saw these things in action, but I did see guys who claimed to know how to pass notes and small objects through the toilet to other pods try their skills. I don’t know that they were ever successful, but enough swore they’d seen it work. Even if it didn’t, they did know how to talk to inmates the other pods through the sink and toilet. It was kind of impressive, to be honest.
There were some true dolts in jail to be sure, but I think most simple people follow the law. Jail was full of people who gave their capacity for criminal behavior too much credit. If you ever meet somebody who has been to jail and they want you to follow their plan for bad behavior, don’t, and not just because it’s illegal. They have proven they aren’t good at being a criminal since they have a history of being caught. You’d think they’d learn…especially when they know what the food is like if they go back.