In my prison experience, the criminal justice system, the prison system, or prison administrators and staff do not view prisoners as human beings. It seems that when a person is convicted of a crime—whether it’s something financial, like failing to pay child support, or something as heinous as first-degree murder—they act as individuals and as a living, breathing Human identities are stripped away by society.
However, due to the laws of this country, there is one area where it is difficult to ignore the rights of prisoners, and that is religious freedom. Decisions on cases over the years — some of which have reached the Supreme Court — have determined that prisoners still have the right to religious freedom even when they are incarcerated.
So when someone is behind bars, they can invoke their religion to get around some of the rules. For example, jewelry is not allowed into the prison, except for religious items such as cross necklaces.
Prisoners of a particular religion also have access to things like prayer rugs, and prison chaplains will often create some sort of service or worship group for each religion represented in the prison population.
While these things don’t really cost prisons a lot of extra money to respect the religious preferences of prisoners, that’s not the case when it comes to kosher food. Serving kosher meals to prisoners is usually three times (at least) the cost of the food. In prison, they do anything cheap.
Which leads to today’s blog post: Can You Buy Kosher Food in Prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- What’s it like to be kosher in jail?
- Can you ask for kosher food in prison if you’re not Jewish?
What’s it like to be kosher in jail?
First of all, I am not Jewish. So I’m going to answer today’s blog post based on interviews I’ve read and conversations I’ve had with prison inmates trying to keep kosher. The answer to today’s blog post is yes, you can get kosher food in prison.However, when a prisoner Committed to staying kosher, this can be a challenge.
Most prisons—whether state or federal—serve kosher meals. However, how they handle this will definitely vary from facility to facility. Some prisons serve Kosher dinners, which look like TV dinners, in a small microwaveable tray. During the day, they usually offer bentos such as lunch meat, cheese, and uncut fruits and vegetables.
Several prisons in the US actually have kosher kitchens and have popular kosher programs, but these are extremely rare.
From what I understand, being kosher in jail can be very stressful, but not because of limited access to food. Because the guards didn’t trust any prisoners, many of them believed that prisoners who asked for a kosher diet were lying just so they could get better food.
Some guards will call out “fake Jews” to join the kosher program because they lied, and they will get mad because food is more expensive than normal prison food. Other guards were upset that some prisoners were getting different food than others, because they believed everyone deserved the same punishment.
Then there’s the religious discrimination, since many of the guards are Christians and they don’t think prisons should be forced to obey the “food laws” that Jesus didn’t.
Every time there is a shift change, there are always those prison guards looking for things to harass the prisoners. The drama is real, and the power can rush over people’s heads. Obviously, things can be even worse for prisoners who keep kosher food.
Can you ask for kosher food in prison if you’re not Jewish?
This is a difficult question to answer. Technically, kosher food can only be requested by prisoners who practice the Jewish religion. But how do you prove this? Prison officials don’t necessarily have to believe prisoners if they say they are Jewish.
Kosher is actually very popular in prisons and continues to grow. Most prison officials will probably tell you that this is because non-Jewish prisoners are lying so that they can get better food.
Prison food is absolutely disgusting. It’s all cheap processed crap without any real nutritional value or flavor, and I don’t care what anyone says.
I worked in a food service warehouse while incarcerated and witnessed all the food being delivered to the prison for the inmates. With the exception of bread from the local bakery and some produce (damaged and discarded by others), everything was delivered to us in a large tin, box or bag. The prisoners had nothing fresh or healthy to eat. So, if you’re thinking about a long sentence, it makes sense that a lot of prisoners ask for kosher food, even if they’re not Jewish, because the food is better.
Gary Friedman is a former Jewish correctional chaplain who knows the dietary rules and regulations in the American correctional system. He believes the national trend of increased kosher demand is due to dietary safety, not religion.
“The main motivation is that they think it’s safer,” Friedman said. “I can’t count how many times it’s happened, how many times it’s come up, you hear how (prisons) buy stale food, or how prison staff contaminates food. So they think (kosher food) is safer and better quality .”
After all, the law requires religious meals to be served to prisoners of a strong religious belief. However, this can be difficult to prove, and no doubt many inmates try to take advantage of this so they are not forced to survive on common prison food.
Do you think prisoners should be allowed to eat kosher food if required? Let us know in the comments below.