Food is a very common topic when people ask me about life in prison. People ask me all the time what the inmates eat, where the food comes from, how often the inmates eat, where the inmates eat. For some reason, people really want to know the answers to these questions!
Like I say in almost every blog post, every prison does it differently. So, it’s impossible for me to give a general answer. But I did serve four years in a women’s prison in Missouri, so I can share some first-hand experience.
During my first two years in prison, I worked in food service and a food service warehouse. For the past two years, I have worked in the prisoner canteen. So when it comes to how food is prepared and delivered at camp, I have a front row seat.
Which makes me a self-proclaimed prison food expert (LOL). So today I’m going to talk about prison food and answer the question – where do inmates eat?
Today’s blog post will cover the following topics:
- Prison food is mostly provided by local suppliers
- Is prison food “not for human consumption”?
- How often do prisoners eat?
- Where did the prisoners eat?
- What food does the commissary serve?
Prison food is mostly provided by local suppliers
When I worked in a food service warehouse, local suppliers made home deliveries every day. My job is to unload the trucks and store the supplies in the warehouse. My job is also to load the kitchen trolley every day with specific items needed for the food service department to make the daily menu.
A local bakery sends us an incredible amount of bread each week. There’s also a local produce company delivering fresh fruit and vegetables, and a dairy delivery driver delivering milk.
The biggest deliveries we get are from the Correctional Services Department. The Missouri DOC contracts with various food suppliers and these items are sent to the central warehouse. They are then distributed among different facilities and shipped to each location twice a week.
This is the truck that delivers chicken pot pies, Salisbury steaks, canned vegetables, jellies and puddings, and cereal. Everything comes in bulk – 50lb bags, big boxes, and full pallets.
Is prison food “not intended for human consumption”?
When I was in prison, there was a rumor that the food sent to the prison said “not for human consumption” on the package. Trust me, I always look for it on everything I deliver. However, I never saw it once.
How often do prisoners eat?
The canteen is open three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, if you don’t want to go, you won’t be forced to. Breakfast time is between 5:00 and 7:00 am, depending on where you are staying. Lunch is from 10:30am to 12:30pm and dinner is from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.
Breakfast was by far the best meal. They usually serve pancakes, French toast, hot cereal, fruit, grits or toast with peanut butter, plus milk and coffee.
Lunch and dinner were hit and miss, but mostly misses. The best days are when they serve chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes and gravy, grilled cheese with tomato soup, or pizza (like the square ones you ate in grade school).
But as a rule, they serve such masterpieces as “poultry king”, “chicken mince” or “poultry tetrazzini”, served with beans. OMG, there are so many beans out there – pinto beans, great northern beans, baked beans, lima beans. I can go on and on.
In the days when apple crisp is on the dessert menu, you’re going to the grocery store no matter what they serve for dinner because That apple crisp is on fire.
Where did the prisoners eat?
In low-level security camps where there are prisoner activities, prisoners will eat in the canteen. It’s essentially a camp cafeteria. If you try to smuggle anything out of there and get caught, you’re in trouble.
In higher-security prisons — and higher-security units — inmates’ meal trays are delivered, and they eat in their cells.
The same goes for prisoners in administrative segregation or infirmaries. Their meal trays are brought instead of sending prisoners to the mess hall.
What food does the commissary serve?
I was lucky enough to have enough money on my books during my last two years in prison that I didn’t have to go to the grocery store if I didn’t want to. Instead, I would order food from the commissary (prisoner grocery store) and cook it in the microwave in my housing unit.
I don’t want to brag, but I can make some delicious meals out of ramen noodles, Ritz crackers, and a bag of chicken in the microwave. I should really write a prison cookbook!
Food items available in our commissary include bags of tuna, chicken and sausage. There’s also pasta, pasta sauce, cheese, and ramen noodles. We usually eat toaster pastries, oatmeal, peanut butter, and dry cereal. There are also different kinds of cookies, chips and tortillas.
You can buy spices, condiments and sugar. There are also beverages such as coffee, tea, soda and lemonade.
In the prison I’m in, we also have fundraisers where you can buy a wider variety of chips and candy than you can in the cafeteria. We can also buy frozen vegetables in bags.
Occasionally, organizations host special fundraisers where we can buy things like Pizza Hut personal pizzas and Subway sandwiches. Let me tell you, I live for those fundraisers!
Do you think you can handle prison food? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: My Story, incarcerated at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Corrections Center in Vandalia, MO 2013-2017