While doing research on Angela Davis for a former professor’s book years ago, I came across documents detailing daily menus from Davis’s inmate days at San Quentin. Baked salmon loaves and coconut pudding. Eggs prepared a number of different ways. Meals sounding so tantalizing and balanced they came as a shock to someone who had been under the impression that prisoners, especially in the ‘70s, were on the bread-and-water plan. Is this for real? I thought. Prisoners eat better than me? Since then, I’ve longed to meet an ex-con who could back this up. One equipped to answer queries about texture, portion sizes, and whether this “coffee” includes unlimited refills.
The other day, I walked past a guy on a bench. He smiled, I smiled. Smiling turned into waving (music, either Tupac or the Dixie Chicks, blasted in my ears at the time), and I eventually pulled out an earbud to hear what he was saying. He was mostly saying that he got out of prison hours earlier, after serving a 10-year sentence, and was in the early stages of enjoying his freedom in the balmy Central Park air, despite having no family or friends. Now, is that for real? The prison system is allowed to just release people out into the open, without confirming they have a place to go? (He said his guards looked the other way during prisoner-on-prisoner rape. A recent New York Times article exposed local correction officers’ brutality against inmates.)
Pulling out the other earbud, I asked what I’ve wanted inside, in-person information on for years: “How was the food? Tell me everything, let’s start with salmon.” Among other descriptions, he said other inmates prepared the food - they spat into it and worms crawled out.
Prisoners eat worse than any recipe I’ve ever ruined.