Prison Stories

Bureau of Prison’s National Menu by Robert Rosso

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has been in the national spotlight as of late due to a recent policy change about pork products on the national menu. Beginning the first week of October, inmates housed in the Bureau’s 122-facility’s were no longer being served pork or pork products. But then a couple of days later the Bureau of Prison after tremendous public criticism the BOP did an about face and put pork back on the menu.

In an article published in the Washington Post, Edmon Ross, a spokesman for the BOP, said that the decision to remove pork was based on a food preference survey given to the inmates, adding, ” People are more health conscious these days. Some people chose to be vegetarian or vegan.”

While I do not know Mr. Ross personally when I read his official statement I was reminded of a song by an 80’s band known as The Thompson Twins: “Lies, lies, lies…get out.” (“Lies”). And when pork was reinstated Mr. Ross had no statement at all.

The fact of the matter is,  months ago we inmates were informed by the Food Service Administrators at our institutions that pork was being removed from the National Menu to accommodate the Muslim prisoners. But to me the issue of pork, per se, is irrelevant. Instead,  I want to zero in an the false assertion that some seemingly all-caring federal prison officials are somehow looking-out for the dietary needs of “health conscious” federal inmates.

First, let me start at the beginning.

My journey through the federal prison system began in September of 1998 at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. After having no choice other than to eat three meals a day of bland-tasting food that consisted of no more than a mere 2,000 calories in all, once I stepped foot in the chow hall at Leavenworth for the first time it was like I had died and gone to convict heaven. There were four soft-serve ice cream machines pumping out creamy chocolate and vanilla love;  soda-fountains with an assortment of flavors flowed freely; and in the middle of the kitchen were two salad bars and an equal amount of hot bars, the former with fresh vegetables and all of the trimmings (bacon bits, croutons, ect.), while the latter had a variety of hot, stemming soup, bread-sticks and crackers.   As for the main-course, I can’t recall exactly what that first meal was, but rest assured it was descent, pleasant-tasting food, not some poor-quality, over-cooked, leathery meat or mushy  pasta.

Lucky-Charms-cerealAnd breakfast the following morning didn’t disappoint. Not only were we served bacon, eggs, and fresh made biscuits, but the salad bar had been converted into a cereal bar, with no less than three name-brand cereals (Sugar Smacks, Lucky Charms, Corn Flakes to name a few) for our eating pleasure, and a choice of plain or chocolate milk. I remember calling my mom shortly after I arrived and telling her that the public would “flip out ” if they saw what we were being served.

“It’s actually wasteful, mom,” I remember telling her.

During the four years that I was at Leavenworth, the food really didn’t change much. Yes there were days when some of the meals sucked, but in general, the fruit and produce were normally fresh and pleasant tasting, meats such as hamburgers, chicken, pork and fish were of  good quality, and on the weekends we were served brunch with eggs made-to-order (I always order mine over-easy),  along with toast, bacon, ham, or sausage links, and hash browns. As for dessert, cakes and pastries made fresh in the prison bakery were the norm, with the exception being on the days when ice cream was served. There did come a time, however, when the ice-cream machines were taken out, a move made by the new warden, Mr. Mickey Ray.

In 2002 I was transferred to Lewisburg and the quality of food pretty-much remained the same, the main difference being that Lewisburg did not utilize their bakery like Leavenworth did, but instead opted to purchase items locally. The most significant changes that occurred during my stay at Lewisburg was the removal of the soda-fountain, followed by the BOP-wide termination of eggs to-order during the brunch meals on the weekends.

In 2010, after being transferred to the Butner Federal Correctional Institution (FCI 1) in Butner, an Associate Warden by the name of Deborah Gonzalez informed the inmates population that “Michelle Obama” was going to make us “healthy again.” Specifically, all Food service Departments within the BOP were changing over to a “National Menu,” one in which an approved menu, receipts, and product specifications, would  be used for food procurement, preparations and meal service at all institutions. (BOP Policy Statement 3 4007.05)  Additionally we were informed that, over time, fried-food would be phased out the BOP entirely.

Indeed, on or about September 13, 20011, the BOP went to one centralized menu. Many institutions, including the one in which I am currently housed, FCI Terre Haute, no longer serve fried food or any sort.

Which brings me full circle to the recent quote made by BOP Spokesman Edmon Ross: “People (inmates) are more health conscious these days. Some chose to be vegetarian or vegans.”

untitled-article-1423864383With the arrival of the new National Menu, a menu that was sold to us as being “healthy”, the overall quality of beef, fish, poultry, produce, fruit and vegetables has declined dramatically . For example, the beef we are being served often has a filmy texture or is unnaturally soft with bone fragments in it; the shredded chicken is sometimes full of grilse, while the  standard piece of bake chicken are these big, massive, unnatural looking things that scream, “super-duper-steroid-induced-chicken-here.” The fish fillets have come in boxes that say, “Not for human consumption/ dolphin use only, “and the breaded fish squares that we are routinely served often consists of a thin lawyer of fish-residue and lots of breading. Our vegetables, just nasty and as overcooked most of the pasta, which is just the opposite of the hard beans that we are generally served.

And then there is the “most important meal of the day, breakfast. This menu does not rotate or change. Every Monday like clockwork we are served two biscuits, plain and pasty- gravy (sometime with meant, more often not), oatmeal and a piece of fruit; on Tuesday a scoop of grits, one piece of sheet-cake and a piece of fruit; on Wednesday two pancakes, a scoop of oatmeal, non-sugar syrup and a piece of fruit; on Thursday a scoop of oatmeal, one piece of sheet-cake and piece of fruit; on Friday two pieces of French-toast (or 4 French toast sticks that equal one piece of bread), a scoop of farina, non-sugar syrup and piece of fruit; and on both Saturday and Sunday, it’s brand flakes that are extra hard and thick (and taste like cardboard), and a piece of sheet cake and a piece of fruit.

While it’s true that an 8-ounce carton of milk does come with each breakfast meal, you will otherwise notice the lack of protein – and don’t let the fruit full you. Bananas, when served, are usually green and not edible; the apples and oranges are cut in half hours in advance of being served (so that inmates wont take them out of the chow hall and make wine hooch with them), and usually end up on our try in a state of decay – either brown, slimy or drained of their juices.

As for the vegan diet that Mr. Ross claims so many inmates are turning to, it includes the following items as a substitute to the regular meal: soy burger, hummus, soy chicken patty, cottage cheese, soy spaghetti sauce, tofu fried rice, soy enchilada, and bbq tofu. And admitingly, some of it can be good (especially the cottage cheese). But in general, like all of the other food post- National Menu, it’s of poor quality and it does not taste good.

Finally, I don’t want to make it sound like we federal prisoners are never served decent food. The fact is, the taste and preparation of each meal largely depends on the time and effort each Cook Supervisor’s wants to put into each meal, but the quality of all food to us in here does remain a problem…it’s generally shit. And while I am aware than many people out there would love to see us prisoners fed only bread and water, keep in mind that most prisoners do come home and not only breed with your daughters, but more and more of us are coming home with health problems that are, in-part, related to a poor diet provided to us by the B.O.P.

Now that is a fact.

If you like this check out Islamic Law Dictates Federal Prison Menu by Robert Rosso also.