Some people live in a world that the rest of us can't even begin to recognize.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Getting the most out of chow hall

Most women in prison try to follow the rules. That's a bit different from when I was in "County" where there were frequent arguments and women trying to get around every rule, simply to show off their power. In the state prison women who don't follow the rules get written up and lose privileges for breaking the rules. Not to say that County officers went easy on us, they just knew it was a very temporary place for most inmates.

There are rules for meals in prison. Line up silently, walk in pairs, enter the chow hall when allowed, line up along the wall, take the tray of food given to you, and sit on the seat at a table for 40 (20 on each side) in the order you entered the building. We get about 15 minutes to eat, then each table is called in the same order in which we were seated.

On some days, there is a "white shirt" officer in the chow hall, and all the other corrections officers (who wear blue shirts) are on their best behavior trying to prove how good they are at their jobs. I learned that a "white shirt" officer has a higher ranking than our daily corrections officers.

When "white shirts" are in the chow hall, you can bet we will have body searches as we leave to assure nobody is bringing salt packets or the occasional cookie back to their cell. The officers pat us up and down, and search in our coat pockets. They don't search everyone, apparently just the suspicious looking ones.(It's prison, shouldn't everyone look suspicious? They do to me.) Once, when I had a bad cold, I had lots of folded up toilet paper in my pockets to use for my sneezing and runny nose. My pockets must have looked suspiciously full, because the officer beckoned me over for a search. First she patted me up and down. Then she put her bare hands in both my pockets and pulled out my used tissues. The sour look on her face made it clear she knew what she had just touched. "I have a bad cold, Miss, you might want to go wash your hands" I said. She threw the tissues on the floor and walked away towards the officer's washroom.

The food that we are served actually tastes okay sometimes. Fried chicken, unmoldy bread, any lunchmeat and cake are coveted items that many try to bring back to their cells. We are not always given salt and pepper, so those are traded to others who then return with them to the next meal, to use in case we do not get salt or pepper at that meal.

When white shirts are not present in the chow hall, and the few officers who have the reputation of "she's cool" are present, the inmates know they will not be searched. On those days, almost all trays are emptied of anything that can be wrapped in napkins. These items are then stuffed down pants, into bras, up sleeves, and into socks where they are brought back and enjoyed at a later time. I was surprised to hear others talking about how they would share this wrapped up and stuffed-into-underwear food with friends or roomies later. Ewww, gross! When I asked one friendly woman how she could stand eating food that's been carried that way, she told me that most women in the prison had lived on the streets and eaten out of dumpsters at some point in their lives. She stated that extra food wrapped in a napkin out of someone's pants was much better than some of the the things she had eaten in the past.

My gosh, it is true that three meals of prison food daily provides far better nourishment than many of these women had even gotten. How very sad.

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