Friday, July 10, 2009

Soup Du Jour for the Incarcerated

After a three-month hiatus, I've decided to resurrect The Greasy Bookshelf, where I spotlight significant food moments in books I've read.

I bet there´s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
they´re probably drinkin´ coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can´t be free
but those people keep a movin´
and that´s what tortures me...

Well if they´d free me from this prison,
if that railroad train was mine
I bet I´d moved it all a little further down the line
far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
and I´d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....
I bet I´d move just a little further down the line
far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
and I´d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....

***"Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash

I have an acquaintance who works at the state prison in Lansing, so I often ask him about prison food and what's on the cafeteria menu. Two weeks ago when the temperature assaulted us with triple digits, he told me that they served the inmates soup. It should be noted that the inmates don't have air conditioning, and they were served a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, not a chilled gazpacho. Needless to say the inmates were pissed. I sympathize with them. It does seem a bit cruel and unusual. If I would have been dining in the prison cafeteria that day, I would have jumped up on a table and shouted, "At-tic-ca! At-tic-ca! At-tic-ca!" I'm sure they throw inmates in the hole for such antics, , but at least there I'd have time to allow my soup to cool.

Today I pulled The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison by Pete Earley off the Greasy Bookshelf. In addition to having the state prison located in nearby Lansing, Leavenworth is also home to the United States Penitentiary and the United States Disciplinary Barracks located in Ft. Leavenworth, so prisons are a big industry in the area.

Anyway, the book gives a dramatic (maybe overly dramatic) look at life inside the Leavonworth Pen. It's a quick read, and there are a few good "foodie" moments in the book that show us food is more than food. My favorite involves a Sunday evening ritual for inmates who work in the kitchen. During this time they're allowed to cook their own meals. Mr. Earley gives us a glimpse of this unique freedom in the following passage:

Technically, the kitchen was closed. Inmates had to make do on Sunday morning with a brunch of coffee, milk, and pastries, and a dinner of cold cuts and bread. But behind the kitchen's stainless-steel doors, the inmate cooks divided themselves, as always, along ethnic lines and the mammoth kitchen took on the atmosphere of a church bazaar. Black inmates ate fried chicken with thick white gravy in one area; a handful of Chicanos dined on tortillas and refried beans in another. Bucklew and his crew ate spaghetti and pork chops in the officers' cafeteria.

While it's not exactly as elaborate and adventurous as the mafia dinner-behind-bars ritual described in Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguys (Many of you probably recall this moment as it's depicted in the movie Goodfellas), it still sounds tasty to me.

always be a good boy; don't ever play with guns,

PS. . . I'm sure taking photographs of prison is prohibited, but I'll go to great lengths to give my readers what they want.


Marianne said...

Soup on a hot day is cruel. Just sayin'...

Anonymous said...

Tell K. happy B-day!