I’ve written about how the TDCJ prison system was once run by turnkeys, and then I explained the shortcomings of the grievance system. Now, I can go on and tell you about the kitchen/chow hall.
Texas Government Code Section 501-003 says, in relevant part: The department [TDCJ] shall ensure that inmates housed in facilities operated by the department are fed good and wholesome food, prepared under sanitary conditions, and provided in sufficient quantity and reasonable variety.”
To this end, Huntsville has even employed an M.D. and registered dietician, Dr. Ashok Reddy Kuchukulla. I have to laugh at the way that the TDCJ will go out of its way, spending a ton of money to hire this guy to meticulously plan our daily meals for the whole month. Why? Because one thing you can count on is that, when the TDCJ goes to all this trouble to make themselves look this good, it’s all a smoke screen to cover their asses. The menu that Dr. K writes up is supposed to be implemented system-wide, and at one time at least, the menu was available online. It is still provided to anyone who inquires about the eating routine of prisoners in Texas. It all comes down to a wonderful, variated, and tasteful cornicopia of sustenance that is experienced by eyery prisoner on every prison in the, state, and it all measures up to 2,000 calories per day. In reality, it’s horseshit.
For instance, if you look at the menu, you’ll see that we have eggs of some kind every other day, and two times, a month in “breakfast for supper”. That’s a grand total of 15 times. In real life, though, if we get eggs twice a week (or, 8 times a month), we’re doing really good. Now, we’re not talking about steak and shrimp, here. This is eggs, you know, fried, scrambled, boiled. Plain ol’ eggs. So, why wouldn’t we get something as easy to cook and serve as eggs when we are supposed to? Good question.
One of the kitchen captain’s favorite-statements “We’re running short, and we don’t have enough for everyone.” In classic TDCJ fashion, captain is telling the truth… all part of it. This unit has 247 officers. That is not counting those with rank or administrators or civilian staff that are employed by maintenance, the furniture factory, the school, etc. Each morning, all these folks traipse in and make their way to the OTHER chow hall, on our unit, the Officer’s Dining Room, or ODR. Now, by TDCJ policy and law, the ODR is permitted, but only if it serves the same food that is being served to the offenders. The only caveat is that it may be prepared in a different manner. For instance, if baked chicken is on the Inmate Dining Room (IDR) menu, then the ODR can serve fried chicken or boiled chicken. But back to the eggs. All these, folks come into the ODR, and for absolutely NO MONEY DOWN, NO MONEY LATER, they order up these egg and cheese burritos or egg and cheese sandwiches. Add that to what the kitchen workers eat, and the ones that get doled out by the officers to their favorite inmate-slaves, and you quickly figure out why we can’t serve eggs to the 1,385 men on this unit. All the eggs, cheese, broad and tortillas are already half-way gone.
You see, what’s implied by “we don’t have enough” is that the food isn’t being sent to the unit. But Dr. K, who was the only administrator who responded to our inquiries mailed out to a dozen people, told us that the “baseline order” (the food necestary to prepare every item on the state menu) is sent to the unit every single month. So while the menu may show we’re down here eating srambled eggs today, french toast tomorrow, and pancakes the day after that, the truth is that we’ve been eating pancakes eight or nine days out of ten. How’s that for “reasonable variety”?
Another thing that’s supposed to be on the breakfast menu, EVERY SINGLE DAY, is 1 tablespoon of sugar. They do this, I presume, so that we might be able to freshen up that swill they jokingly call coffee. Nov 1,385 prisoners multiplied by 30 days comes to hundreds of pounds of sugar. That’s just breakfast, not including any desserts made or special drinks like digeet tea, or foods like candied sweet potates. Well, I’ve been here for over eight years. My buddy Powers, has been here for more than ten. And not once has either of us ever seen sugar on the tray for breakfast or any other meal, period. Maybe twice a month, we get sweet tea. Once a week, we get dessert. Every other meal includes a drink with no sugar, but artificial sweetner. So, my question has always been, “Where’s the sugar?!” I’ve almost eaten 3,000 breakfasts in my eight years, not counting all the other inmates. All the sugar this prison has received in that time that hasn’t been put on the tray or otherwise served to the inmates could fill every cubic inch of the kitchen. It should be pouring out the doors, for Christ’s sake! But it ain’t. And you know why it ain’t? Here’s why.
Seven pounds of this sugar goes to the ODR every day. They have sweet tea prepared by the inmates and’ served in nice big glasses full of ice. It goes in THEIR coffee. They get dessert every day, even if law and policy say they’re only supposed to have what the inmates have. That alone is 210 pounds of sugar a month. But there’s still got to be more. It sure is curions where it might be going, but maybe I can shed some light, on the possibilities by telling you’ more.
I’m going to move on to lunch and dinner. My daughter looked at the state menu online. Her reaction was the same as just about everyone’s who sees it. “Wow! They feed you guys really good.” Every first and fifteenth, the menu says we get chicken quarters. Every 25th, chicken-fried steak. Hamburgers. Pork chops. Beef enchiladas. Soft tacos. It reads like the profferings on a cruise ship. Then there are the grilled cheese sandwiches (2 per meal, when served), sweet and sour pork, breaded cutlets. But here’s the real catch of the day… THE MENU IS A COMPLETE LIE!
We know the food is getting here, because Dr. K told us so. Why aren’t we getting these meals? I mean really, chicken fried steak every month? I remember it being served maybe twice in the last couple of years, both times on holidays. Instead, the IDR serves the same meal five times a week with a bunch of different names to throw you off the trail- beef and potatos, beef picadillo, beef stew, and beef hash appear on the menu in one week, and THEY ARE ALL THE EXACT SAME MEAL. And it’s mot even made right, but I’ll get more into that ih a moment.
Here’s what’s happening. If I ask why we can’t get served what the menu says we ought to be eating, the kitchen captain will say that the menu is a guide. It’s not mandatory and it tells you that it is subject to change without notice. Once again, the Captain has told the TDCJ truth. A closer look at the policy reveals the word “change” is inaccurate. The captain can “substitute” one meal for another, but this is with the understanding that the meal will be served at another time in the month. For instance, let’s say the chicken quarters didn’t arrive at the warehouse on time for shipment to unit. The captain can change the menu for the 1st of the month and serve (HA!) the chicken fried steak we were supposed to get on the 25th. But the chicken doesn’t just disappear.
It comes in on another, later supply truck, and should be served on the 25th in place of the chicken fried steak. Instead, this lady changes both meals to beef stew! Now, have any inmates grieved this? Of course. But, as I explained. in my last essay, who reads the grievance? That’s right. The kitchen captain’s son or daughter or BFF!
Which leaves the question, “Whai is happening to all this meat and other food we are supposed to get?” Remember, the ODR is supposed to aerve the exact same thing we get in the IDR. If the inmates are eating “greenbean casserole”, which is not even on the state menu, yet frequently graces our food trays. Well, the officers are supposed to be eating “greenbean casserole” or fried greenbeans or boiled greenbeans, etc.- the same food with latitude in preparation only. They WILL put a tray of this greenbean shit on the line in the ODR. It sits there, gathering dust, while the ODR fryorder cooks are back there making the officers tacos, chicken patty-sandwiches, pork chops, and other goodies. They also, remember, get dessert every day- cake, pies, cookies. Moreover, they have a CONDIMENT BAR! All the relish, jalepenos, pickles and mayo you read about on the menu? Well, it’s over there on the ODR’s condiment bar. And the kitchen captain sets them up with all kinds of meat, sugar, and side dishes. Even though each staff member is entitled to one and only one meal per day on the taxpayer’s dime, they eat several times a day, and after they’ve been fed all this extra stuff, when it comes to the inmates.
There’s not shit left. (And really, is there any other job in the free world where you can just slop continually at someone else’s expense and then retire and come back again after 90 days to get pension PLUS wages? Wow! And then we wonder why the budget’s in trouble?)
Not too long ago, a local food bank donated some food to the prison as they do from time to time. They gave us the biggest hunch of turkey legs you’ve ever seen. It was like heaven had opened up and God sent us meat! We never get real turkey. Even on Thanksgiving, it’s processed stuff. The inmate kitchen workers told us there were enough legs for at least three or four meals. But what happens? Our warden, Mr. Beard, takes all of the turkey. He gives some to another warden, and he fixes the rest in a giant bar-b-que at his place for the officers. They sat around drinking beer and eating our meat. And this happens all the time. How do we know? Because these sons of bitches come back here and brag in our faces about the food they know WE were supposed to be eating!
Also, there’s churches or volunteers that donate food. They’ll come in and ask, “How did you guys like the (fill In the blank) that we sent up for you?” And we are like, “What?! We never got any such thing!” Everyone just shakes their heads in unbelief, and we later hear how they’ve been enjoying the donation down in the ODR. A church a couple of years ago gave thousand of bottles of sports drink. There was enough for at least three meals. All of a sudden, all the officers are running around the unit with these bottles of sports drink. The inmates who didn’t work in the kitchen didn’t get a single bottle of the stuff.
No discussion of the chow hall would be complete without a look at our portion sizes. Each meal, the inmates are supposed to get a 4-ounce portion of meat, for example. But by the time the kitchen workers eat their fill, feed the officers, and steal some to sell on their housing units, there’s virtually nothing left to feed us. Almost every meal we get, our meat is ground up to unrecognizable nothingness and mixed in with large amounts of potatos or pasta. With meatloaf, there’s a little smidge of meat with globs and globs of oatmeal. This goes on month after month. You write a grievance, but the one reading the grievance is the same one down in the ODR eating up all the good stuff. Of COURSE they’re not going to rock the boat. Besides shooting themselves in the foot, they’d be run out of the prison on a rail with tar and feathers for rocking the boat. They the wardens, the rank, the officers believe in their hearts that the food sent here is their, food, just like they, think everything else on this farm belongs to them personally. “My grass.” “My sidewalk.” “My door.”
I don’t know this for sure, because I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, but rumors have abounded for years that the excess meat and other foodstuffs are being sold out the back door. After watching the TDCJ staff and wardens for almost 13 years lie, abuse, cheat, and assault inmates, believing that they’d steal some food is not so hard. It’s so bad here right now that we are down to two or three things on a plate that is supposed to have all five of its slots filled up at each meal. Just this morning, we had pancakes with syrup, but no butter or peanut butter to go with it, apple sauce, and grits so runny they looked like thinned out creamed corn instead of grits. Not even any salt or pepper for the grit-soup.
I’ll leave you with this. Some years back, the system started feeding us Vita-pro. At first they mixed it in with the meat- two pounds for every twelve. Before long, though, it was 10 pounds of Vita-pro and 2 pounds of meat. Then, all of these inmates started getting sick- swelling up, many with tumors. Then somebody forgot to pull the label off this shit before they served it to us one day. “Not fit for human consumption. For hogs only.” Even though the bastards knew this, they fed it to us anyway, day after day for years. Thousands of inmates got seriously sick, and I even heard some died. And that’s why they finally stopped serving it to us. Otherwise, we’d probably still be eating it, see, because that’s all we are to these people, a bunch of hogs to be slopped and slaughtered for profit.