When I decided to write this story I thought of posts where you can visually see what prison food looks like. I have never been inside or really anywhere near a prison or jail which is one reason why I was so curious to see what prisoners eat on Thanksgiving.
The first thing I discovered was that what they eat, and how much they eat, depends on the jail. Who's running it, what type of security level it is, and where the jail is located. There are very few laws in place that mandate what prisoners eat in general.
Nutritional standards are set by a mish mosh of state laws, local laws, and court decisions. Some prisons are required to have a certain number of meals while other have strict calorie requirements.
The higher the security the fewer options there are on Turkey day. It's one of four holidays, including Christmas, Fourth of July and New Years, where a special meal is served. Prisons across the country dish out everything from processed deli meat to half a slow roasted turkey per person in rare cases. On an average day, typical protein sources are replaced with soy substitutes.
The meal usually includes slices of turkey roll, stuffing, cranberry jelly and carrots. The real action happens after the jail sponsored meal. Inmates save up their money and food all year for this—a real feast.
Prisoners cook everything from mac and cheese to smoked turkey breast. Some people avoid typical Thanksgiving foods altogether and indulge in their favorites. Groups of ethnic prison populations tend to cook and eat separately and those who can't afford to contribute to the meal buy their plate by washing dishes.
Without access to refrigerators, inmates have to eat their food quickly and often end up sharing, even though prison culture often keeps different races from sitting at the same table.
One of the cases that set food standards in place for prisoners was Rhodes v. Chapman. The decision basically said that prisoners are not entitled to "comfort" in jail. This can be interpreted in a few different ways. The same case also ruled that facilities should be conducted in a "manner compatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."
Does a maturing society mean all prisons should have the same exact meal on Thanksgiving? Or maybe that means giving inmates access to fridges so their food won't go to waste? Even with the disparities between prisons, it's nice to know that even inmates are thankful—even if in that moment it's only for some mac and cheese.