Where do Inmates Eat

Where do Inmates Eat?

Food is an extremely common topic that people bring up when they ask me about prison life. People are always asking me about what inmates eat, where the food comes from, how often inmates eat, and where inmates eat. For some reason, people really want to know the answers to these questions!

Like I say in just about every blog post, every prison does things differently. So, it’s impossible for me to give a universal answer. But I did spend four years in prison at a women’s facility in Missouri, so I can share some first-hand experiences. 

During my first two years behind bars, I worked in food service and the food service warehouse. During my last two years, I worked at the inmate canteen. So, I had a front row seat when it came to how the food was prepared and delivered on camp. 

That makes me a self-proclaimed prison food expert (LOL). So today I’m going to talk about prison food and answer the question—where do inmates eat?

Today’s blog post will cover the following topics:

  • Prison food is mostly supplied by local vendors
  • Is prison food “not for human consumption?”
  • How often do inmates eat?
  • Where do inmates eat?
  • What food is available at the commissary?

Prison food is mostly supplied by local vendors

When I worked in the food service warehouse, food was delivered daily by local vendors. It was my job to unload the trucks and then stock the supplies in the warehouse. It was also my job to load up the kitchen carts everyday for the specific items that food service needed to make the daily menu.

We had an insane amount of bread delivered every week by a local bakery. There was also a local produce company that delivered fresh fruit and vegetables, and a dairy delivery driver who dropped off milk.

The biggest deliveries we would get came from the Department of Corrections. The Missouri DOC contracts with different food suppliers, and those items are dropped off at a central warehouse. Then, they are divided up among the different facilities and delivered to each location twice per week.

This is the truck that delivered things like chicken patties, salisbury steak, canned veggies, jello and pudding, and cereal. Everything was in bulk—50 pound bags, big cases, and full pallets. 

Is prison food ‘not for human consumption?’

When I was in prison, there was a rumor going around that claimed the food that was delivered to the prison was marked “not for human consumption” on the packaging. Believe me, I always looked for that on everything that was delivered. But, I never saw it once. 

How often do inmates eat?

The chow hall was open three times per day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But, you weren’t forced to go if you didn’t want to. Breakfast was between 5:00 am and 7:00 am, depending on where you were housed. Lunch was between 10:30 am and 12:30 pm, and dinner was between 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm.

Breakfast was by far the best meal of the day. They would often serve pancakes, french toast, hot cereal, fruit, grits, or toast with peanut butter, plus milk and coffee.

Lunch and dinner were hit and miss, but mostly a miss. The best days were when they served chicken patties with mashed potatoes and gravy, grilled cheese with tomato soup, or pizza (the square kind like you got in elementary school). 

But as a rule, they were serving up masterpieces like “poultry a la king”, “chicken cacciatore”, or “poultry tetrazzini” with a side of beans. Sweet Jesus there were a lot of beans — pinto, Great Northern, baked, lima. I could go on and on.

On the days that apple crisp was on the menu for dessert, you would go to chow hall no matter what they were serving for dinner because that apple crisp was fire.

Where do inmates eat?

On lower-level security camps where there is inmate movement, inmates will eat in the chow hall. It’s essentially the camp cafeteria. And if you try to smuggle anything out of there and get caught, you will go to the hole. 

At higher security level prisons — and in high security units — inmates will have their trays delivered and they will eat in their cell. 

The same thing goes for inmates who are in administrative segregation or the infirmary. Their trays are delivered instead of the inmates going to chow hall.

What food is available at the commissary?

I was fortunate to have enough money on my books during my last two years in prison that I didn’t have to go to chow hall if I didn’t want to. Instead, I would order food from the commissary (the inmate grocery store) and cook it in the microwave at my housing unit.

I don’t want to brag, but I could make some gourmet meals in the microwave with ramen noodles, Ritz crackers, and a bag of chicken. I really should have written a prison cookbook!

The food items available at our commissary included bags of tuna, chicken, and sausage. There were also pasta noodles, pasta sauce, cheese, and ramen noodles. We usually had toaster pastries, oatmeal, peanut butter, and dry cereal. There were also different kinds of crackers, chips, and tortillas.

You could buy spices, condiments, and sugar. And drinks like coffee, tea, soda, and lemonade.

At the prison I was in, we also had fundraisers where you could buy a wider variety of chips and candy than what was available at the canteen. We could also buy bags of frozen vegetables. 

And occasionally, organizations would have special fundraisers where we could buy things like Pizza Hut personal pizzas and Subway sandwiches. And let me tell you, I LIVED for those fundraisers!

Do you think you could handle the food in prison? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources:

My Story, incarcerated at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Corrections Center in Vandalia, MO 2013-2017

About the Author Natalie

Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.

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