To Eat or Not to Eat in Prison (18) By Edna Merle




Food can be orgasmic. It had been that way for me before in my life. When I saw the movie 9 and a half weeks it became even more so. Food was a way of life that encompassed the emotional and sexual and even the deviant side of the way I lived. I overdid everything, including drugs, which for me food had become.

My mother has always been a great cook who created Italian and French cuisines to present to her unaware family. Oh, we knew the food tasted great. And we always came home for dinner but we didn’t know what went into the creation and we certainly didn’t know about the desire that stimulated the creation in the first place. But we very rarely missed dinner. That was actually like ritual to my family; dinner was eaten together.

When I was sentenced to do 17 years in prison in May of 1996 I couldn’t fathom the fact that food would most certainly not be a highlight of my existence there. I remember when my dad died in November 1997; one of my first thoughts was that he would not be able to enjoy his corned beef sandwich or his eggplant anymore. And, oh, I cried when I knew he wouldn’t make chicken soup again. But the thing that really upset me was the fact that I would never make him chocolate chip cookies and give him one hot from the oven. That broke my heart because I had told my dad that I would make him cookies when I came home. Now it was never to be.

Food is a very important part of most people’s everyday life. They live their life around food. They live to eat. But when I went to prison I very consciously made up my mind to change my emotional brain into thinking: I eat to live, not live to eat, as I had done in my past life and was how I did everything else too. It was live to get high, live to have sex, live to make money, live to become something special. I never thought I was special and that maybe was why I needed to live in the first place.

As I said before in an earlier blog post, I was reborn through the love of Christ. And so I was able without too much pain, to change my thinking into eat to live, instead of live to eat.  Frankly the food in prison sucked. Prison food is unhealthy and barely sustains life (all that is required).  So it would be difficult to enjoy it or consider eating in prison as a highlight to one’s day. It was just something to get through, get over with so that you might be able to enjoy the next hour or so allotted for “free time”.

The dining hall wasn’t without excitement. One day I decided I needed to try to eat breakfast, so I went to the dining hall. The Correctional officer was watching the serving window to ensure everyone got their required amount. Standing at the service line looking through the service window the trays were lined up when I noticed one looked different. It was two trays ahead of mine. It had something black sticking out of the grits which was the main food on the tray. The tray came through the window and the receiver grabbed the tray and proceeded to move when suddenly she screamed and threw the tray on the floor.

What we saw was a rat-tail that had been strategically placed under her grits with the ends sticking out ever so cleanly on the edges. The officer said nothing. In fact, kept the line moving. The episode was as if it never happened. We who saw it left in disgust and anger. That was the kind of thing that happened every day, every meal, but was kept quiet, like nothing ever happened. You’d almost think you could have imagined it or maybe dreamed it. Because in the real world something would most certainly have been said, or made of that. It would have been on TV in the news. Not simply overlooked, hushed and kept seriously on the down low. Everything was kept on the down low in prison. That’s one reason why prison felt like living in an alternate reality of the olden days, say in the 1950’s. Really, prison hasn’t progressed much since then. They haven’t been able to. They can’t afford to progress.  Progressing would entail  better jobs in prison, more higher educational opportunities, equal rights between races, preventative healthcare and much more, an impossibility because no one agency can afford it. The system as it is provides what is called adequate healthcare. The system does nothing to promote health, only sustains life. So, what the prisoner is provided to subsist on after many years may very well promote illness and death.  This is a huge problem.

In the early years of my prison eating experience I discovered a food supplement for farm animals was being served to us. It was called VitaPro.   The container it came in clearly said on the side, “Not for human consumption”. Yet, this is what we were given until people started getting sick and the words on the packaging leaked out.  That was a dirty business. But just one example of how the system tried to cut food cost regardless of the consequences.  I guess that’s an easy thing to do because most people that aren’t in prison or have family members in prison do not know about the food problems or if they did, don’t really care. It’s not their problem.

Here is an example of a salad: two pieces of the palest lettuce leafs that you could see through if you held them up to the light. That’s it, salad for you. Not even worth the energy it takes to place them in your mouth.

The very last Thanksgiving I spent in prison was the worst of my whole incarceration. Usually, Thanksgiving is awesomely wonderful and a true reminder of home. This last one the free world food service workers stole the turkeys and lettuce. So the inmates had shredded turkey and lettuce cores for their salad. It was such a disappointment I wanted to cry. I was so mad. Yet there was nothing we could do, and then the holiday was over. I attributed it to my one more final thrust of being F—–d before my release, to ensure I’d never be back.

And that is also a good point. The food in prison can’t be good, really. If it was, more people would commit crimes to be sentenced to prison. So honestly they can’t make the eating an enjoyable experience. But, damn it didn’t have to been an unhealthy one as well.

So many prisoners end up with hypothyroidism because of the lack of fresh vegetables and the fact that they are served too many items made with soy. Even the items sold at the prison commissary have soy added as a major ingredient or by-product. Soy interferes with the thyroid hormone which is the motor of the body. So, after many years of bad diet and stress one may end up with more illnesses than they came in with. Then the cost of healthcare eventually rises and that prisoner has cost the state even more money than the crime itself has warranted.  But alas, what can one do?

We can only ask our congressmen, I’m told. But I don’t have one as I’m not allowed the right to vote, yet.


2 Responses to To Eat or Not to Eat in Prison (18) By Edna Merle

  1. Kirk DuVall says:

I’ve never had such an inside look into a system of our government that you provide for us. I hope you can understand my position here, that the priority of the penal system is not to keep the inmates healthy, it’s to keep society healthy from crime. With that said, I would vote today to bring back prison farms, where the inmates would work a row crop type of farm, and even raise and butcher livestock, for there meals. That would provide good food, and good exercise for the inmates, at a low cost to society. I cringe every time I see these huge convicts in prison that are working out with weights, getting stronger and stronger, so when they reenter the real world, the look like bodybuilders !!! ( that scares me !!! ) I’d rather them look kinda scrawny and weak, ( like me !!! ) Plus the farm and ranch idea, would build job skills, give much needed exercise, and knowledge, that might help them when and if they are released. I don’t have cattle anymore, but when I did. It took a lot of effort to raise and keep these animals. I see it as a win win situation. Also I think more effort should be put into education. If I was on a parole board, I would require a ( GED ) before release of any inmate. Just my thoughts !!!

  1. ednamerle says:

October 11, 2010 at 11:58 am (Edit)

There are a lot of working prison farms in Georgia. Where I was in the North Georgia Mountains there was a pig farm and a cow farm. Trustee status inmates worked on those farms because they were located outside of the prison on the surrounding land. They didn’t do any slaughtering there. They artificially inseminated the pigs at the Alto location. The women that worked there loved the job. They loved the little pigs and felt comfortable doing the job. It was a job I couldn’t have done.

There are dairy farms in prison that the men work at as well as vegetable farms. That is where most of the food for the inmates in Georgia’s prisons comes from. On one occasion that I know of at Alto opening a huge can of “greens” produced a nice leather glove. Then opening another found its match. It was kind of funny and gross too.

Around 1995 the work out equipment was removed from most of the prisons in Georgia. So to work out the prisoners would fill net bags with plastic bottles filled with water and hoist those things up and down. They would also participate in aerobics, yoga and a host of other exercise programs available without machines that included basketball, volleyball, baseball and touch football. But that was not a routine that could be relied upon. One day didn’t have to be like the one before it or after. The officers, if there were enough of them would have a “yard call” or “gym call”. But on many occasions there simply weren’t enough officers to facilitate any recreation.

You are also correct that a GED should be a prerequisite of parole. It actually is in most cases. There are a few who seem to get around it though. But for the most part if someone is sentenced to prison and doesn’t have a high school diploma or a GED they are most of the time required to “go to school” until that is achieved before they can have a job in the prison and/or come up for parole. Remember that parole is an early release from prison. So, if someone doesn’t want to go to school they can opt out of an early release and do all their time (max out). I knew too many that chose that route. It baffled me. But when an inmate could work in the kitchen they usually would make arrangements to take items and sell them to other inmates by way of trading for things bought from the commissary. That way they could get cigarettes and coffee and other things they wanted if they didn’t have money sent into them from a family member or friends. So sometimes these people would prefer smoking and drinking coffee over getting a free GED. The people who did acquire their GED in prison also received a HOPE grant to go towards furthering their education either while still in prison or after release.

I only knew one body builder in prison. Mostly body builders are in the men’s prisons where they better be fit or suffer indignities you can imagine I’m sure being a guy.



Posted on October 13, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well I’m glad to hear the state has taken my advise !!! lol But seriously, it’s good to hear that the old timey prison farm is not dead. I think a lot of lessons can be learned from growing food, raising livestock, and basically good hard work. I have gotten into trouble myself in the past, and had it not been for a well connected lawyer, that just happened to be friend of my family, I might have had some time given to me, for what is widely recognized as a victimless crime. ( and no, it wasn’t prostitution, I just like growing stuff !!! ) I feel there are many people in the system, who don’t need to be doing time in ( big boy/girl prison ). But the ones who do belong there, are there to pay a debt to society, not be a drain on the budget. I feel like a hard ass for saying this in your blog, but prison should be a place, a criminal ( and no, I don’t consider you a real criminal ) would never want to return to !!! Also, I think knowing how to read/write on a certain level, should be mandatory for any release from prison, paroled/maxed out, if not to just to give them a fighting chance out in the real world !!! Just my thoughts !!!

  2. I’m grateful for all your comments. Also, I’m happy to answer questions about my experiences.

  3. I wish you and those like you had to spend a month in prison to see how really awful it is. Then i bet you would change your attitude .

  4. Joe, if you read more of my blog you’d know that I served 14 plus years in prison. Tell us how it is for the men since you obviously have also served time.

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