“A typical meal was salted and broiled beef, served with ‘Indian mush,’ or boiled cornmeal flavored with molasses. During all those periods, the food was relatively high quality and nutritious.”
NPR’s Eliza Barclay reports on how some prisons have used food to create opportunities for inmates. At Angola Prison in Louisiana, inmates grow corn, wheat and soybeans for food, which they also supply to other correctional facilities.
Angola Prison was once a tobacco and cotton plantation populated by slaves from Angola in Africa, thus the name. Five million pounds of vegetables are grown there annually on 18,000 acres.
In addition to huge groves of pecans, crawfish and frog legs are taken from the prison lakes and ponds. Dozens of traditional dishes are prepared and sold inside the prison farm.
The Northeastern Correctional Center, a minimum-security prison in Concord, Massachusetts, has a restaurant called The Fife and Drum. Both the chefs and wait staff are inmates, and are enrolled in a food service training program; the restaurant offers a daily lunch bargain For just $3.21.
The restaurant provides culinary training for the inmates, who rotate jobs every five weeks. “It gives you that experience of working in a real restaurant,” said Calvin Hodge, who is serving a six-year sentence.
“So when I do go home, I can say I got X amount of time of real experience — hands-on everything, feeding to the public, and I can cook pretty good. So, I should be able to get a position somewhere.”
Prison officials say the goal is to help inmates gain real skills they can use to find work when they’re released. The culinary program spends about $500 a week on food.
Barclay notes the model of turning prison food service into a job-training program is gaining traction in the U.K. as well.
The Clink Charity opened a restaurant at High Down prison in 2009, and just opened another one inside the visitor center at Cardiff Prison.
“The Clink Charity offers the hospitality industry the opportunity to make a real change in prisoner’s lives by training them and offering full time employment upon release. The Clink Restaurant provides a real working environment and an opportunity to change people’s perceptions of prisoners and attract potential employers.”
The Clink Charity boasts a recidivism rate of 12.5 percent among inmates who participate in their High Down restaurant, compared with a national average of 47 percent.
The Great Escape Restaurant is located in a building that used to be America’s oldest active jail. Today, the restaurant is “designed with a jail theme featuring brick walls, the original 2-foot thick granite floor, a bar made out of recycled cell doors, and cell bars all around,” according to the website.
Prison Brews opened a brewpub two blocks from the old Missouri State Penitentiary.