The following blog post is a guest post written by freelance writer Nadijah Campbell.
On Tuesdays they rejoice because they’re served chicken that’s cooked well, however, on many other days, inmates are left with a bad taste in their mouths.
According to current and former inmates of the Florida Department of Corrections, food served in the prisons throughout Florida isn’t suitable for consumption and doesn’t meet dietary needs.
“We were served processed meats, stuff that was left over from big businesses or companies,” said Tas Buchannon, who was recently released from Homestead Correctional Institution. “They put it all together into something called mystery meat.”
Even if she bypassed the meat, many times the food was also prepared or served wrong.
“Sometimes it’s burnt and they’ll still give it to you,” Buchannon said. “Sometimes it’s sour and they’ll still give it to you. Things are undercooked, crunchy and things like that.”
It wasn’t surprising that the food was of low quality. She said it was prison and if she didn’t want to be treated that way she shouldn’t have did what she did.
Not everyone thinks that’s a good reason.
“Budget before quality means everything is low quality, bare minimum,” said Leel Ogliway of Everglade Correctional Institution. “I’ve been to soup kitchens that served better food than what we get.”
Frein Tinchen, of Tomoka Correctional Institution, actually likes the food but said if he could change anything it would be to use real meat and to lower costs in the commissary.
The commissary, which is essentially a mini store, offers many options that inmates are more accustomed to like milk, oatmeal, Trail Mix, and multi-vitamins.
While there are many healthy options, prices are so high people can’t afford to supplement their diet. To make matters worse, prices were quadrupled in the last couple of years according to Tinchen.
“When you don’t have the money you don’t have the money,” Buchannon said. “You have to eat what they give you and what they give you, it’s not healthy.”
As of November 18, the, the average amount an inmate spent at the canteen per week was $41.18 according to the FDC.
The Prison Rehabilitation Industries and Diversified Enterprises employed 3,380 inmates in 2015, each earning only approximately $438 in the year.
That’s only $8 per week if they were lucky, meaning the remaining funds were dependent on outside support. Sanders was not one of the lucky few.
Despite being in prison for almost 2.5 years she was only able to eat from canteen four times. In order to get money her family couldn’t afford to send over, she washed clothes for $3.50 a week as an under the table job.
Many others are in her position, where they don’t make enough money to supplement their diets and their families don’t have enough to help. The poor inmates face a tougher life even in a system that’s made to put everyone on an equal playing field.
Representatives of the FDC said getting a proper meal is still possible even if the commissary is unaffordable.
“The Department’s Food Service Program provides adequate nutrition to maintain the general population’s metabolic needs throughout the day,” they said.
Unfortunately nutrition isn’t the only issue the inmates are facing when it comes to food.
Eating too fast is known to cause indigestion, weight gain and many other health problems, but inmates in the FDC have no other options.
“The rule is we are allowed 15 minutes to eat,” Tinchen said. “Most of the time you get 5.”
Where the food is served is also a concern. Inmate reports said food trays have mold, serving utensils are greasy and the dining halls themselves are dirty.
Inmates said there hasn’t been much conversation on this issue because it’s not the most important thing. Cameron Sanchez of Dade Correctional Institution hopes to see life sentence laws changed more than he hopes to see a change in what’s being put on a tray.
The names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the interviewees.
Nadijah Campbell is a senior at the University of Miami studying journalism and public relations. She has wrote for numerous media outlets including the bi-langual magazine Motivos and USA TODAY NETWORK – Wisconsin, and is continuing her career with a fellowship through Bread for the World in 2016 to report on stories about hunger and poverty. Bread for the World is a non-profit that urges decision makers to end hunger by changing policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist. Her ultimate goal is to own a storytelling business to fight social injustices.