A few years ago, I was sent by a magazine to spend two days at an Indiana prison to write about food—what’s served in the cafeteria, how inmates improvise dishes from commissary snacks, and the larger question of what happens when you lose the freedom to choose what and when you eat? (The story was published in the now-defunct Lucky Peach, but Vanity Fair published an excerpt here.) Yes, the kneejerk reaction is that inmates broke societal laws, who gives a shit if they lose spaghetti-and-meatball privileges. But if you saw the paltry, flavorless slop being fed to these inmates, and if you’re one to believe being under-fed contributes to deleterious behavior, you would realize it’s a nuanced and complicated issue with no easy answers.
Coming across otherwise crime blotter story in the New York Post, about an escaped inmate in Texas who momentarily left prison to bring back contraband, I can’t help but to empathize on one detail: That amongst the booze and tobacco brought back, the inmate was also caught with “a large amount of home-cooked food.”
According to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, 25-year-old Joshua Hansen escaped through the rear of a federal prison in Beaumont on Jan. 25, crossing into a private property where a vehicle had earlier dropped a large duffel bag. Hansen was caught retrieving this duffel bag, which contained three bottles of brandy, a bottle of whiskey, various snack foods, plus sausages, chicken, tuna, vegetables, and rice. It’s easy for us free citizens to take for granted, but the lengths people will go for a home-cooked meal—especially when you haven’t had one in years—is staggering.