Fall 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

We have reached the dog days of summer. Around my house the cicadas are buzzing in the trees, the grass is brown and if I wasn’t watering every couple of days the flowers would be dead. With the Labor Day holiday upon us serving as the warning that summer is almost over. Or for your sports fans football season starts!

It’s funny how we use events to mark the passage of time in our lives. Some are trivial like sports, others are earth shattering like the death of a loved one, or the one that we are all most familiar with is going to prison. The important thing is that the events must have a personal meaning. The times in our lives that are a blur are the ones that don’t have any memorable events to provide a time frame. As I heard it expressed once, “Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.”

The question becomes what are you doing to create those all important milestones? In a place where the daily routine is monotonous by design what can you do? My friend Daniel would say you can do an in-depth Bible study or book by a classic Christian author like C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer, or Wigglesworth. Spending time to study word by word, line by line, concept by concept until you have absorbed it. Savor the time spent with the material, take notes, meditate on it, memorize passages that have special meaning. Let it permeate your being and it will transform you.

I always recommend doing something for others. Whether it is for someone cl0se to you or a stranger. By serving others you not only make a milestone for yourself but also for the other person. This may or may not require you to get outside your comfort zone. There doesn’t need to be a financial cost. Most times it is just our time that we can give to help another person. I like to say that we are “blessed to be a blessing.” It doesn’t take much to look around and see the needs of others. The key is this only happens when we aren’t focused on ourselves.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For every thing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Every season will end. Life moves forward whether we want it to or not. Life is change. Whether for better or worse is often how we interpret it, either optimisticly or pessimisticly. If life gives you lemons make lemonade, otherwise the sour look on your face has no up side. Trust God to be faithful. He is in control even when we feel like life is out of control.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” E.M. Bounds says, “Trust is faith that has become absolute, approved, and accomplished.” So I encourage you to keep the faith, and make the most of this season in your life. Know that you are not alone and not forgotten. I’m praying for you.

Your Brother in Christ

January 2019 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

Psalms 51 has always been my favorite prayer of King David.  It is the most honest prayer of repentance that I have ever heard.  It is the model by which we should craft our own prayers asking for God’s forgiveness.  According to Old Testament law adulterers were to be stoned.  Murder to cover up the adultery also would have been a crime with a death penalty.  Now no one in Israel would have ever seriously considered stoning the king.  But being above the law of man is not the same as being above the law of God.  When the prophet Nathan confronted David as recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12 David showed why God had made him king in the first place.  Unlike Saul who blamed others for his personal failings David accepted responsibility for his actions and immediately repented.  In the era of the #METOO movement not one of the celebrities or politicians that has been accused has admitted responsibility in any way let alone given more than a token apology.

C.S. Lewis in “On Forgiveness” from The Weight of Glory says: “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meaness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.  That an only that is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”

There are three parts to this statement.  First is the internal perspective in which you as the perpetrator must come to terms with your own actions and rather than excusing or discounting them accept them as wrong and commit to making the necessary changes to move forward.  The second is the eternal perspective in which you as the person who has committed the offense must see it as it really is and seek reconciliation with God through repentance.  Many people fail at this step.  It is one thing to admit a personal failing to yourself.  It is another thing entirely to kneel before God and make a solemn plea for forgiveness.  The third part is the external perspective in which you must extend the same forgiveness to others as you seek for yourself with God. This step is not even possible without God’s grace.

In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12 Jesus instructs the disciples to pray “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  If you can’t forgive others for the hurt they have inflicted on you how can you expect God to forgive you for what you’ve done?  This is what separates Christians from other people.  Forgiveness is the cornerstone to reconciliation.  Without reconciliation there can be no relationship between two people separated by the gulf of hurt, shame, anger, and retribution.  Reconciliation is a foreign concept in todays legal system and the reason why it has failed.  Most 12-Step programs have a step in which you need to seek forgiveness from those you’ve wronged (if possible).  But they also go on to say that even if the other person won’t forgive you that’s their choice.  You must move forward in your life.  If the other person choses not to forgive then they are choosing to live in the past and continue to give someone else power over them.  Forgiveness breaks the bonds that are holding a person back from healing and moving forward.

Psalms 51:10-13 says “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit in me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit away from me.  Restore unto me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  My prayer for you is that you would have a spirit willing to do whatever it takes to hold onto the joy that only a relationship with God can provide.

Your Brother in Christ

Winter 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

This is the 3rd annual Christmas letter.  I can’t believe that time has gone by so fast for me.  I pray that it has gone quickly for you as well.  As always you remain in my heart and prayers.  This year has seen 2 more of my pen-pals parole.  I recently had the opportunity to visit one of last years parolees.  He is doing very well and is working in church ministry.  It was a great afternoon spent catching up.  Even after leaving prison I continue to pray for and correspond with men who need a friend or counselor.  I will try to do anything within my power to help.  Unfortunately receiving a parole and leaving prison doesn’t guarantee success while on parole.  In response to a request I have written an article about surviving parole which will be coming in January when I have time to finalize it.

The other day I made 10 dozen Christmas cookies for a local rest home where my church held a Christmas carol and cookie evening.  I used a store-bought sugar cookie batter that I rolled out and cut into various shapes with cookie cutters.  The cookies looked good going into the oven but many of them looked misshaped when they came out.  They lost their distinct shapes and did not closely resemble the molds they were made from. 

Then I spent hours meticulously applying frosting.   Candy canes, Angles, Gingerbread men, Snowflakes, and other forms emerged as I carefully drew in colored icing.  In a process opposite of a young child I colored inside the lines with a boarder of cookie around the edges.  Candy canes with red and white stripes, angles glowing radiantly, stars shinning, and many other now recognizable shapes emerged.  Some of the cookies were plain sugar cookies, some were gingerbread and others were peppermint.  The icing was flavored like cream cheese, peppermint or plain and paired specifically with the dough to compliment the flavor. 

When I was done, they sat in straight rows on my kitchen table as the icing dried.  Hours later they were packed in boxes awaiting delivery.  The people at the rest home raved about the look of the cookies and helped themselves to lots of cookies.  But it wasn’t the look that brought them back for seconds it was the taste.  Those misshaped cookies were not too soft, not too hard, but just right to give a good chew.  The flavors were strong enough, but not too strong to deliver a satisfying compliment to a cup of coffee or tea.  These homemade cookies were chosen preferentially over the store-bought varieties.  They were the hit of the party.  One of the pastors even asked if I could make more for her to take to another church event next week.

Now I did not tell this story to brag about my cookie baking (which is legendary) or to tease you with food porn.  Rather I want to draw a comparison to life and the true meaning of Christmas.    Life does not always turn out the way we expect it to.  While we were shaped uniquely sometimes under the heat of life’s events, we come out looking nothing like we did before.  Unattractive and unadorned most people would not find us appealing at all.  But the baker who formed us, shaped us, watched over us while we were in the oven and when the time was right brought us out, wasn’t finished with us yet.  We serve a higher purpose.  The baker took us in his hand and began to bring out our character much like a sculptor works stone.  We become little masterpieces.  Each one unique, yet all have an overarching theme- the birth of Christ, the savior come to earth who has changed us.  We are no longer misshaped and unattractive but our lives now reflect the intent of the God who made us.

Jesus our Savior has come into our lives and our past has been overwritten by a new and glorious future.  We become the center of attention for those around us who see in us something that is so different from the world.  We aren’t Oreos, Vanilla Wafers or Fig Newtons we are something that can’t be bought in any store.  We are made to serve others with our lives.  We give ourselves selflessly to bless others.  We don’t choose who we will bless but rather by making ourselves available God will lead us to those who need us.  The fragrant aroma of our lives living out the will of God will attract those who hunger to know God.  

Christmas cookies are only around for a short while each year, but we as Christians keep alive the spirit of the season all year long.  We live our lives just the like the cookies, not for our own selves but for the good of others.  No cookie wants to be left on the tray to be discarded when they get stale.  We also fulfill our purpose when we give ourselves away as we reflect the story of the one who made us. Like the angles that appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-15, we point the way to Christ so that others will seek him for themselves. 

My prayer for you this Christmas is that your life will reflect the message of salvation to those around you.  “For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” 

Your Brother in Christ

Spring 2019 NewsLetter

Greetings Brother,

Paraphrasing my friend Daniel at Daniel and the Lion’s Den ministry who sends me daily text messages of encouragement:  My goal in these letters is to uplift by giving you something positive to meditate on and think about, something that draws you closer to GOD.  I try to be led by the HOLY SPIRIT with prayer.  My formula, to use a math metaphor, starts with an idea or even a dream.  I first divide the problem or thought into smaller pieces and then address or find ways to overcome them one by one.  Then I multiply all the possibilities I can think of.  Next, I subtract the negative thoughts.  Finally, I add together enthusiasm, the Bible, and my faith in order to proclaim GOD’s truth.  My desire is to give and for you to attain hope, to help you have true joy and peace in life.  E=mC2 (Enthusiasm = my Christ squared).  It’s not meant to bore but to enlighten, not to preach but to share what I’ve learned.  After all, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread” – D. T. Niles.

My hope and prayer is that this letter finds you well.  I pleased to say that I had the opportunity to meet with another one of my brothers who recently paroled.  We spent a wonderful afternoon together catching up and renewing our friendship.  It is amazing the work that our Lord Jesus Christ is accomplishing through his servants whether bound or free.  It has been proven over and over that the Lord stays faithful to those who stay faithful to Him.

A Familiar Story

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central tenet of the Christian faith.  Everyone knows that the Easter story presents an account of the events leading up to and following the darkest day in human history and the brightest day in God’s history.  What follows is an analysis of those events from the prisoner’s perspective.  This is not intended to be a theological discussion but rather a paraphrase using language from modern criminal justice.  Simply a way of looking at the parallels that can be drawn between what Jesus went through and what a convict goes through.  Jesus was said to be both fully God and fully human, that He experienced all aspects of life, including temptation, yet never sinned.  Only by both living and dying could He fully experience the human condition.  In an act of selfless love that fulfilled the holy writ Jesus became the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.  

Beginning in Matthew 26:3-5 and John 11:57 the Prosecutor and the Grand Jury determine that a warrant for Jesus’ arrest was merited because He was disturbing their peace and was a threat to the establishment.  An APB was issued and a reward for information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect was posted.  From Matthew 26:14-16 and Luke 22:1-5 Judas Iscariot decides to become a snitch in order to claim the reward, since he didn’t like the direction this Messiah’s kingdom was heading.  As the treasurer for Jesus’s organization he liked to take a little off the top for himself and all the talk of giving everything to the poor and Jesus predicting his own death was bad for business (John 12:1-7).  According to Luke 22:3-6, the authorities concerned about public relations and their ability to control the message sought to arrest Jesus away from the public eye.

Judas knowing that Jesus would be with only his inner circle of disciples in a secluded location after dinner led an overwhelming force of armed officers to arrest Jesus. Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-52, and John 18:8-12 describe the scene as one of barely controlled chaos, with fear and confusion on all sides.  Officers sent by the authorities behaving like a small mob of thugs, seeking to intimidate and overpower any resistance, wait for Judas to positively identify the suspect.  Once identified, they move in to arrest Jesus.  As they take him into custody the disciples flee into the night, running for their lives.

Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin for a preliminary hearing.  Matthew 26:57-68, Mark14:53-65, and John 18:12,13,19-24 recount the hostile encounter between Jesus and the High Priest who served as prosecutor.  Witnesses are brought in, yet none could agree on the facts in their testimony.  In the end the exasperated prosecutor seizing on one statement from 2 witnesses confronts Jesus about his true nature and identity.  Up until this point Jesus has remained silent choosing to not say anything, but now breaks his silence to answer the prosecutor’s final question.  Jesus cannot deny who He is.  It causes a near riot as the Sanhedrin serving as the Grand Jury erupts in a frenzy over Jesus statement.  They pronounce him guilty of blasphemy and call for the death penalty.  There was no defense attorney brought in to act as public defender for Jesus, no cross examination of the witnesses, and no council to avoid self-incrimination.

Now Israel was subjugated by the Roman Empire and as such the High Priest and the Sanhedrin could not impose the death penalty themselves.  They had to take the death penalty case to the Roman governor for final judgment and sentencing.  Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:2-15, Luke 23: 2,3,18-25, and John 18:29-19:16 contain the accounts of this hearing.  Pilot, the governor was a shrewd politician and could see the politically motivated nature of the charges and did not find that the charges brought against Jesus merited the death penalty.  He tried to avoid making a ruling in the case by initially determining that the prosecutor had brought the case to the wrong court.  Since Jesus was from somewhere else, Pilot ruled that he should be tried in Herod’s court.

According to Luke 23:8-12 Herod was initially interested in hearing from Jesus, since he had heard of Jesus reputation as a miracle worker.  But he quickly tired of listening to the prosecutor pressing his demands for a death sentence while Jesus stood silently, refusing to answer any questions.  So, Herod and his officers mocked Jesus by dressing him up as a king and then returned Jesus to Pilot’s court in a classic perp walk.

Pilot now faced with a dilemma tried to bargain with the crowd that had gathered to watch the court spectacle.  He offered the crowd, which had been whipped up into a mob by the High Priest, the choice to either release Jesus or Barabbas who had been convicted of murder and insurrection.  The prosecutor and the crowd shout for Barabbas’ release and for the death of Jesus.  Pilot concerned that the situation was rapidly getting out of control, acquiesces to their demand.  In a final theatrical gesture Pilot washes his hands to signify that Jesus blood was not on his hands.

Now of course things would never get this far out of hand in a modern American courtroom, but the Roman Empire was a vastly different place, held together with brutal oppression of the forces seeking to tear it apart.  Crucifixion was an integral part of this policy.  In today’s society it was the equivalent of mass incarceration, but far more cost effective than locking people up for years.  Death by crucifixion was slow and painful, it was also very public.  In some places, crucifixions were carried out by the thousands to send a message to the populace that resistance was futile.

Matthew 27:33-44, Mark 15:22-32, Luke 23:33-43 and John 19:17-24 contain the accounts of the crucifixion.  Pilot ordered that Jesus be flogged and then crucified.  Many people would have likely died from the flogging alone.  Because of the brutal, savage beatings he had already received and then the flogging Jesus was unable to carry his own cross to the place of execution. A random stranger was taken out of the crowd and forced to carry the cross for him.  No appeals process, no ACLU, no Innocence Project, no reprieve, no last meal, no option for an alternate form of execution.

Most of Jesus disciples had run and hid.  Peter had denied him, three times! (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, and John 18:16-18,25-27) Jesus felt the weight of the entire world on his shoulders as he was raised up on the cross.  His accusers continued to mock him, the officers gambled for his clothes, the crowd watched expectantly to see if God would save him.  Even with his own impending death he offered eternal life to the thief dying on the cross next to him.   At the end he cried out “It is finished” (John 19:30).  When he died there was an earthquake and the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in half (Matthew 27:51).  Even the Roman officer moved by the scene exclaimed that “surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

On the darkest day in human history an innocent man was convicted and executed for the petty motives of jealousy, political expediency, and betrayal for 30 pieces of silver.  But death isn’t the end of the story.  Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark, 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42).  He was wrapped in a burial shroud and the tomb was sealed to prevent anyone from taking the body and officers were posted to keep watch (Matthew 27:62-66), but on the third day he arose.  Death could not keep him in the grave.  Jesus overcame death and sin to rise victorious over Satan (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-10, and John 20:1-8).  On the greatest day in God’s history his son Jesus defeated Satan once and for all.  Not just to end the war between heaven and hell, but to provide a way for man to once again commune with God, as he had so long ago in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus became the High Priest and now he sits at the right hand of his Father in Heaven interceding on our behalf (Hebrew 4:14-16).

Jesus Christ experienced the Criminal Justice system of his day and went from a free man to a dead man in 24 hours.  Never once did he complain about his treatment at the hands of abusive officers, a prosecutor with a political agenda, a judge that didn’t have the courage to follow his convictions, or a fickle populace that in one week went from a joyous throng hailing him as a king to a blood thirst mob demanding his execution.  Instead he said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” even as his life was ebbing away (Luke 23:36). 

Looking at Easter from this perspective should first of all show that criminal justice has always been dysfunctional.  The MDOC did not invent nor has it cornered the market in inhuman treatment, unfair rules and regulations, or bureaucratic officials.  Jesus endured the suffering, even though it had been within his power to end it, in order to give us an example to follow.  By his suffering we have a Savior who can relate to our situation.  We can see that he was willing to place himself in our position to show us how to live by God’s grace and mercy.  He showed us the true meaning of forgiveness and that there are no exclusions to the command to forgive others.  With his dying breath he trusted his Father and so should we.  John 3:16-17 says it all, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

I welcome your letters to talk about my meditations on scripture or what is going on in your lives, or anything else.  I pray for you daily and I want you to know that you are not forgotten. 

Your Brother in Christ

Summer 2019 News Letter

(Excerpt from the Summer News Letter)

Greetings Brother,

Yesterday I took my girlfriend and her brother to the local park to see the fireworks display.  We showed up and saw the signs everywhere, the barricades and porta-johns, but no people.  It turns out the website that I had read about the fireworks on had the wrong date published on it.  The fireworks were launched the night before.  It contained second-hand information that was inaccurate.  If I had gone to the city’s website, I would have found the correct information.  This could be a metaphor for our lives as Christians.  Many preachers talk about and many authors write about the Gospel.  Their observations and insights might sound good and may even be close to the truth, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  We must always check with the original text, God’s words recorded in the Bible to find out if what we heard or read lines up with the truth.  In I Timothy 4 the apostle Paul warns young Timothy (and us) to beware of false teachers that teach things that are contrary to scripture.  Further, we must study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15).   We must be able to rightly understand the scriptures so that when something fishy comes along we don’t swallow it hook, line and sinker.  (Or show up a day late for the second coming.)

Your Brother in Christ,

Fall 2019 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

The summer is nearly over.  Hot days and warm nights will soon be replaced with falling leaves and frost.  2019 is two-thirds over already.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  The seasons change and so does life.  As much as things appear to be the same day after day, forming endless routine, change happens, often without our notice and certainly without our permission.  People come and go from our lives, jobs change, housing situations change, finances change, health issues, family issues.  Often, we have no control over change and that leads to stress.

When you live out of a footlocker, you’d think life would be simple, yet somehow it isn’t.  Anything lost, stolen, or broken can’t be easily replaced.  When you don’t have much to start with, anything you lose becomes a big deal.  How often does your reaction to a situation become an over-reaction?  Are you a control freak?  To quote Dr. Claire Lewicki from the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder, “Control is an illusion you infantile egomaniac.  Nobody knows what’s going to happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside your own body and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.”  Or do you complain about something even if it might be better in the long run simply because of the “unknown” factor?  It could be better; you just don’t know.  It is true that we would rather deal with the devil we know. 

I have a different suggestion on how to handle change.  First, start by trusting the one who doesn’t change.  Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.”  You will always know where He stands.  The red letters don’t change and apply today the same as they did 2000 years ago.  Jesus understands what it means to be human, yet He sees a much bigger picture.  We suffer from tunnel vision and need his perspective.  He is the rock upon which we can stand.  How much better can we handle the storms of life when we have our feet firmly planted on solid ground.

Second, we don’t have to go through anything alone.  In Deuteronomy 31:5 God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  He is always with his children.  Jesus told the disciples in John 15:26 that the Heavenly Father would send us his Holy Spirit to be our guide and companion.  In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Furthermore in 2 Kings 6 is the story of the prophet Elisha and his servant.  They were in a city surrounded by the enemy and the servant was in a panic.  The prophet’s response was “Don’t worry.  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Pray to the Lord to open your eyes like those of the servant so you can see that you can see the chariots of fire all around us.

Third, no matter how bad it seems, God has a plan.  Romans 8:26 says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Our good and his purpose are the issue.  When we are going through difficulties, we rarely think about how this might be good for us.  Like building character or learning patience, our good will only be revealed later.  God isn’t out to punish us; His purpose is to see everyone saved.  As hard as it may seem to believe, our difficulties might be for the benefit of others and we are God’s messenger.  We might be there simply to tell someone else about Jesus because we were the only one who could reach them.  Like Peter we have to get out of the boat in the middle of the storm.  The key to success is keeping our eyes on Jesus. 

Lastly, Obey God’s Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Psalms 18:30 says, “The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.”  Even when it doesn’t make sense.  In Isaiah 55:9 God reminds us that “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  We don’t have to understand everything.  In fact, the older I get the less I understand.  Wisdom is knowing enough to realize I don’t know it all, accept that God does and be willing to learn from Him.

This summer has been a challenge for me.  Instead of getting my dream job I spent the summer as a care giver for my mother and my girlfriend.  It wasn’t the change I was looking for, and I definitely wasn’t in control of the hiring decision or the medical crisis’s that required major surgery.  I brought in a little cash by doing odd jobs but had to put my goals aside to make sure that my family was taken care of.  Now that they are able to function again, it’s time for me to look for work.  I simply praise God that I could be there for them and that He provided exactly what I needed to get by.

I have learned by experience everything that I write about before I write it.  My words to you are lessons that God has taught me.  It is humbling to think that God would use me, but I pray that my words encourage you to keep the faith. 

I continue to pray for you, seeking God’s favor on your life and that he will open doors for you.  God hears and answers prayers, especially our cries for help.  That simple four-letter word means more to our Heavenly Father than the best speech, when it comes from the heart.  Because he already knows what we need, He just wants us to reach out in faith and ask.

I always enjoy hearing from you.  If you need anything, I’ll do what I can to help.  You are not forgotten.

Your Brother in Christ

Fund Raisers

The Prisoner Benefit Fund, or PBF for short, plays an important role in the daily life of prisoners in the MDOC.  The PBF pays for things like:

  1. Office supplies and materials for approved prisoner organizations;
  2. Approved self-help programs such as hobby craft, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and religious activities;
  3. Prisoner compensation for verified property losses where the prisoner was not negligent;
  4. Escort costs for prisoner funeral or sick bed visits;
  5. Recreational equipment and supplies (e.g., athletic equipment);
  6. Special maintenance and capital outlay projects;
  7. Entertainment events;
  8. Cable/satellite television services.

In practical terms the PBF is responsible for prisoners having any luxury items like weightlifting and exercise equipment; baseball, basketball, soccer equipment including the fields; musical instruments and sound equipment; coffee for AA meetings; basic cable television programming and selected DVD movies.

The money to fund these programs mostly comes from the prisoners themselves.  Profits from the prisoner store and vending machines; pop can deposit refunds; photo tickets; confiscated prisoner funds; donations from outside organizations; interest from invested funds; and fund raising are the sources available to the PBF.

According to Policy Directive 04.02.110 FUND RAISING ACTIVITIES Section D states:

“A PBF may be permitted to conduct fundraising activities through which funds may be solicited and collected from other prisoners at that institution.  To do so, the PBF must submit a written fundraising proposal to the Warden for review.  The proposal must include the proposed use of the funds, a detailed description of the fundraising activity, and supporting documentation if the funds are to be used for a charitable donation.  If the Warden supports the fundraising activity, s/he shall forward the proposal to the CFA Deputy Director or designee for final approval.  The Warden shall be notified of the final decision and shall ensure the PBF is notified.  If approved, the Warden shall designate a staff person to supervise the fundraising activity.”

Fund raising is a very popular idea while I was incarcerated.  The minutes from the Warden’s Forum were full of proposals by inmates to raise money.  Most of these had noble causes like donations to various charities as the basis for the request, while others were a bit more self-centered.  Most fundraising revolved around the sale of food.  Pizza, burgers, donuts, and the like were the typical items.  Since fundraisers are specific to a prison the sources for goods was generally local as well.  Venders like the one that supplied food for the visiting room vending machines were easier to work with because they already have contracts and financial systems for payment already in place.  It was much more difficult to try to arrange for other businesses such as a local pizza or sub shop to navigate the bureaucracy for what might be a one-time event.

It was routine for these fund raiser proposals to be shot down by warden.  It could be simply that the proposal lacked enough details or that recent behavior by inmates did not merit the privilege.  Whatever the reason fund raisers were not a common event. When one was approved it big news.   The news would travel through the housing units like wildfire.  Gossip always travels faster than facts so it would often be that misinformation would take days to be corrected, as the block reps are besieged by an endless line of inmates seeking clarification.  When the official posting went up and the details were finally made known it was never as good as the promise, such as the selection might be less or the prices higher.  Inmates can always manage to find something to complain about.  But without fail inmates by the hundreds would scrape together enough money in their trust account to fill out the order form and the disbursement. 

It would be like having an extra holiday when the big day finally arrived. Like the anticipation of Christmas morning the thoughts of treats that haven’t been tasted in years dance in their dreams.  Some see an opportunity to make a little profit by selling these rare items at a premium to those who didn’t have funds in their trust accounts at the order time.   A similar phenomenon happens on Super Bowl Sunday when sack lunches are served for dinner with a sub sandwich, chips, carrots & celery, cookies, fruit, and juice. 

Movement in prison is controlled.  The higher the level the more restricted, so it isn’t as simple as setting up a table in the gym and letting everyone line up.  There needs to be order and security.  Whenever there are goods involved, they will be targets for theft.  The delivery was handled several different ways that I recall.  At the multi-level facility, the individuals who had placed orders were called by the housing unit to go pick up their purchase.  And if memory serves me correct, at the level 1 facility it was on the daily itinerary call-out sheet.  Either way there would be extra officers posted to oversee the distribution.  It seemed that every time some little old man who ordered goods would be robbed before he managed to make it back to his bunk.  You needed to travel in packs and with bodyguards at times to ensure your safety the same way you would pickup a Secure Pack. 

The all-time best idea for a fund raiser that I thought of would be to sell Girl Scout cookies.  You might as well back up the semi-truck to the sally port.  I can guarantee you that they would break records for fund raising for both the inmates and the Girl Scouts.  If there was a downside, I really couldn’t see it.  I’m not advocating to send the girls into prison to sell cookies, parents sell cookies for their girls all the time in the workplace.  All that would be needed is a very big stack of order forms.  The cookies sell themselves; they would remind many in prison of a taste of freedom.  The idea for this fund raiser would be that all the prisons would participate with the proceeds distributed to the local Girl Scout organizations.  Nothing beats Girl Scout cookies and it would be a great opportunity for those in prison to give back.

But like a lot of great ideas I’m pretty sure the wardens would never go along with it.  Luxury items or comfort foods for prisoners aren’t very high on their priority list.  They don’t have to give a reason all they have to say is “NO” and dismiss it like yesterday’s trash.  While I’m sure that there are a few reform minded wardens in the system who would approve of such a fund raiser most would rather not be bothered since they follow the “all stick and no carrot” philosophy of prisoner management.

Green Dot

green-dot
Reloadable Green Dot VISA online shopping cards and Money Pak cards are for sale at many convenience stores.  (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

It sucks to be poor.  Some who are in prison were accustomed to having the finer things of life when they were out in the world.  Some had enough to get by and get a few luxury items too.  Some lived hand to mouth, scrambling to keep cash flowing in the absence of a steady paycheck.  And some had nothing living on the streets, sleeping in homeless shelters, and eating at soup kitchens.  This is also a good description of what life in prison is like.  In prison there are the “haves” and “have nots.”  Everyone comes to prison with nothing but the clothes on their back and then those are taken away, but after that…

Prison starts with quarantine at the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center (RGC) which according to the MDOC website, “serves as the facility responsible for intake processing of all male offenders who are adjudicated adults sentenced to a term of incarceration with the Michigan Department of Corrections.  Prisoners with new commitments, parole violators, and youthful offenders are received at RGC for assessments, screening, and classification prior to their placement in general population prisons throughout the agency.”

“Prisoners receive a variety of psychological, medical, educational and security classification evaluations upon arrival at RGC.  Prisoners are all medically screened by professionally trained correctional health care staff during the intake process.  Prisoners are subjected to twelve days of intake processing prior to being classified for transfer to a general population facility capable of meeting their medical, program and security needs.  The average length of stay at RGC is 30 to 45 days.  Prisoners with significant medical needs or prisoners involved in parole revocation hearings are held at the facility until their medical or due process concerns are resolved.”

While at RGC there is a limited commissary available for those who have money in their trust account.  I was fortunate enough to bring a check with funds left over from my county jail stay, so I had funds available to order basic hygiene items, shower shoes and postage stamps.  For those that don’t come to prison with financial resources they must reach out to family and friends via collect phone calls to try to secure funds.  For first time offenders or those who are PV-new bit there are no job opportunities available in quarantine, so no source of earned income.  Most will have to wait until they are transferred to another facility to get funds to acquire the basics, let alone creature comforts.

Money cannot be sent directly to prisoners since they are not allowed to have access to currency while in prison.  While I was incarcerated the MDOC changed the procedure by which those in the public could put funds into a prisoner’s trust account.  Instead of sending the money to an MDOC address, the funds must be sent to a third-party company called JPay which managed the process by accepting credit cards through their website or by money orders to their PO Box.  JPay works with most state corrections departments and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to offer a variety of services some of which have been adopted by the MDOC.

Not everyone who wants to send money has a credit card.  For those who need a credit card because a traditional debit card won’t work there are companies like Green Dot.  Green Dot offers a prepaid pinless debt card that functions like a credit card that is widely used especially in urban communities.  The practice is so common among prisoner’s family and friends that Green Dot is not just a noun, but it is also used as a verb referring to the process of transferring money.

Green Dot is used to go beyond transferring money into an inmate’s trust account but is also used as a way of transferring money on behalf of one inmate to a party designated by another inmate.  Usually this is done to get around having funds garnished to pay restitution, fines, and outstanding court costs when sent to an inmate with outstanding court debts.  An inmate will find someone who doesn’t have their funds garnished and have money placed in their account to so that they can use that inmate as a straw purchaser for their commissary.  Green Dot is also commonly used to pay off gambling debts, drug & alcohol purchases, and store-man tabs.  Additionally, it might be used to pay for jailhouse law services, tattoos, and protection/extortion.

This obviously only works for those who have connections to financial resources on the outside.  Many in prison simply don’t have connections to family or friends that can or are willing to send money.  For instance, drug users may have already burned their bridges to family and friends by previously stealing from them to support their habit.  Something I heard of happening was that some guys, even some who were married would develop relationships with several women who they would get to send money to support them in prison.  They would call and send JPay emails regularly to all of their women requesting money and then dump them when they didn’t get it.  They would even schedule visits so they could get that fine vending machine cuisine.  One time a guy was having a visit with his girlfriend when his wife showed up unannounced.  From what I heard it was quite the scene in the visiting room.  The COs had to separate the women when blows were exchanged.  A risky business, but one that continues to be played out in prisons all over.

I read recently that a graduate student published his finding that Raman Noodles are now the primary currency in prison.  I got a good laugh about that.  It wasn’t a state secret and anyone who has been in prison in the last decade could have told him that.  But that covers the small stuff, and there are only so many bags of coffee that you can stick in your locker for the bigger stuff.  The more items like that you have the greater a theft target you become.  Stacking up cash either in your trust account or somewhere else out in the world is far safer.

Green Dot or its financial equivalent is what many of the “haves” use to maintain their lifestyle while in prison.  By purchasing these cards with cash at grocery stores they can be difficult to trace but as good as cash to settle debts.  Easy to acquire and use, it serves a purpose that its creator never envisioned.  It is true that “money makes the world go ‘round,” and since the world doesn’t stop even though it feels like it for those in prisons, access to money is crucial.  Like the old VISA commercial said, “It’s everywhere you want to be.”  In this case however it might be more accurate to say, “It’s useful even in places you don’t want to be.”

Cheapskates

cheapskateThe MDOC requires inmates to work while they are incarcerated unless they are medically unable to or in the GED program.  As with so many other things the reality is far different from the policy.  Inmates do a lot of waiting and that includes on lists to get into school or a job.  I wanted to be a tutor as my first choice from day 1 in prison and since there were no Level IV tutors at my facility I had to settle for a job as a Unit Porter cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors.  When I got to Level II, I was able to get on the waiting list for a position in the school to open up.  In the interim I again worked as a Unit Porter.  When I was moved to another facility, I choose to simply go on the waiting list for a tutor job.  It took a year for a position to open up.  I knew guys who would purposefully choose jobs with long waiting lists simply to avoid working.  The Parole Board couldn’t hold it against you if you didn’t work so long as you were on the waiting list.  It was all part of the game.

The MDOC is exempt from the minimum wage law for paying inmates.  It might be fair to call it slave labor since without inmates working to perform so many functions from food service to facility maintenance, the cost of incarceration would be far more expensive.  According to the Policy Directive 05.02.110 prisoners who are assigned to work and/or school shall be paid and/or receive stipends for the assignment.  Pay rates for most positions range from approximately $0.74 to $3.34 per day depending on the classification of the job as unskilled or skilled.  Students get paid a stipend of $0.54 per day to attend GED classes.  With a satisfactory performance score the rate increases to $0.59.  This translates into a monthly stipend of approximately $10.50 – $12 a month.  With no other source of outside financial support that level of compensation is comparable to those who are indigent.

According to the PD, Unskilled Entry Daily Rates start at $0.74 and rise to $0.84 after 2 months.  Semi-skilled rates start at $0.94 and are eligible for a 15% increase if the inmate possess the related certification, such as a porter who has completed the Custodial Maintenance Technology program on their current prefix.  In other words, if you earned a CMT certificate the last time you were in prison you won’t be eligible to take the program again and won’t get credit for having taken it previously if assigned a position as a porter on your new bit.  In other words, you’re qualified for the job but won’t be compensated for your knowledge because you were dumb enough to come back to prison.  This is a major disincentive to working, but obviously not enough of a disincentive to keep a person from coming back to prison in the first place.  It seems to me that the rules have been written in a way to exclude the maximum number of inmates from earning the higher pay scales in almost every job classification.

Skilled positions such as Tutor start at $1.24 per day with higher pay rates for having a college degree resulting in a maximum daily rate after two months of $3.34.  Or least it used to be this way.  In October 2018 the department changed its policy so that only college degrees in the specific field qualified for the higher rate.  In other words, only those with a teaching degree who worked as a tutor would get the higher rate.  My double major in Chemistry and Biology might no longer afford me the higher rate of compensation and I have no plan on returning to prison to find out.

The PD also has a few exceptions where inmates who have been in certain positions such as Food Service could continue to receive pay and bonuses if they started the work assignment prior to April 2008 when the pay structure was changed to eliminate the bonus.  The catch is you must remain in the same assignment at the same facility and earn above average performance reviews.  If the inmate is transferred to another facility, they would no longer be eligible for the bonus.  The departments work around for this in 2008 was to transfer a significant number of Food Service workers.  I came to prison after this happened, but I heard about how unhappy it made the workers to lose a bonus which allowed them to earn over $100 a month in some cases.  My Level II bunkie was one of the few lucky ones who was still on the job and earning a bonus.  He earned around $90 per month wiping down tables and mopping floors in the chow hall.  He actually made more than I did working as a tutor with my college degree.

In February 2019, the clause in the Advanced Education/Training Pay Scale was applied to inmates working as clerk/facilitators for programs such as Sex Offender Programming (SOP).  The result was that some of these inmates went from earning $3.34 to $1.77 per day.  This is nearly a 50% pay cut.  The PD does not provide the rationale behind the decision to reduce pay by specifying such a narrow definition of acceptable college credit as those “in a field of study related to the position.”  Anyone that has completed an Associates or Bachelor’s Degree should have more than enough knowledge of basic reading, writing, arithmetic, science and history to work effectively as a GED tutor or serve as a clerk and perform the required tasks and responsibilities at a higher level of competency than those with a GED or high school diploma.  I’m not sure how many library majors end up in prison but it’s good to know that they will be compensated at a higher rate for their knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System.

Pay scales for Braille Transcribing and MSI are not included in the PD but from what I remember the inmates working MBTF were paid piecemeal for the projects they work on.  Different types of projects required certifications in different areas such as educational transcription, graphics, mathematical or musical notation and several other specific areas.  The guys in my unit that worked at MBTF earned over $200 per month and could max out with the maximum annual MDOC allowed compensation.  Not only that but many banked projects for when they were to be released from prison so that they could be paid at even higher rates so they could have money for their transition back into society.  Not only that they would then be eligible for work as a professional braille transcriber out in the world.  I wanted to apply for this program, but it required a minimum of 8 years before your ERD to even apply for the program and take the entrance exam.  I believe that there were less than 20 jobs available in MBTF, so they account for less than a tenth of one percent of inmates.  Right on the MBTF website they cite the low cost of prison labor as one of the reasons for their success.

MSI factories make everything from clothes to mattresses to printed forms and eyeglasses.  There were factories making many various products at 10 prisons located all over the state.  There was a factory at my first prison and those inmates could earn up to $200 per month.  If there were large orders, there was also overtime on the weekends in order to complete them on time.  The number of inmates employed by MSI is small, but I don’t know the number but it’s probably less than 2,000.  MSI sells its products to jails and prisons across the country in addition to the MDOC facilities and the low labor cost is no doubt a competitive advantage over commercial companies they are in the market with.

All of this begs the question: Why when the cost of living always goes up is the MDOC reducing compensation for inmate labor?  Commissary prices go up and many inmates can’t even afford basic hygiene items on what they are paid.  Many don’t have outside support or owe so much in restitution, court costs, and fines that the department takes most of what their people put into their accounts.  For some even their prison earnings are garnished if they have more than $50 in their account, so it doesn’t even pay to work.  For the rest prison pay doesn’t buy much.  The maximum amount that can be spent in the commissary is $100 every two weeks, which doesn’t mean anything if all you have is $12 to show for a month’s stipend as a student.

In some other states’ inmates are employed by private corporations and paid a living wage.  A portion of their earnings are placed into a trust account to help them after they’re paroled.  Another portion goes to paying down restitution, court costs, and fines.  The rest is available to the inmate to spend.  Prison is a pretty miserable place and being able to purchase a few items beyond the basic necessities goes a long way towards a positive mindset. And a positive mindset goes a long way toward rehabilitation.  Low wages encourage theft since they have nothing to lose.  Low wages mean hardship and deprivation that wear down the body and the mind which can lead to long term mental, emotional and physical problems that will last long after they are released.

Wages paid to inmates should not be a way for the department to make budget.  That would literally be “penny wise and Pound foolish.”  Cost of living is a factor in determining pay for everyone else, why shouldn’t it apply to inmates.  If you want to send a message and “correct” inmates, then teach them the value of honest work.  Nothing speaks to a person’s self worth more than compensation that respects the individual’s service. I don’t mean that inmates should be paid the state’s prevailing minimum wage but maybe bring in more factory jobs that pay like MSI and follow the model used by other states that allow inmates to save for the future. For in-house positions acknowledge the value of higher education, training, and experience to create a new pay scale that more adequately compensates inmates for the necessary functions that they perform.  Being a miser and a cheapskate is not the way to rehabilitate human beings.

Butt Naked Fish

This is a reasonable representation of what Butt Naked Fish looks like in comparison to a regular breaded fillet.  

Not much needs more to be said about food service in the MDOC than to mention “Butt Naked Fish.”  This will elicit a visceral response from anyone who has served appreciable time as a prisoner.  BFN is an unbreaded fish fillet that has more in common with particle board than Van de Kamp’s.  Most prisoners would describe it as a square white hockey puck made from fins and scales.  It wasn’t seasoned yet the flavor is indescribable.  Generally, it was served on the Diet Line for people with a medically restricted diet like diabetics however, from time to time it would make an appearance on the menu for the regular food service when there was a shortage of the breaded baked fish normally served.

I heard stories from the old timers about getting giant cinnamon rolls and coffee for breakfast.  Pork chops, fried chicken, beef liver and other real protein sources were served as a regular part of the menu.  At one time the MDOC had its own dairy, slaughter house, and farms that provided the majority of the food stocks for the chow hall.  Prison work camps supplied the labor.  Then a series of unfortunate events involving prisoners resulted in the closing of the work camps and the elimination of the prison farms back in the early 1980s.  This corresponded closely in time with the “tough on crime” movement that more than doubled the number of people behind bars and put a significant strain on the department’s budget.  Food service was severely impacted, and the goal was put in place to feed inmates for $1 per day.

There have been a number of changes in food service in the last few years as the department sought to reduce costs further under Governor Snyder.  Food service was outsourced to Aramark a national vender that provides meals to a number of state prison systems, in the attempt to reduce cost by leveraging increased buying power.  When the contract was put out for bid none of the original bids met the targeted cost savings.  On rebid Aramark was awarded the contract.  In what I would describe as a rocky relationship, Aramark replaced union food stewards with minimum wage inexperienced personal.  The officer’s union lost something like 350 staff positions and was bitter and resentful about that and went out of its way to ensure that privatization of the food service failed.  They didn’t care about the impact it would have on the 40,000+ inmates.

After several years of struggling to hire and retain sufficient staffing to provide oversight of the inmates working in the kitchen, contraband smuggling, illicit sexual relationships between staff and inmates, and fines for failing to meet contract obligations, Aramark decided to give back the contract.  Trinity was then given the contract at several million dollars above what Aramark had been paid.  Trinity basically took the Aramark employees and the problems continued the same as before.  Articles appeared in newspapers across the state detailing issues involving the food service and calls by many to return it to department control.  In 2017 it was announced that Trinity would be leaving, the food service returned to the department, and jobs returned to the union.

What is lost in all this is the effect it had on the inmates.  Food quality and quantity decreased meaning that there were many times when inmates went hungry and not by choice.  Hungry natives are restless natives.  Back in the day it was understood that one of the ways to keep the prison population under control was to make sure that they got fed.  Today though prison is all stick and no carrot.  In the roughly 30 years that the department tried to limit the food cost to $1 per day for each inmate, food and labor costs have increased significantly.  The only choice was to buy cheaper meal alternatives and reduce portion sizes.  For instance, instead of fried chicken breasts baked leg quarters were served and over time they shrank in size.  I once observed that on days when chicken was being served that there were fewer pigeons to be seen on the yard.   Ground meats like hamburgers or meatballs that looked and tasted like there was more filler than beef or turkey caused many inmates to ask, “Where’s the beef?” like the old lady in the Wendy’s commercial.  The Hot dogs and Polish sausage had the consistence and taste of a rubber hose.

Pizza was served by the single slice that were the size of a 3×5 index card.  For a guy that used to eat a whole medium and sometimes a large pizza all by himself, this just didn’t satisfy me at all.  One time the pizza would be so over cooked that it was as stiff as cardboard with burnt cheese on it, and the next time the dough would still be raw in the center of the pan.  This sometimes occurred in the same meal service, it was just luck of the draw if you got an eatable piece.

Calories from other sources such as potatoes, which are a starchy carbohydrate, make up a sizable portion of the meal.  Mashed potatoes, Garlic mashed potatoes, Oven browned potatoes, Cheesy potatoes, Potato salad, Baked potatoes, Tater tots, and Potato wedges.  Potatoes were served on average four days a week and sometimes for both lunch and dinner.  I heard that at one facility the food service director owned a potato farm and sold his crop to the MDOC at his facility.  There were an unusual number of food substitutions where potatoes replaced the scheduled rice or pasta, go figure.  Now I like potatoes, but when they are cooked in such a way that they are uneatable, they provide no nutritional value and simply end up in the trash.

Boiled collard greens, spinach, and cabbage; canned green beans, mixed vegetables, and corn; cooked beets (not the pickled ones); and carrots that looked like they came from a deer hunters bait pile, were cooked until they are flavorless and devoid of nutritional value.  When a menu change introduced peas to the rotation a friend of mine exclaimed, “I thought these had gone extinct!”

In recent years meals like Turkey ala King and Turkey Tetrazzini were added alongside old staples like Chili Mac as ways to stretch the budget further. Why is it that on every menu there is always one meal that doesn’t look good on paper let alone in reality?  Back in the day it might have been Chipped Beef on Toast, which was affectionately called “S#*t on a Shingle” or a modern dish like Turkey Teriyaki (Turkey Teri-yuk-e) or Salisbury Patty (Salisbury’s Mistake).  There were those who didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t eat the main dish with the beef, chicken or turkey included, so at lunch and dinner there would be a meatless alternative offered.  It would sometimes be the same dish with soy substituted for the meat, at other times it was beans.   Occasionally the alternative was better than the primary offering like when they served Spinach Au Gratin.  But like everything else in the chow hall it depended on who cooked it, so some days it was a lose-lose situation with no clearly better choice.

The best part of the meal was the 2 slices of wheat bread and the desert.  The bread was store bought, so it was hard for them to ruin it.  I would take it back to my bunk to make a peanut butter sandwich.  Desert was either a cookie or a piece of sheet cake.  They used to serve ice cream before Aramark took over.  At one facility we used to get ice cream donated by a local dairy company when they had a manufacturing hiccup and mixed in the wrong type of nuts or something.  In fact, a number of Michigan food manufacturers donated or sold off-spec but still eatable food products at significantly reduced prices to the MDOC.  The practice of accepting these ended when Aramark took over.

Breakfast was a rotation of oatmeal, grits, or Ralston (Cream of What?) or All Bran as a cold cereal alternative.  Older menus offered waffles and sausages once a week.  Newer menus mixed in coffee cake, gravy and biscuit or French toast bake (the French don’t take credit for this).  Most inmates didn’t even bother getting up for breakfast.  Generally, food service started too early and offered little incentive to go, unless they were serving peanut butter, which we would bring back to save for that peanut butter sandwich later.  Eggs, even powdered eggs were not served at all during my time in prison.  I had a diabetic roommate one time that got hardboiled eggs in his snack bag.  He didn’t like them and would trade them to me for what ever I had in my locker that he could eat when his blood sugar got too low.

Coffee wasn’t part of the meal service like it was back in the day.  The options were milk or a juice like apple or orange for breakfast, and for lunch and dinner a Kool-Aid like drink, or water.  The serving size was listed as 1 cup, but the plastic cups were small, and I don’t think could hold 8 ounces without spilling.

If you look at the published menu included below you will see that it looks a lot like a public-school lunch menu.  The menu had a 6-week cycle where the lunch and dinner meals were switched, so the reality was 3 weeks of menu variety.  While it looks good on paper, I can assure you that the paper tastes better.  As I have described elsewhere theft was a major problem, especially after it was turned over to Aramark and Trinity.  This had a significant impact on the meal preparation.  For instance, when a recipe called for spices, the required amounts would be issued to the inmate cook.  If he decided to steal the spices and sell them on the yard, then the dish he prepared would be bland.  Likewise, the Kool-Aid drink mix came in powdered form and if the person preparing it decided to take some of it then the drink would taste watery.  Many guys would take the seasoning packs from Raman Noodles that they would purchase in the commissary to season the meals in the chow hall.  I did that on a regular basis, but I also noticed that the food served in the chow hall was like a flavor blackhole.  No matter how much seasonings or hot sauce I put on some dishes it didn’t seem to make a difference.

On several special occasions when volunteers from a faith-based organization came into the prison and shared a meal with us in the chow hall, I got to observe first-hand the reactions of people who had never tasted prison food before.  The experienced volunteers who knew better than to eat the meal would stick to the fruit, but there was always one rookie who would try the meal.  Without fail we would hear the next day that the brave volunteer who tried the food ended up sick overnight.  To say that prison food is an acquired taste would be an understatement.  Conversely, I heard from more than one guy who had returned to prison that there would be a period of adjustment when I went home as my body got used to real food again.  The only good thing that I can say about prison food is that it is better than what they serve in the county jails.

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