United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect
Filth Disease from Spoiled Milk - 2007
What Inmates Eat for $2.45 a Day
June 17, 2002
For 14 Years, Inmates Have Been Fed for $2.45 a Day
By JENIFER WARREN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
SACRAMENTO -- The problems besetting California's massive prison system are many and grave: gang violence, overcrowding and rising health-care costs, to name a few. In recent weeks, however, lawmakers have been gnawing on a somewhat lighter topic:
What inmates eat.
It all started last month at a hearing to confirm Edward S. Alameida as director of the state Department of Corrections. State Sen. John Burton, the San Francisco Democrat in charge of the hearing, asked Alameida a series of meaty questions--about prison dental care, drug abuse counseling and programs to prepare inmates for parole.
Then came the humdinger.
How, Burton wanted to know, can California feed its convicts on $2.30 a day?
Now, Alameida is a savvy corrections veteran, and he was well prepared to hold forth on a range of subjects. But this, it's safe to say, was as startling as finding a fly in his fettuccini.
Alameida began by telling Burton that the food budget is actually a bit more generous-- $2.45 a day. The senator was unimpressed.
"What the [heck] can you get for that?" Burton barked. "You could probably do Special K and milk three meals a day .... "
As the audience stifled giggles, Alameida regrouped, noting that when he was warden at the state prison in Tracy, he ate frequently in the inmate dining hall. His duties, he explained, included ensuring that meals were edible.
"And I can say, Senator, we do quite a bit with $2.45 a day," he said.
Burton looked unconvinced, but Alameida was confirmed on a unanimous vote that afternoon. The investigation into prison chow, however, had only just begun.
Chapter Two unfolded the following week, when three wardens traveled to Sacramento for their confirmation hearings. First up was Diana Butler from Folsom State Prison, an old, granite fortress about 30 miles east of the Capitol.
This time, it was state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) on the warpath, calling previous testimony about prison food "very disturbing."
"This $2.45 a day, that bothers me," she said. "I don't know how I could eat one meal for that, unless it was real skimpy."
Butler had clearly been briefed. She launched into a lively dissertation on prison nutrition, describing the state's goal of providing inmates with 2,500 daily calories and a new "heart-healthy" diet that cuts fat.
"Every meal is balanced," she said. There is even an inmate food committee that rates the quality of the fare.
Butler also used a prop to make her case that the cons are amply nourished--sample menus she passed out to the legislators. That roused Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), heretofore silent on the matter. Spotting the Sunday night cheeseburger meal, he asked: "What's this 'secret sauce?' "
Butler had a humorous, if unenlightening, reply: "It must be an old family recipe, sir."
Burton pronounced himself impressed with the menu, although he noted that "there's a lot of turkey--sliced turkey, turkey bologna, smoked turkey, turkey pastrami, turkey ham...."
Turkey, Butler explained, is low in fat and also acceptable to inmates whose religions forbid other meats.
Another menu item--"hot cornmeal mush"--prompted Burton to take a little jog down memory lane: "My mom used to serve that to me when I was a kid," the senator mused, drawing chuckles from his colleagues.
Joking aside, feeding 158,000 felons three times a day is a big, cumbersome business. It works out to almost half a million meals a day, or 172 million meals a year. The Department of Corrections' annual food budget is $145 million.
With that kind of buying power, the state can get some pretty good deals on the food market.
Sue Summerset, who oversees food supplied to the state's 33 prisons, said there has been no increase in the $2.45 daily meal rate for 14 years.
Relatives of inmates say the state simply buys low-quality products and skimps on fresh fruit and other more costly items.
Summerset acknowledged that some fruits are banned because they can be distilled into "pruno," a crude form of alcohol. But she denied that prison officials sacrifice quality to save money.
Tom Ayers, a lieutenant at Folsom, added that today's prison vittles look positively gourmet compared to what state lock-ups used to serve.
A menu from June 1925, on display in the Folsom prison museum, features beans twice a day, five days a week-- occasionally accompanied by a hunk of brown bread.
Why the legislative preoccupation with prison rations? Perhaps it's spring fever, or frustration with the inevitable partisan squabbling over the state budget. Perhaps it's merely an extension of the Capitol's love affair with food--from fund-raising suppers to charity breakfasts to "let's do" lunches.
Or perhaps the adequacy of convict cuisine just seems like a problem that is easily digestible, unlike so many other complex, heartburn-inducing dilemmas facing California's leaders.
Burton, a Sacramento veteran, says that for him, it's a case of this "inconceivable" notion that "they can really feed these guys on $2.45 a day."
"This menu doesn't look bad--kinda like the Army," he said. "But unless the portions are minuscule, like a half a cup of cornmeal mush, I don't think they can really do it."
And so, the senator said, he may just take Warden Butler up on her invitation to visit her institution and sit down for a meal with the cons.
But if he does, Burton said, he will show up unannounced.
We thank Jenifer Warren for covering the discussion that one of my complaints during the confirmation of CDC Director Edward Alameida caused to happen around food.
Before I chastised them ALL for feeding the inmates on $2.30 per day, the legislators seemed to be unaware that the budget is now $2.45 per day and has been low for 14 years.
The reason I made this noise is that I am flooded with letters from inmates statewide telling me that they are hungry due to the new heart healthy diet.
And because I know the techniques of why so little money is spent. The
most obvious shortcut is 1 oz (one slice) of mystery meat on a cold sandwich
for lunch daily. If the inmate is too ill to make it to
Most inmates do not trust the cleanliness of the kitchens and they rely on their packages and the canteens to feed them, which is not always the healthiest route, but at least one where Hep C is going to be spread around so easily. For someone who makes 20 cents per hour, a $1 cup of coffee is almost a full day's work.
The other technique for saving money on food, but no doubt running up medical costs is the elimination of fresh items from the diets of prisoners.
Citrus is banned, as well as natural sugar and honey at most institutions
because of the fear that inmates will make "pruno." Citrus is oranges,
lemons, grapefruits, tangerines and is a key nutrient to prevent SCURVY.
You may remember the pilgrims dying from SCURVY on their way over
Notice that this sample menu mentions a fresh pear. My inside information reveals that 90% of the time the fruit is an apple. Period. Fresh salad is rarity but even when it is served, the inmates don't trust the food handling processes.
Senator Pete Knight and Senator John Burton had quite a laugh over a menu item called S.O.S.
They are equating these feeding practices with the military and taking
this starvation of people suffering with AIDS, Hep C, and every other scourge
found in unsanitary conditions, including those who need special diets
very lightly. Yes, there's an extra milk and fruit for diabetics, but what
CDC said that some people are fed in infirmaries. I have never, ever heard of even one person getting a special diet as ordered by doctors. If you have, I'd really like to know when and where.
Maybe the UNION needs to picket to drive home our outrage. Maybe we all need to show up and ending the laughter....what do you think family members? Are you very upset that the guards get raises while our loved ones are hungry?
I've started this fight for you, now let's finish it. Let me take a poll of what you think we ought to do here.
B. Cayenne Bird, Director
From Mule Creek:
IV. HEALTH, SAFETY, HYGIENE, SANITATION
1. Inmate kitchen workers are not trained in or made to follow sanitary
hygiene practices. They receive no formal training of any kind on using
plastic food-handling gloves to prevent contaminating food with germs,
bacteria, and other microorganisms. We want all inmate kitchen workers
to receive such training on a regular basis.
2. Inmate kitchen workers have been observed continuing to serve food
with the same disposable plastic food-handling gloves after coughing and
sneezing into gloved hands; touching, rubbing, and scratching various body
parts; and touching contaminated/non-food surfaces (counters, tray bottoms,
We want inmate kitchen workers trained to be conscientious of what their
gloved hands touch while working with/around food, and to be required to
change gloves whenever they become contaminated with unsanitary surfaces.
3. Inmate kitchen workers talk, laugh, cough, and sneeze while standing over open pans and trays of food while preparing and serving meals. Spit and other debris flying out of their mouths lands directly in our food. We want inmate kitchen workers to be more conscientious around our food.
4. Inmate kitchen workers do not change disposable plastic food-handling gloves as frequently as the should while serving meals. Gloves are supposed to be changed whenever they come into contact with anything other than the serving utensil which is supposed to be used to serve food.
5. Employees allow inmate kitchen workers to serve food with gloved hands instead of serving utensils. Inmate kitchen workers have been observed serving portions of wet food onto trays by scooping handfuls of the item with gloved hands instead of a serving utensil.
6. Inmate kitchen workers mix salad dressing into large pans of lettuce with gloved hands, apparently oblivious to the fact that the bare skin on their wrists and arms, as well as their filthy shirt sleeves, come into contact with the lettuce/dressing mixture.. we frequently find hair, lint, and other unpalatable items in our food. We want tongs or other utensils used to mix dressing into salads instead of gloved hands being shoved elbow-deep into salad pans to do the job.
7. Inmate kitchen workers dip and trail shirt and jacket sleeves into
our food when reaching over trays and food pans.
8. Inmate kitchen workers put food which has been dropped onto the floor or countertop onto trays without any consideration for whomever will have to eat it, and without any interference from supervisors.
9. Inmate kitchen workers must use a toilet located within the kitchen area. Hand soap and paper towels are not always available for use, so workers return to food preparation and handling with unwashed hands after being in or using toilet facilities.
10. Inmates with the epidemic hepatitis-C virus are working with/around our food. We have been told by MCSP medical staff that infected inmates may work in the kitchen. However, an agent of the Amador County Health Department told the pre-release class that infected humans are not supposed to be working with/around food intended for public consumption. We want inmates infected with diseases such as hepatitis-C to be kept away from kitchen areas where our food is being prepared and served.
11. EOP inmates are allowed to work with/around our food. Many of these mental health inmate patients do not shower or wash/change their clothes as often as they should. We do not want EOP inmate patients working in kitchen areas where our food is being prepared and served.
12. Inmate kitchen workers carrying brooms enter the dining area where we are still eating and begin sweeping as soon as the dining area begins to be released one row of tables at a time. This stirs up a lot of dust and microbes for those of us still eating, and creates anger toward the inmate kitchen workers whose supervisors order them to sweep while men are still eating. lie want sweeping of dining areas to be done after feeding is over and all diners have left.
B. Hep-C Kitchen Workers
C. Non-SNI Food Handlers
They frequently contaminate our food and do whatever they can get away with to express their contempt for us. We frequently find sand, hair, metal, and other unexplainable items in our food.
We feel that MCSP's main kitchen should be located on a sensitive-needs yard and operated by sensitive-needs inmates to protect us from the malicious and sadistic acts committed against us by inmates who do not have sensitive needs. We were informed by staff several months ago that an inmate on Facility "C" had been caught urinating in Jell-0 designated for Facility "B". We do not know how true that rumor was, but we frequently hear such stories which cause us great concern as a population for our health and safety.
D. BOP Diners
The prisoners are hungry. The governor and many legislators feel that since families of prisoners aren't organized or funded into a large enough voting block, they are helpless in fighting against this
horrible state of affairs. Sandy and I are working on a story about the food situation. Are you writing letters to editors on this topic? We are only as effective of the number of people who
write, picket, recruit others to write, picket and donate funds to build our UNION.
Please stay active. Even when your articles aren't used, they
still count toward how news assignments and editorials are written. The
media is banned. How can they be informed of the human crisis in
prisons with your help?
Produce firm hurts because state can't pay
By John Hill -- Bee Capitol Bureau - (Published August 25, 2002)
Just last month, Cyndy and Mike Mulhern paid off the mortgage on their
east Sacramento house.
In the next week or so, if California still doesn't have a budget, the
Mulherns will put that house up as collateral for a loan to keep their
The business, Superior Produce, supplies truckloads of fruits and vegetables
to California prisons. In the middle of June, the state stopped paying
First, it was because the Department of Corrections had overspent its
budget and was awaiting passage of a bill authorizing extra money.
Then the budget for the new fiscal year got bogged down in the Assembly,
and the prisons had no authority to pay vendors like Superior Produce.
Nine weeks later, the impasse continues, with little sign of progress.
Unlike the state, the Mulherns don't have a choice about paying their
bills. The business is required by federal and state law to pay its suppliers
within 10 days.
So the Mulherns went to their bank and got two $100,000 lines of credit.
The bank said it would be happy to do more -- but needed the house as security.
It was a bitter moment for the Mulherns, who started the business in
1988 with a small business loan, a delivery truck and four employees. It
has grown to nine trucks and 22 employees in a warehouse and loading dock
a few miles north of the white dome where the budget writers haggle.
"It doesn't seem fair to me," Cyndy Mulhern said. While Superior Produce
expects to survive the impasse, "How many other small businesses that haven't
been in business as long as we have can weather the storm?"
Many vendors across the state are asking the same question. Some provide
goods to prisons and other state operations. Others have contracts for
services, such as programming computers or maintaining vehicles.
Many see little choice but to keep delivering even though the money
has dried up. Their contracts require it, and they are too dependent on
state business to risk breaching the agreement.
They take out loans to get through the drought. But the credit lines
don't extend forever, and some could be cut off if the budget impasse continues
into the fall.
Prison vendors were the hardest hit because the department stopped paying
some of its bills as long ago as April when it started running short of
money. With the Assembly's approval Thursday of a bill to cover the previous
fiscal year's shortfall, these vendors will be paid within two or three
weeks for goods and services delivered before July 1.
But like all other state vendors, prison contractors still await the
passage of a budget to be paid for bills after July 1.
The Department of Corrections has been making some emergency payments
"Nonprofits usually get the first consideration," spokesman Russ Heimerich
said. "They usually operate pretty much on a shoestring anyway."
Payments also have been made to vendors that said they could no longer
deliver and those in danger of going under.
Superior Produce doesn't fit into any of those categories.
The Mulherns said the passage of the bill covering last year's prisons
shortfall will help, covering about a quarter of the $450,000 the company
is owed by the Department of Corrections and other state agencies.
But it's not enough.
The Mulherns find themselves in a delicate position between the state,
which accounts for about a third of their business, and brokers they have
known for years.
"We've had such a good relationship with all our suppliers," Mike Mulhern
said. "I have never been called in 15 years of business and asked for a
check -- until recently. ... We golf together. We go out to dinner together.
Now I'm saying, 'Can you hold off a while, two weeks, until I pay you?'
Some suppliers reserve their best deals for customers who pay promptly,
Cyndy Mulhern said. Superior Produce could miss out on some of those.
Mike Mulhern keeps up on budget news and was perplexed last week to
read that the Department of Corrections, in the absence of a budget, had
set aside $3 million to pay paroled inmates $200 for bus fares and initial
living expenses. He asks why that money doesn't go to vendors.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Mulhern said. "These guys can walk out
of prison as far as I'm concerned. I want to be paid."
He is a member of a council that encourages young companies to do business
with the state. He recognizes the many advantages of being a vendor. The
state is in no risk of going out of business and is normally very prompt
and dependable. But in light of his own experience, Mulhern believes that
would-be state vendors should be warned of the downsides: weeks, and perhaps
months, of no money.
The Mulherns say they don't care that much about which political party
prevails -- the Democrats want about $4 billion in tax increases, while
the Republicans want to cover the shortfall with more in program cuts.
Mostly, they want the stalemate to end.
They expect the bank will keep them going, but even that source of money
could run out if the impasse goes well into the fall, as some observers
"I don't know if I'd have to go to my family and say, 'Dad, help me
out here,' " Mike Mulhern said. "They're talking about going into November
The Bee's John Hill can be reached at (916) 326-5543 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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