Prison food for thought

In a never-ending quest to make prisons “cost effective”, our government decided to turn the food services over to private enterprise. This means that the service is provided in the skimpiest way possible without having outbreaks of scurvy. I found it bizarre when I was in high security (about a week) because the food would come on trolley carts with covered trays, very much like hospital food presentation. Each woman took her tray and opened it. Of course, the first time, you anticipate that it will be something interesting but you soon learn that it will be two slices of bread which you can then toast in the unit toaster. The toast will be accompanied by fast food packets of jam, sugar, powdered creamer, instant coffee, tea bag (all of which come in handy for trading). I quickly learned to describe myself as “vegetarian” so I could occasionally get a processed cheese slice and sidestep the “meat of dubious origins” which came with dinner.

Things changed after that first week in high security when I was moved to a minimum security unit. This place was still like a bad summer camp but the food improved somewhat. A small team of prisoners prepared the food under the watchful eye of a Filipino woman named Anna. They seemed like a happy team and they made food that was heavy on the pasta and potatoes (women who are coming off drug addictions need a lot of carbs, plus they are cheap). Eggs were more plentiful and there was a concerted effort to make the food appetizing. There was always a table with a giant bowl of salad from which we could help ourselves and more fruit was available, too.

Four women ate at each table in the dining room and the guards ate with us. The whole group ate very rapidly as it was considered rude to dawdle over your food because there was another team of women who had to clean the tables and sweep the floor after the meal. Although this fast eating was tense, we were allowed to come back into the dining room after the cleanup crew had finished and make ourselves a tea and relax at the tables. It became my habit to bring a book or a newspaper and sit alone to enjoy a hot cup of tea for about 45 minutes after the evening meal.

One evening when I was alone in the dining room, the cook, Anna, came out of the kitchen for the first time and approached my table. She put a small paper on the table and when I took it and looked, I could see it was her photo and it was a midwifery license from the Philippines. I couldn’t quite compute it and she smiled and sat down.
She explained to me that she had come to Canada expecting to practice her profession but could never get accepted by the midwifery licensing body. She then applied for and got the cooking job in the women’s prison. She said that she just loved it. She shopped very carefully to get us the best food possible on the tight budget she was given. She knew her nutrition and wanted us all to be healthy. Her team would say a prayer over the food before beginning meal preparation. She wanted me to know that she had read about my difficulties with the licensing body in the newspapers and could understand what I was going through. Even though she couldn’t attend births in Canada, she had found a way to support women in an unlikely place and she did her work in the prison with pride and passion. I felt that my brief interaction with her was another of the miracles that I encountered within those walls. . . a midwife was watching out for me and she fed my body and soul by reaching out to me.

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9 thoughts on “Prison food for thought

  1. Thank you for this post Glo…. while I don’t like to imagine you in the prison, I know that it served many that you went, I imagine it even served you. You are an inspiration, thank you for all you do <3

  2. To me, that woman is a hero. What an amazing human being to find a way to continue her calling in a way she had never imagined or hoped for. I hope I would be as creative and open if I were in her shoes!

    I just came across your blog and am loving it!

  3. Such a beautiful story Gloria of the feminine aspects of nourishing and nurturing. Very, very inspiring too for we never know where we will/can be of the greatest service to other women. Who would have guessed? Wise, wise women.

    • On the ride to the women’s prison, I created a context for my time there. The context was “I am the possibility of being contributed to and contributing to others”. That context carried the day for me. It allowed me to see teachers and givers in the people I interacted with every day for the two months I was there. It’s a very different thing, being in prison for something you know is right living than being there for something of which you are ashamed. It’s also a different experience when you know you have an army of friends, family and supporters to come home to when you are released. I don’t want to spend any more time in prison but fear of it doesn’t run me anymore.

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