GA Prisons to Get “Additional Meals,” a Bad Fix for the Wrong Problem

May 23, 2024

On May 7, Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed a $36.1 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year that will begin in July. It includes an additional $1.2 million so that people in Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) custody may have the luxury of being offered “additional meals on weekends.”

Per GDC business practices, and those of prison systems in general, this does not refer to more than three meals a day. I’d say it refers to lunch, but the concepts of breakfast, lunch and dinner are very subjective these days.

At the facility where I’m currently incarcerated, breakfast is lately served at 4:30 am on the weekends. Or somewhere around that time, whenever the corrections officer working the night shift does insulin call for the diabetic prisoners. We’re supposed to be allowed the opportunity to get eight hours of sleep, between 9 pm and 5 am, but the sooner we’re called to chow the sooner the night shift can go home.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because if we skip it we don’t eat until 2:30 pm. That’s not the promised lunch, though; that’s dinner.

After 30-plus years of being subjected to GDC’s business practices, I will now make the same educated guess about lunch that everyone else who’s been here a while would make: Lunch will also be served at 4:30 am. It will consist of one cellophane-wrapped sandwich added to the breakfast tray, either bologna or peanut butter.

So if we don’t go to chow at 4:30 am, we’re skipping both breakfast and lunch. Which would you pick: food or sleep? If it helps, the answer has no bearing on whether you will go hungry.

We need commissary prices to go down, and they’re not even leveling off.

Chow isn’t a place people go if they can help it. Whether or not it’s the first meal of the day, the 2:30 pm dinner will involve beans that weren’t pre-soaked and greens that can be most generously described as “wet.” There are two kinds of rice: crunchy or globbed. The ovens are set at a very hot temperature that manages to achieve bread simultaneously burned on the crust, but raw in the middle. The meat-flavored patties come out the exact same way, but that’s okay since they’re not actually meat, just veggies, probably. Albeit very pink and cold.

The people on kitchen detail must rise at 3 am to start preparing the day’s so-called meals, but they are there to steal. To just make sure their own belly is filled, or to leave with sacks of toasted sandwiches to sell back at the living unit. The problem is that the amount of food available to kitchen workers to serve at chow is measured out days in advance, so every egg sandwich stolen to fill one hungry belly leaves another hungrier than before.

The only way to not be hungry all the time is to survive off food from commissary. But at any given time, more than half the people housed in this prison aren’t buying anything from commissary, because they can’t afford to.

The 4:30 am bologna sandwich is taking that $1.2 million and aiming it at the wrong problem, or at least the wrong problem to prioritize. No one is clamoring for increased access to wet bread. We need commissary prices to go down, and they’re not even leveling off. GDC did not respond to Filter‘s request for comment.

For years the price of Ramen soups was stable. In 2022 when it rose from $.39 to $.48, it was a shock. Ramen soups are $.79 now.

In other state prison systems people might be fortunate enough to get paid a few cents per hour for their labor, but not here. It could make all the difference when commissary prices continue to rise by a few cents per item.

For a number of years, the price of Ramen soups had been stable, in the sense that it’d only creep up a couple of cents at a time. In 2022, when the GDC commissary prices rose sharply and Ramen soups went from $0.39 to $0.48, it was a shock. Ramen soups are $0.79 now.

The price hikes have continued, sometimes with only a few months between them. The most recent one was in April. This time in 2023, the price of saltine crackers was $2.28. It’s $3.56 now. A 3 oz bag of coffee that was $4.52 is now $6.32.

A neighbor who is terrifyingly proficient at math informs me that with about 50,000 people incarcerated in GDC facilities, even if just one person out of 10 buys some of these three staples from commissary each week, that would generate revenue for GDC upwards of $1.5 million in a year. Most people who regularly go to commissary buy more than Ramen, saltines or coffee; it’s common to spend about $50 each week.

Many of those people won’t eat all the food items themselves, but will sell them on at a 25-percent markup to prisoners sanctioned with loss of privileges at the time. You wouldn’t think loss of privileges would includes the privilege of spending any money we have at commissary, but if the powers that be had a firmer grasp of basic business principles they’d have found a pretext to ditch the smoking ban nonsense by now and simply put cigarettes in commissary at $10 a pack. This would generate unconscionable profits for our enslavers, who’d still probably get away with quietly pricing us out of anything to eat.

 


 

Photograph via Orange County Sheriff’s Department

Jimmy Iakovos

Jimmy Iakovos is a pseudonym for a writer who is incarcerated in Georgia. It is illegal in some Southern states to earn a living while under a sentence of penal servitude. Writing has enabled Jimmy to endure over 30 years of continuous imprisonment.

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