Today we were given fried chicken for lunch. It is not served often, and is a favorite among the prisoners in Stateville. I am not particularly fond of fried chicken, especially dark meat, but it is better than the processed turkey-soy meal, turkey-soy patties, or sausage we are regularly given. Processed turkey-soy consists of turkey scraps ground together with soy meal into a kibble that resembles dry dog food. It comes in huge bags and is dumped into large kettles to be boiled and made into many of our meals. It is used to make spaghetti, stew, Sloppy Joes, breakfast gravy, tacos, and almost anything you can think of. Sausage is served to us three or more times a week along with the premade turkey-soy blend patties. Considering that I despise sausage and am not fond of processed turkey scraps-soy meal, chicken is a good alternative.
At Stateville, prisoners are served the cheapest, low quality foods that can be purchased in bulk. Thus, along with ground turkey-soy and sausage, we are also given lots of beans, bread, and instant or scalloped potatoes. We are not given any pork or beef. There are a number of Muslims here, and rather then serve an alternative meal to them, no pork is served at all. Beef is more expensive and also is prone to be stolen by inmates and guards. Our vegetable is usually plain lettuce, but we also get carrots, peas, corn and collard greens. Dessert is usually a couple of prepackaged cookies, or a little cake. Applesauce is also very common. The quality and quantity of food served has progressively become worse since I've been in prison. The administration has been cutting costs, mostly at our expense. With the massive debt Illinois has incurred due to the wasteful and reckless spending of taxpayer dollars, and the loss of revenue from the recession, we could soon be living on bread and water if it were not for federal law mandates.
Chow is served early for the first cell house to be fed. Just after 9 a.m. today, guards begin to open cell doors upstairs. The doors are opened individually, and each gallery is run separately. Years ago, all doors were simultaneously unlocked and a few galleries were let out, but due to increased security concerns, this has been stopped. After being let out of your cell, you walk outside and line up in two lines. Guards will often bark at you to deuce it up. The chow lines this morning were particularly long and loud. Everyone had come out for fried chicken. Due to the volume of people who come out for this meal, our new warden recently ordered it never to be served for dinner. This is so everyone can be fed and locked back in their cages in time for the 8 p.m. head count.
From outside the cell house, we walk a couple of blocks to the dining room. We are closely monitored by guards and lieutenants. In fact, usually eight to ten lieutenants are standing just inside or outside the chow hall talking or staring you down. What is the purpose of having so many lieutenants here doing nothing, I wonder, and it only reminds me of how overstaffed Stateville is. The chow hall and kitchen are in a large circular building with a gun tower in the center. Three pie shaped wedges of dining rooms lead off one side of the circle, so the guards in the gun tower have unhindered sight and line of fire. This year, two of the dining rooms were divided in half to create five--one for each gallery of a cell house.
I waited in the crowded herd for a long time until reaching the food counter. It is very loud, and people are not only speaking amongst themselves, but yelling to people they know in the dining rooms. At the counter, I take a tray and slide it down the line as prison workers drop food onto it. First, I was given a plop of black eyed beans, and then collard greens, which usually taste like I would imagine lawn mower clippings would. However, I always eat them for their nutritional value. Then two pieces of bread grabbed by hand are thrown on my tray. Finally, the much anticipated chicken is given to me at the end of the line. It is very overcooked, and almost fried beyond recognition. I take it without a gripe. I have lived an unjust and miserable life for many years. What is an overcooked piece of chicken compared to that?