Bagged Food Is a Bag of Crap – The Prison Industrial Complex in 308: “Fear, and Other Smells”

Red may have regained the kitchen, but she has lost her right to carefully prepare what her fellow inmates eat. Danny Pearson and the new overlords of Litchfield have implemented the meal program that exists in most other prisons all around the country. While Red may have more time on her hands, the food creates more problems than it quells. As if some sick and twisted cosmic joke, Wanda Bell, over the PA system, announces to the women that the typical meal is 1,500 calories and that the women should “beware of overeating.” Most, if not all, women have difficulty stomaching their new regulated cuisine; however, those who have discovered the perks of the Ramen noodle flavor packets or the loophole of the kosher meal are still doing just fine.

“These meals are unfit for human consumption.” – Red

While it seems as though the inmates in Litchfield had it pretty good for a while, things can only get worse. As it turns out, prisons are in fact on fixed meal schedules that provide the same, low-quality, cheaply-made meals to prisoners. And though it looks pretty bad now, it turns out that things can get worse. At the start of season two when Piper was thrown in the SHU, we got a look at Nutraloaf, the food punishment.  Have a look at what BuzzFeed taste-testers had to say about this “nutritious” cuisine.

According to dining critic Jeff Ruby, Poussey’s hooch could get her Nutraloaf, as could Crazy Eyes’ decision to throw her pie for Piper. Nutraloaf has inspired hunger strikes in that it is “cruel and unusual punishment,” even under the condition that it is in fact punishment food. As Ruby so eloquently describes it, this food brick is

“a thick orange lump of spite with the density and taste of a dumbbell, could only be the object of Beelzebub’s culinary desires.”

However, the true punishment is the fact that it tastes neutral. Half of the experience of eating is in its ability to bring comfort and satisfaction to its consumers, an experience that is entirely stripped once the various ingredients are pureed together and formed into a loaf.

Because Litchfield was spending roughly 60% more on inmates per day for food than all other prisons around the country, they were forced to adopt the system all in the name of making money. Ever since Litchfield was taken over by the prison corporation, costs were cut at all measures without much regard for how these spending decisions affected the people within the prisons. To the policymakers sitting in their windowed conference rooms, the people behind bars are not people at all; rather, they are vermin – maggots that shouldn’t  need much quality sustenance. The writers of the show seem to be suggesting that government officials who invest boatloads of money in the prison industrial complex, or allow other organizations to make money on the backs of prisoners. While the series has stirred up some controversy involving the ways in which prisons make money off of the incarcerated population, the American government has seldom addressed how billions of dollars are spent on the prison system each year. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) explained last May our conundrum:

[O]ne of the crises we face in our nation is that we have more people behind bars than any other country on earth […] China is a nation that is 3 or 4 times larger than us population wise […] And what we do in our jails is we run a great educational system, we educate people how to be even better criminals. So it seems to me that rather than spending huge amounts of money on jails and on private corporations who are incentivized to keep people in jail, it might make a lot more sense to spend money on job training and education so that people do not end up in jail in the first place.

As we saw with Taystee’s two-week struggle on the other side of Litchfield’s bars, what Senator Sanders says is true. It has become easier in some cases for individuals to remain in jail than it has to stay on the outside due to prisons’ inability and unwillingness to train them for jobs and how to support themselves on the outside. Furthermore, the fact that individuals are incarcerated for minor drug crimes allows the government to keep funding the prison industrial complex. This will not change so long as corporations continue to invest in prisons as well as pay off policymakers that continue to change and write laws that further their moneymaking schemes. While arguing over the donut shop logo with Pennsatucky, C.O. Charlie Coates creates the perfect metaphor for the prison industrial complex:

“A donut that’s selling other donuts is basically a slave trader. Worse, really, because he’s selling his own people to be consumed as food.”

There truly is nothing more horrific than making  money off the backs of those who cannot fight back.

Work Cited

Jilani, Zaid. “Bernie Sanders Intends to Strike at Heart of Prison Industrial Complex.” Alternet. N.p., 29 May 2015. Web. 3 Jan. 2016.

Ruby, Jeff. “Dining Critic Tries Nutraloaf, the Prison Food for Misbehaving Inmates.” Chicago Magazine. N.p., 26 Aug. 2010. Web. 3 Jan. 2016.