Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sardines and Beans - A Religious Diet

By the end of that first week bread and water started to look pretty good. Sure, we've all heard the jokes about how bad things can get and when it got really bad then the most you could hope for would be bread and water. But not even that seemed so bad after all, not when compared to what they came up with this time.

I guess I really should back up and begin where it all really began. After many years of refusing to comply with long established federal law that requires state prisons to provide prisoners a diet that conforms with their religious beliefs, the US Department of Justice filed a formal lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). That is what it took to force the FDOC to finally provide a "religious" diet program to those who held beliefs that required eating only "clean" food. This generally included those of the Jewish faith, as well as a significant number of Muslims and even Christians who could articulate reasons why they would want to participate in a religious diet program.



Under Federal Court order, the FDOC implemented this "RDP" at Union Correctional Institution in July 2013 as a "pilot program". They didn't expect many prisoners to sign up for the RDP but considering that the regular meals served are anything but edible, it came as no surprise that a significant number of prisoners did request to participate in this new RDP and by doing so receive food that could actually be consumed. All of a sudden it seemed everyone got religious!

At first the religious diet began with a breakfast of real boiled eggs (it had been years since the FDOC fed us real eggs) with a small bowl of cornflakes, powdered soy milk and a piece of fruit. At lunch we would receive a pre-packed meal consisting of a main entry such as Salisbury steak, or chicken patty, with a generous portion of real potatoes and vegetables and another piece of fresh fruit, and a packet of powdered drink mix (like "Kool-aid") Then the evening meal would be a similar pre-packaged meal (at least once a week spaghetti and meatballs with fresh green peas and a fillet of real fish with rice and tomatoes) and it was good! Compared to what the prison served on the regular meals it was like eating in a 5 star restaurant!

But these pre-packaged meals cost the FDOC a lot of money. Depending on the source, generally the FDOC budget allocates about 2 dollars a day for each prisoner, which explains why regular meals are mostly some some form of unidentifiable meat substitute with whatever they can pass off as vegetables. But the religious diets were costing the FDOC at least 3-4 times as much and quickly taking a big chunk out of the allocated food budget.

It didn't take too long before the brainiacs at the front office began plotting ways to come up with a much cheaper "religious" diet and just that quickly the morning eggs were gone, replaced by a small portion of peanut butter - suddenly for breakfast every morning we were served peanut butter! And the lunch meal was switched from the pre-packaged meals to a small packet of sardines and six crackers for four of the days each week, and a small packet of tuna fish with potato chips on Saturdays. But it was still a lot better than what they fed us on the regular diet and most of those who signed up for the religious diet stayed on it.

But by federal court order the FDOC had to start providing this "religious" diet at other institutions within a matter of months and given the unexpectedly high percentage of prisoners who signed up for the Religious Diet Program (RDP) at Union Correctional Institution, the FDOC knew they had a problem. Under Federal court order, any prisoner who requested to participate in the RDP had to be provided the religious diet, and once rolled out to the other prisoners across the state, this would undoubtedly cost the FDOC millions of dollars each month in additional food expense.

Once again the brainiacs in the front office went to work to figure out other ways to significantly reduce the number of prisoners requesting the RDP, and it didn't take long before the menu was completely changed.

Beginning on March 24, 2014 all the ready to eat pre-packaged meals were gone, replaced by either small packets of sardines (4 sardines) and 6 crackers, or a cup (8 ounces) of cold canned beans accompanied by a small portion of raw cabbage, or carrots - or occasionally, tomatoes.

Under this revised menu, not a single hot meal would be provided. For breakfast we would receive a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the main entree, and for both lunch and dinner it would be either a small packet of sardines or a cup of cold and generally tasteless beans. And only one piece of fruit would be provided each day - most often nothing else than a half rotten orange.

Many of us immediately filed formal grievances, which generally went unanswered. Clearly this newly revised diet was not adequate as it didn't conform to basic nutritional needs, or long established state and federal rules that required "at least" two hot meals each day. Few of us were surprised when a few weeks after many of us filed grievances, the FDOC  issued a proposed rule to eliminate the requirement of 2 hot meals a day. Of course, eliminating the prison rule itself would not miraculously relieve the FDOC of it's constitutional obligation to provide an adequate diet. But it would buy the FDOC time to effectively coerce a large number of prisoners to "voluntarily" request removal of the religious diet program, and that's what it was really all about. When it comes down to it, it's a pissing contest between the Federal court and the FDOC - The Federal court ordered the FDOC to provide a religious diet and so now the FDOC will provide a diet that although technically available, prisoners will quickly tire of and "voluntarily" refuse.

Still, that wasn't even enough and the FDOC had to come up with other ways to coerce prisoners to want to go back to the regular diet. They found their means by diabolically and with obvious extreme malice manipulating the 8-day Jewish Passover into nothing less than a religious persecution. Under the pretense of "observing the Jewish Passover" beginning on Monday April 14th, 2014 all prisoners who requested participation in this religious diet received nothing but that small packet of sardines (4 sardines) and two matzo crackers at each meal - breakfast, lunch and dinner. This continued for not only 8 days of the Passover, but actually a full 9 days! Clearly under no reasonable interpretation would this amount to an adequate diet - but then again, it wasn't meant to.

However, not even this contemptible misconduct by top prison officials compelled very many to "voluntarily" refuse further participation in the religious diet program, and as of March 28, 2014 we are all now back on the peanut butter/jelly sandwich for breakfast every day and either sardines or cold canned beans for lunch and dinner.

Most of us are resolved to now stay on this diet, as we know the people within the FDOC that are responsible for playing these games will only now force the Federal court to intervene and it's only a matter of time before the Federal court will find the FDOC in contempt of court deliberately depriving thousands of prisoners of an adequate diet and then we will once again receive meals comparable to what was first provided.

And in the long run, these petty games they play will only cost the FDOC substantially more.
But I must admit that after a full week of being fed nothing but a small packet of 4 sardines and two matzo crackers for every meal, it got to the point where I was thinking about how good bread and water would be...and like the rest of us, I can only hope that the Federal court overseeing this religious diet program will soon order the FDOC to provide an adequate diet that actually does provide the required two hot meals a day.



Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

keep up the fight mike

Anonymous said...

So all of you (non-religious inmates who are requesting special religious meals) are abusing the system ... yet complain when it plays hardball right back. If you really believe that law-abiding citizens are terribly troubled to hear that convicted murderers who are lying about their religious beliefs are being deprived of boiled eggs, Salisbury steak, meatballs, real fish, fruit, and vegetables: think twice. We are concerned about your victims having been denied those things. Not you folks.