Not for human consumption

0
494

by John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

The Washington Post last week wrote one of a series of articles about the federal shutdown that focused on the criminal justice system. The reporters included the obligatory interviews with prison guards talking about how overworked and understaffed they are, which is likely true.

A meal in prison – Photo: John Moore, GQ

But the article was inflammatory – not because of the interviews with the guards, but because the Post reported that while the poor guards were suffering, the prisoners were eating meals fit for a king, including “grilled steak, steamed rice with gravy, black-eyed peas, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and a choice of garlic biscuits or whole wheat bread or an assortment of holiday pies.”

USA Today also got in on the act, quoting the Post article and adding that some prisoners “even had roast beef,” and they “tucked into a Christmas spread of herb-dusted Cornish game hens, cornbread dressing, gravy, rice pilaf, and assorted pies.”

The purpose of the articles was to outrage the public. How can these criminals eat like this while the hard-working guards are suffering? But it’s all nonsense.

Many times during the 23 months that I spent in a federal prison for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program, I elected to go hungry or to surreptitiously cook something of my own, rather than to eat the Bureau of Prisons’ “gourmet” meals.

My first full day in prison was a Friday. One of my cellmates told me that Friday was “fish day.” “Oh, good,” I said, “I love fish.” “You won’t love this fish,” he responded. “And you shouldn’t eat it. We call it sewer trout.”

The purpose of the articles was to outrage the public. How can these criminals eat like this while the hard-working guards are suffering? But it’s all nonsense.

I went to the cafeteria and got in line. When I finally made my way to the serving area, where prisoners were dropping ladles of slop onto plastic trays, I saw the boxes of fish stacked up in plain view. The sides of the boxes were all clearly marked, “Alaskan Cod – Product of China – Not For Human Consumption – Feed Use Only.” I skipped lunch.

I’ve written in the past about food in the federal prison system, but the information bears repeating. Here’s a typical story. Just before I got to prison, a private food service company, John Soules Foods Inc., “accidentally” sold dog food to prisons to be fed to prisoners mismarked as “ground beef.”

There was no punishment for the company or its executives, other than a $392,000 fine, the cost of the investigation, paid to the U.S. Treasury. Prisoners got nothing. Not even an apology. And the shame of the story is that nobody could even tell that it was dog food. It tasted the same as everything else prisoners are served.

Just before I got to prison, a private food service company, John Soules Foods Inc., “accidentally” sold dog food to prisons to be fed to prisoners mismarked as “ground beef.”

Let’s get back to the Post and USA Today articles. It is true that on Thanksgiving, prisoners are fed actual turkey. That’s one decent meal per year. And on Christmas they receive a disgusting, scrawny, greasy, bony Cornish hen. I sold mine for two bags of tuna. The rest of the menu is trash.

In the two years I was in prison, for example, I never saw the crown of a stalk of broccoli. Prisoners only get stems and only fruits and vegetables that are so damaged and ugly that they can’t possibly be sold in a grocery store.

The “selection of holiday pies” was a chocolate “Cliff Bar” that had expired a year earlier. Once we got bagels. But they were all dyed green from the previous year’s St. Patrick’s Day, they hadn’t sold, and they had been frozen for a year.

And “steak day” is also once a year. I wouldn’t call the charred hunk of gristle and fat that they threw onto our trays a steak. I don’t know anybody who would. If the guard quoted in the Washington Post had wanted my “steak,” I would gladly have given it to him. He likely would have choked on it.

I never saw the crown of a stalk of broccoli. Prisoners only get stems and only fruits and vegetables that are so damaged and ugly that they can’t possibly be sold in a grocery store.

A subject for another column is how much of the money budgeted for prisoner food is diverted and spent on better food that is served only to the guards and administrators. A little of it is subsequently stolen by kitchen workers and sold on the black market. That’s how I used to get decent fruit. But it’s the guards who eat like kings, not the prisoners.

The guards who lament their stations in life to the Washington Post or USA Today are disingenuous at best and liars at worst. Their complaints mean nothing to me or to any other former or current prisoner. I would have been happy to change places with them any time they wished.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program. Currently, he is a columnist with Reader Supported News and co-host of Loud and Clear on Sputnik Radio. Contact him on Twitter: @John Kiriakou. This story originally appeared in Reader Supported News. The Bay View thanks RSN for explicitly permitting republication.

Leave a Reply