Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Behind bars, the attitude can start with the food

An inmate carries his lunch of Spanish rice, cornbread, cucumbers and onions, broccoli and a banana past a guard who marks his number off at Polk County Correctional Institute.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

An inmate carries his lunch of Spanish rice, cornbread, cucumbers and onions, broccoli and a banana past a guard who marks his number off at Polk County Correctional Institute.

POLK CITY

He hopes the prisoners don't notice the missing hamburger. He had the guys spice up the ground turkey, trying to hide the loss.

He couldn't control the sugar ration. Or the cornbread.

State mandates.

But try telling that to 1,200 hungry inmates.

"We've had to change some of the recipes, trying to cut back on costs but not on portions," says Jack Myers, who oversees the industrial kitchen at Polk Correctional Institution in Polk City. "We're having to feed everyone more cheaply now. So this month, we switched from half-hamburger, half-turkey to just turkey in most of our casserole dishes."

Inmates still get ground beef in their meatloaf, and 3-ounce hamburgers five times a month. But the chili, Spanish rice and meat macaroni is now all turkey.

Try feeding a grown man 3,000 calories on $2.12 a day.

• • •

Last spring, the Legislature chopped $9.25 million from the prison food budget. Contractors who had cooked the inmates' food since 2001 decided they couldn't turn a profit. When they pulled out in January, the state had five days to take over the prison food service.

Myers ran state prison kitchens for Trinity Services Group of Oldsmar for four years. The state hired him back to take over food service at the Polk City facility. There, he makes the meals the state makes him make, overseeing six paid staffers and 100 inmates dressed in blue scrubs. Every week, they cook 50,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,200 pounds of beans and a ton of turkey.

"We've had our budget cut at the same time costs are rising," Myers says. "In the last year, rice went from $13 a bag to $28."

Inmates line up in the cafeteria along a white concrete block wall, push through a turnstile and reach into a 2-foot-square window. The inmates dishing food on the other side can't see their faces. So they can't dole their buddies an extra scoop of Spanish rice.

On this February Friday, everyone is also getting a stalk of yellowed broccoli, a banana and, of course, cornbread. "We had to cut back on the sliced bread," Myers says. "Cornbread is cheaper." Who cares if it takes more time to make? Inmates do the labor.

Prisoners haven't complained much, Myers says. This spring, he hopes to help the prisoners plant a garden, start growing cabbage, squash and green, green broccoli. They could all have fresher produce, he says, while saving money.

His supervisor, assistant warden Eduardo Rivero, just hopes the state doesn't slice any more meat from his budget. "I'm praying," he says.

The men here are murderers and thieves, sentenced from one year to life. The only thing a lot of them have to look forward to is meals. "Food," he says, "makes a big difference in their attitude."

And because state budget cuts also mean the maximum-security prison is down 18 guards, the last thing the warden wants is inmates with a beef.

Behind bars, the attitude can start with the food 02/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 3:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii

    Military

    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan

    Blogs

    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that ‘both sides” bore blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry

    Military

    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.