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Food Behind Bars Isn’t Fit For Your Dog by Chris Hedges

 

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Posted on Dec 22, 2013

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AP/Matt Rourke

Aramark World Headquarters in Philadelphia in 2006.

Shares in the Philadelphia-based Aramark Holdings Corp., which contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide the food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, went public Thursday. The corporation, acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs, raised $725 million last week from the sale of the stock. It is one more sign that the business of locking up poor people in corporate America is booming.

Aramark, whose website says it provides 1 million meals a day to prisoners, does what corporations are doing throughout the society: It lavishes campaign donations on pliable politicians, who in turn hand out state and federal contracts to political contributors, as well as write laws and regulations to benefit their corporate sponsors at the expense of the poor. Aramark fires unionized workers inside prisons and jails and replaces them with underpaid, nonunionized employees. And it makes sure the food is low enough in both quality and portion to produce huge profits.

Aramark, often contracted to provide food to prisoners at about a dollar a meal, is one of numerous corporations, from phone companies to construction firms, that have found our grotesque system of mass incarceration to be very profitable. The bodies of the poor, when they are not captive, are worth little to corporations. But bodies behind bars can each generate $40,000 to $50,000 a year for corporate coffers. More than 2.2 million men and women are in prisons and jails in the U.S.

Crystal Jordan, who has spent 23 years as a corrections officer in New Jersey and who works at the Burlington County Jail, and another corrections officer at the jail, who did not want to be named, told me that the food doled out to prisoners by Aramark is not only substandard but often spoiled. For nearly a decade Jordan has filed complaints about the conditions in the jail, including persistent mold on walls and elsewhere, with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state and county officials. The results of her complaints have been negligible.

“The big shift came in 2004 when the state got rid of the employees who worked in the kitchen and gave the food service contract to Aramark,” said Jordan, who has sent several complaints about jail kitchen conditions to state and county authorities. “The food was not great [earlier], but the officers ate it along with the prisoners. Once Aramark came in, that changed. The bread was stale. I saw food in the kitchen with mold on it. The refrigerator broke down and the food was left outside in the cold or trucked in from another facility. Those who ate the food began to get sick. The officers demanded the right to bring in their own food or order out, which the jail authorities granted. But the prisoners had no choice. Diarrhea and vomiting is common among the prisoners. A few weeks ago one of the officers got a bowl of the prisoners’ chili. We all told him not to eat it. He ended up with diarrhea in the bathroom.”

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Many of those incarcerated in prisons or jails such as Union County Jail in Elizabeth, N.J., where Aramark runs the food service, echo Jordan’s account. They say that sickness and persistent hunger are becoming a routine part of being incarcerated.

“The food gives everybody in the jail diarrhea,” said James Gibbs, 52, who recently spent two weeks in Union County Jail and previously had spent two years there. “There was never enough food. People were hungry all the time.” 

Al Gordon, 45, said he was in Union County Jail when nearly everyone came down with food poisoning from tacos. “It was awful,” he said when we spoke in Elizabeth. “All the prisoners, except the ones who were vegetarian and who did not eat the meat in the tacos, had diarrhea for three days. Whenever we tried to eat anything for those three days we threw it back up. We were all sweating and felt dizzy.”

Gordon had a job in the jail’s kitchen, where he helped prepare the food, usually under the supervision of two Aramark employees. “There were mice running around and mice droppings everywhere,” he said. “The utensils for cooking were dirty. Many of the prisoners preparing the food would use the bathroom and then not wash their hands or wear gloves. Hair fell into the food. The bread was stale and hard. And the portions we were required to serve were real small. You could eat six portions like the ones we served … and still be hungry. If we put more than the required portion on the tray the Aramark people would make us take it off. It wasn’t civilized. I lost 30 pounds. I would wake up at night and put toothpaste in my mouth to get rid of the hunger urge. The only way a person survived in there was to have money on the books to order from the canteen, but I didn’t have no money. It was especially bad for the diabetics, and there are a lot of diabetics behind bars.”

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Davin age thirty five

Davin age thirty five

Davin Jake Douma

Davin’s Three Day Journal

 

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Count clears around nine and all the doors rack.  The sounds of steal latches popping open, and pieces of conversations, wake me up.  My Sundays always start late.  It is the one day of the week I get to sleep-in a little.  That means getting up at nine, showering, and doing my morning meditation.  My meditation consists of a basic approach called breath counting.  It’s about me learning to focus my mind and eliminate the internal dialogue generated by the ego.  For me it is about reaching that quiet point, my center, and just sitting there for a while.  It is the calm place in the middle of a hurricane.  Meditation gives me a break from my usual dosage of turmoil and distress.

After meditation I spend time writing my weekly letter to my Father.  My Father is the only person I write regularly.  Of all my family, it is with him I have the closest relationship.  He has stuck with me all these years and supported me even when it was not to his advantage.  My immediate family is there as well, but my Father has made the greatest sacrifices.  Plus, I think that of all the people I have known, he understands me the best.

            My letter writing is done in an hour and I move on to my next project of the day.  I spend a couple of hours writing.  I’m working on a new novel.  A smaller project thatwill utilize some of my ideas on structure and length.  Ideas that I think will make the work more marketable, and more accessible to a larger audience.  But the writing itself is the deal work.  Even though I have been writing for over twenty years I’m still exploring my voice and style.  I’m still learning the basics and am still surprised by the results.  I believe that to be a good thing.  When you stop learning you begin to die.

            Lunch is a great part of the day.  Today I’m making a simple bean and corn-tortilla meal.  I’ve been on a reduced calorie, low carb/high protein diet for several months.  Thus far I’ve lost about eighteen pounds and am happy with the results.  Like a lot of men in prison I have some issues.  Being in good shape helps me to address some of them in a very superficial way.  I think we all have a little of that in ourselves.  I tried to lose weight for a couple of years after I quit smoking.  I would work out like a dog and achieve nothing.  My metabolism was getting lower as I grew older, and it fought me every step of the way.  You’d think that a man with a fitness and nutrition degree would know how to lose weight, but it took a while for me to find the right combination.  It’s eighty percent diet, twenty percent exercise.  You can work out constantly to burn calories, but it’s a lot easier if you don’t ingest the calories in the first place.  It takes discipline for me to change my eating habits.  But once I did it, and stuck to it, it became easier with each passing day.

After lunch I do some cell cleaning.  I’m frequently amazed how dirty a room only eight by ten can get.  I sweep and mop the floor.  Dust the flat surfaces.  Clean the sink and toilet.  By the time I’m done everything smells clean and fresh.  It’s too bad I have a cell partner or it would be easier to keep everything clean.  A cell is such a strange excuse for a home.  Four cinder block walls, a steel door, and a window with two inch thick ballistic glass.

The 12:20 count is not long today.  It clears at 1:15 and I’m ready to get started on my exercise routine.  Rabbit and I do an hour of Tai Chi. We focus toward the end on reversing the first section of the classical form.  It takes a little getting used to, but Rabbit is picking it up well.  We then spend another hour doing calisthenics.  By 3:00pm we’re ready for a break.  We sit and talk for a while about things that are going on.  Work, family on the outside, legal challenges.  We also talk a little about global warming and global dimming.  We talk about what that is going to mean to us and to the coming generations.  We agree that future generations are going to be in serious trouble.

A little after three, after we have had a chance to cool down and relax, we make a meal.  Our Sunday meal is corn chips, beans, salsa, peppers, and cheese.  Basically it is a good healthy meal.  It has a tendency to leave me feeling full all night, and only gives me about four hundred and fifty calories.  During the meal we talk some more.  Not about anything in particular.  We talk about what each of us is doing for our homework for the ECU course.  He tells me, generally, what he is writing in his journal and I tell him a little about mine.  Before we know it the 4:20 count is upon us.

After count clears I grab a good hot shower, shave, and put on some shorts and an old sleeveless t-shirt.  The rest of the evening I have planned, like almost every day of my life.  The schedule on the inside is monotonous.  It doesn’t change very often, and when it does it is almost always for the bad.  The rumor mill is alive this evening.  There is a story going around that the warden is leaving.  This rumor goes around every couple of weeks.  This one is spurred on by the leaving of the security chief last Friday.  One has nothing to do with the other.

I spend the next hour, from six to seven, writing.  I’m fleshing out the next scene and putting some notes down on the one after that.  My writing goes well.  The hour flows by with me barely noticing.  Before I know it I have to get back to the cell and lock down for the next count.

After count I go back to writing.  I write from seven thirty to nine.  After nine I head back to the cell, make a little popcorn, and think about my day.  What did I accomplish and what should I have done.  I also think about what I have to do the next day.  More writing of course.  I try and write at least fifteen-hundred words a day but frequently do more than two-thousand.  I used to have a more relaxed approach to my writing, but that has passed.  Now I feel a real drive to produce.  My life is passing me by in here and I want to create things.  Things that will survive me.  I want my life to mean more than a prison term and destroyed life.

I watch the news a little on CNN.  The world is no better today than yesterday.  Politicians squabble and nothing gets done.  It’s a little depressing to watch the news.  At ten-thirty I get my evening meditation in.  I feel better when it’s done.  I feel relaxed and calm.  The cell is dark.  My cell partner is snoring.  Time to end the day.

 

Monday, October 8, 2007

Waking up in prison, day after day, is no fun at all.  It is all about waking up depressed.  Depression is a good term for incarceration.  They are one and the same.  Meditation in the morning is helpful.  It gets one’s focus on a different thing tract.

Breakfast is simple.  A granola bar and some oatmeal.  Nothing like keeping the body regular.  Actually I like my daily breakfast.  It’s simple, to the point, and gets the job done.

At work early in the morning.  I get the computer up and running, think about cable work for the day, and find that I have no work-orders.  Not a surprise.  It’s Columbus Day, which doesn’t mean much here in Oklahoma, but back east it is a big deal I guess.

I spend the majority of the morning writing.  I’m working on the first draft.  It will be short and to the point as far as novels go.  My writing style is a process of expansion.  I start with a page.  Rewrite the page and it becomes ten.  The ten become a hundred.  The hundred grows into three hundred.  I’ve always written that way.  I guess we all do whatever works.  Maybe that should be my mantra.  In the five general categories of personality designation, I’m a pragmatist.  A pragmatist, by definition, does whatever works.

Only recently did I start to write about prison life.  I have resisted it for my whole incarceration.  I think that I have not wanted to become known as a prison writer.  But, since I am a writer, and I write in prison, that label is probably unavoidable.  Anyway, prison topics are now becoming interesting to me.  I think there is much to be said.  I think that stories, fiction based on fact, could be very useful.  There are things which go on here that people on the outside should hear about.  So I’m beginning to write them.  We’ll see where it goes.

Lunch time.  Today I make a bowl of mixed vegetables with a little cheese sauce.  It’s good and low in calories.  The only problem with a vegetable lunch, with no protein, is I’ll be hungry again in a few hours.  Dinner will have to be a good one.

After lunch it’s back to writing.  I spend some time working through a couple of plot strings.  Nothing like creating a plot line that doesn’t go anywhere.  It’s a junior mistake that I have made in the past.  Not anymore.

Count time at twelve-twenty.  I really get tired of the daily counts.  There hasn’t been an escape from the medium security yard her since Donny Fox in 1992.  I think most of these guys wouldn’t run if you opened the front gate and gave them an invitation.  Just think of all the trouble they went through to get in here.  The biggest down side to the counts is the productivity you lose every day.  We spend about five hours a day locked in our cells doing nothing every day.  Five hours.  I could do a lot with those five hours.

After count I have to go to Unit 4 and work on the cable.  Bad reception is almost always the cable connections from the wall to the TV.  I check the connections and they appear to be okay.  When I wiggle the cable though his picture jumps.  I replace the cable and the picture is fine and steady.  Just for the hell of it I meter the cable in the utility room to make sure it is consistent with the main output at the head-in rack.  Everything is copasetic.

Back to the cage and more writing.  I do a quick rewrite on my class paper.  It is a short one this week, a little over two pages.  I wrote it Friday morning but always wait a few days to do a rewrite.  It’s done now and I will print it Thursday morning for class.

A little after four and I head out to mail call.  I stand around for ten minutes before I realize there is no mail today, it’s a federal holiday.  One day just sort of bleeds into another here.  If it wasn’t for the weekends I’d never know what day it is.  Count at four-twenty.  Another hour wasted.

After count its work-out time.  More martial arts plus walking today.  I try and walk at leas thirty minutes every day.  Every other day I make it an hour.  I love to walk.  I would walk across the state if given the chance.  Can you think of any activity more natural than walking?  It’s beautiful stuff.

After six, its time to shower and make some supper.  Tonight it is beans, cornbread, and jalapeno peppers.  One of my favorite meals.

At seven its count again.  My cell partner just sits and watches television all day and all evening.  He is a vegetable.  No ambition or direction.  Perhaps a carrot.

At seven-thirty count clears and I head back to work.  I do a little writing.  Mostly I spend time working on my idea for an alternative to the cage in prisons.  All the studies suggest the same thing, rehabilitation can work, but not in a prison setting.  That means if you want to change lives in here you first have to change the environment.  That is a serious up-hill battle.  But, I have an idea that I think is workable.  Inexpensive, secure, effective.  The big question is would a politician accept it?  They have the classic ‘get tough’ attitude.  My design is not ‘get tough’, its ‘get right’.         As I get more of it worked out I’ll talk to Burns about it.

It’s after nine, time for a little popcorn and television.  I don’t watch much TV but I try and catch the news each evening.

A little after ten and my cell partner is going to bed, time for me to do some meditation, then crash.  See you tomorrow.

 

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Another day another dollar.  In my case it’s about thirty cents.  Morning shower is first.  Man I really like the shower.  It’s a little cold this morning.  I slept well under a single blanket and sheet.  I hated to push off my warmth and get out of my bunk. Goose-bumps while I grab my towel, soap, and toothbrush.  The warm water wakes me up and embraces my in another warm cocoon.  If it weren’t for me having things to do I’d likely stay in the shower a good long time.

After my shower I make my bed, grab my zafu (meditation cushion), and hit the position for about thirty minutes.  I count my breaths, lose the outside world, and feel a sense of peace that even sleep doesn’t give me.  Then it’s up again, get dressed.  What will I wear today?  Gray or Gray?  I guess I’ll choose gray.  Then it’s off to work to write on my journal.

Count time at eight-thirty.  Another wasted hour.  I usually spend my count times reading.  I finish a book this morning. It is one of Philip K. Dick’s classics called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Later the book was developed into a screenplay called Blade Runner and stared Harrison Ford.  Great film.  Over the past two years I’ve been studying various writers.  I started out with Ernest Hemingway.  Then Frank Herbert.  Then Jack London.  Then Richard Back.  Then Cormac McCarthy.  Now Philip K. Dick.  I study their style, structure, and personal approach.  The best I have ever read is easily Cormac McCarthy.  But not all of his work is good.  The Road was a true masterpiece.  Frank Herbert was no slouch either.

Time for me to head out and work on some cable.  I’m doing preventive maintenance today.  Just metering the line at a variety of locations.  Making sure that balance is in order.

Noon.  I get a break to make some lunch.  Today its corn tortillas, beans, peppers, and cheese.  I can live on this stuff.  I think a reader my find my diet bland and repetitive.  I find it repetitive, but it’s healthy.  These days I’m happy with healthy.  Count time after lunch.  More reading.  Today I’m reading Lian Hern’s latest book.  It is the fourth in the Otori series.  It’s a novel taking place in medieval Japan.  I have always had a thing for Japanese culture.  They are a people in love with the simple, the austere and the elegant.  I can relate.

No cable work for the afternoon.  I get to spend it writing and working on my own projects.  Nothing I haven’t written about already.

Three o’clock.  Time to do some walking and take a break from writing.  That is my secret to getting a lot done.  Work hard, but take frequent breaks.

Five-twenty.  Time to get my exercise on.  Do you see a pattern here.  My days don’t change much for the most part.  I follow the same schedule day in and day out.  Even the weekends have little variation for me.  Prison is ‘more of the same’.  But, and I don’t know this from first-hand experience, but I think most people live lives that are based of patterns, schedules, and predictability.  The problem you run into in prison is that the patterns, schedules, and predictability is combined with a type of loneliness that can sometime be debilitating.

Seven-thirty.  Time for more writing.  I have to finish up my reading assignments this evening.  I’ll break from writing around eight.  Read, then crash around ten-thirty after meditation.  Welcome to my life.

 

A Prisoner’s Misery Status

A Prisoner’s Misery Status:

Early death from any cause happens most often to people at the bottom of society’s heap. Studies since the 1960s have found those at the top of the pecking order have the least stressful and most healthy lives. Now science sheds additional light on the subject. There is a biochemical response to low status. There are a class of hormones that regulate the immune system and respond to stress. The response causes chronic inflammation which leads to disease in the body.

My son was a prisoner. He talked about the stress of life behind bars. After years of high blood pressure, severe anxiety and pain from old injuries, he had to take medication for anxiety caused by stress. He could not take strong pain meds because of the inflammation in his bowels. He couldn’t show any weakness because that would make him more vulnerable to the gangs running the prison. By the time Davin was paroled it was too late for him to enjoy his freedom. At least he got to come home to die. Many of his friends died in the infirmary of cancer or heart disease at young ages without the loving touch and care of a family.

By Bonnie Hall

Transformational Living

Transformational Living

By Davin J. Douma

            The goal is the creation of a multi-faceted approach to personal transformation involving multiple agencies and resources.  The perfect model is one that addresses the needs of both violent and non-violent prisoners, serving both short and long-term sentences.  We are talking about behavior modification, substance abuse therapy, reintegration, education & vocational skills training, victim mediation, and restitution.  Part of the effort will also be focused on sentencing reform and focusing attention on alternatives to the modern correctional system.

The following individual programs can be blended into a single, on-going approach to personal transformation.

Behavior Modification Program        A program which addresses the way prisoners see themselves and the world around them.  An encounter group approach with a coordinator who uses the Socratic Method of enabling participants to reach their own conclusions about their behavior.  Their recognition that a problem exists is the springboard to changing the way they think.

Victim Identification Program           Who are the people who are injured by criminal acts?  What are their stories and what is the impact of crime in their lives?  This program would bring small groups of victims into the institution to educate prisoners on the effects of their actions.  In comparison to Victim Mediation, no specific victim/perpetrator meetings are sought.  Instead the prisoner is encouraged to see the effects of crime generally, and then transpose those stories to their own personal situation, imagining their impacts on victims.  This program would sensitize prisoners to the personal effects of their actions.

Scholarship Program                          Education is the one statistically proved rehabilitation program.  Soliciting support and funding for higher education from schools, organizations, and civic minded individuals.  If the federal and state government will not assist prisoners in attaining funding for college educations, private groups will.  The purpose of the program is to generate scholarship programs for inmates.

Social Restitution Program                Individuals would participate in speak-out type programs focusing on youth and crime prevention.  Specifically focusing on behaviors, attitudes, and cultural ideas which enable youth to become enmeshed in criminal life styles.  Prisoners would be confronting the ideas, myths, and romantic ideals of criminal behavior.

Vocational Training                           Vo-Tech skills focused on professions and fields open to ex-offenders.  Including entrepreneurial skills and small business development.

Volunteer/Reintegration Program     The underlying premise is to create a program by which long-term offenders do volunteer work in the local community.  For example, prisoners who possess certain skills (such as a plumber) would do work for the poor, elderly, or disenfranchised.   The prisoners in the program would be men and women who have served at least ten years on their sentence, have at least five years clear conduct, and no sex offenders.

Each program would be initiated independently but as an element of a larger whole.  The focus of Transformational Living is on the individual and a self-actualized approach.  Only those who request to participate will be allowed to do so.  No prisoner would be forced into the program.  No good time would be awarded.  The rewards of the Transformational Living program would be manifested in the prisoner’s life.

Assistance would be sought from the following groups and entities.

Politicians:

Legislative

Executive

                                    Department of Corrections

                                                Wardens

                                                Reintegration Specialists

                                    Department of Education

                                                General Equivalency Diploma

                                                Vocational Skills

                                                Higher Education

                                    Law Enforcement

                                                Drug Enforcement

                                                Gang Specialists

                                    Prosecutors

                                    Judicial

Judges

                                                Drug Courts

                                    Department of Human Services

                                                Reintegration

                                    Department of Mental Health

Probation and Parole

                                                Parole Board

                                                Parole Officers

                                                Probation Officers

Copyright 2010. Davin J. Douma

Snapshot of A Solution

Snapshot of A Solution

 By Davin Douma

What if I could show you a way to reduce the costs of incarceration by half?  What if I could show you a way to get prisoners to change the way they view themselves and the world they live in?  What if I could show you a way to reduce the growth of criminal activity in the one place (prison) it seems to flourish the most?  What if you could get prisoners to be responsible citizens?  What if we could change the whole dynamic of incarceration in this country?  Would it be worth your time to listen?

Do you know why rehabilitation programs in prison don’t work?  It’s simple really.  The amount of time and energy expended in a rehabilitation program is miniscule compared to the negative influence of the prison environment.  Please let me explain that statement.  Let us say a prisoner, for whatever reason, signs up to take a prison program like Thinking For A Change.  The program is basically sound and provides good information and advice to prisoners.  The man who takes the course spends about two hours a week for six months in the course.  That means he gets a positive influence from the program for a total of fifty-two hours.

Fifty-two hours of good influence looks good in a vacuum, but prison programs don’t operate in vacuums, they operate in prisons.  In the same six month time period the prisoner takes the program, he has to face the reality of the world he lives in.  The threat of being killed, or assaulted, or robbed, or raped, or abused by a guard.  He lives in a world of stress and drugs and gangs.  In the same six month time frame he receives 2,860 hours of negative influence.  In other words, for every hour of positive influence he gets from a program, he gets fifty-five hours of negative influence.  The program simply can not compete with the environment.

The solution to changing the high cost of incarceration and reducing the number of victims and making rehabilitation more effective is the same for each.  You have to change the classical model that has proven to be a failure for the past two-hundred and twenty years.  It isn’t 1790 anymore.  Nor is it 1890.  So why are we still building and operating prisons the same way?  Haven’t we learned anything in the past two centuries?  Are we so entrenched in the way things are that we blind ourselves to the ladder leading out of the hole we are in?

In 1790, and in 1890, and in 1990, and now in 2010 we are still building prisons the same way.  Steel and concrete cages.  The physical structure of a prison may not sound very important, but it is actually the cause of most of our problems.  Early prisons, like the Walnut Street Jail, were built like fortresses so that criminals could be kept inside.  Those were the most effective security measures of the time.  The walls were stone and brick and the doors were steel and bars.  In essence, we built cages for humans like we would for exotic animals in zoos.  And as time passed and populations grew we just shoved more and more men into the same small spaces.

The prisons built in 1890 and 1990 are remarkably similar to the ones in 1790.  They generate the same kinds of feelings in both prisoners and guards.  They generate the same high costs.  They generate the same victims.  They generate the same violent criminals.  When our prisons failed, instead of looking at what we had built, we looked at what we were producing.  We thought that since men and women coming out of prisons were worse people, they obviously needed to stay in longer to fix them.  We went from giving out five year sentences for robbery to fifty year sentences.  We went from giving out six months in jail for a DUI to fifteen years.  We went from sending pot-head kids to group homes to incarcerating them in adult prisons for life.  Each time the system failed us, we punished the criminals even more.  It is similar to the idea that if you just hit your kid harder he will stop misbehaving.  That doesn’t work either.  It actually makes the kid worse.

 Copyright  2010. Davin Douma

A Pertinent Question amid U.S. justice system’s revolving door

Here is a link to an excellent article by award winning journalist, Leonard Pitts JR. He clearly points out the insanity of our current punitive judicial system.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/08/2789863/a-pertinent-question-amid-us-justice.html

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