“So if you are sacrificing at the altar in the temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you … Go and make peace with that person.” (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT)
Frustrated by the lack of access to nutritious food in prison, I wrote last year about my experience of enduring the ‘secret punishment’ of prison food. [May 2021]. After a long and joyfully tiring process of preparing, planting, weeding, watering and tending to about a hectare of garden behind the already Earned Living Unit (ELU), it’s time for an update.
Before I dive into that, I have to touch on a bit of personal hypocrisy. Last month I did what I keep warning people against: I grossly oversimplified and unfairly grouped prison administrators. other. Feeling pressured by my responsibility to refrain from writing from my relatively privileged position in this prison, I singled out the Deputy Director of Programs for the good work they did last year to support transformative efforts, such as spearheading the establishment of ELU. Also, by characterizing a handful of COs strictly by their perceived mindset, I failed to put the emphasis where it belongs: on the system, not the people. Those who still struggle with punitive mindsets do so because of the extensive conditioning of the system they’ve worked with for so long. I did each of them a disservice and will be more careful going forward.
Last year, I called out the prison’s kitchen management for failing to follow up on Warden Matthew Magnusson’s laudable efforts to increase serving sizes during the pandemic. I’ve also spoken out about the overabundance of empty calories in containers fueling the chronic health problems plaguing incarcerated populations across the country. To their great credit, Randall Liberty, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC), invited me to join a virtual call on this issue and supported my participation with Rebekah Mende, a vocational instructor who oversees the extensive horticulture and beekeeping programs here. The challenge was hosted by Peter Allison, executive director of Farm to Institution New England (FINE), and was joined by food justice advocates and activists from across the country.
At the time, I could not have imagined that 16 months later, I had contributed to the donation of over 400 pounds of fresh produce and over 140 pounds of money to the Area Interfaith Aid (AIO) food pantries. prison kitchen. I’ve never seen the acreage behind the old supermax look like anything other than a wild field of jungle weeds. Now thanks to the creation of ELU and tens of thousands 26 hours of dedicated work by my ELU community members, this area is a scenic garden with raised beds filled with a variety of peppers, cucumbers, peas, berries, cantaloupe, strawberries, raspberries, celery, beets, swiss chard, radishes. , onions, eggplant, zucchini and more varieties of tomatoes than I know. We also revived a smaller garden for herbs like garlic, chamomile, mint, cilantro/coriander, oregano, basil and fennel.
400 pounds worth of products donated to AIO arrived simply from ELU. In total, the prison has already donated over £1,000 to AIO (plus 11 buckets of beautiful cut flowers) and £395 to Chelsea Food Bank and Augusta’s Bread of Life soup kitchen, while also supplying the prison kitchen with fresh produce throughout the day. summer (6,611 lbs. total). Our new kitchen manager, Jeff Space, has created new salads and soups and is integrating nutrients into dishes in a variety of new ways. I’m also looking forward to the Impact Justice Chef-in-Residence initiative, which will support efforts to reduce food waste, another notorious problem in prisons. Over the years I’ve worked in kitchens, it’s always made me angry: watching hundreds of pounds of unserved food thrown out every day.
At the end of the last meal, I thought to myself how wonderful it really was I want eating every morsel served. Granted, as a physically active, six-foot-six, 270-pound male, I need to eat three meals at once to be truly full. However, what this speaks to is a systemic issue that puts me in an abolitionist’s predicament. Does this mean that DOC should be given more money than the roughly $3 per person per day spent on food? Or does this mean DOC needs to move more people out of their facilities?
If not (my personal favorite), it means that we as a state need to stop imprisoning so many people; begin to create more opportunities for meaningful, accountability-focused and community-based diversion; and start welcoming people home after incarceration to prevent them from reentering the system?
We all have a role to play in creating a safer future. what is yours
Leo Hylton is a graduate student at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter School of Peace and Conflict Resolution who is currently incarcerated at the Maine State Penitentiary. Her education and work focuses on Social Justice Advocacy and Activism with an abolitionist vision of the future. You can contact him at: Leo Hylton #70199, 807 Cushing Rd., Warren, ME 04864, or email@example.com.