Commissary Shopping in Federal Prison: Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Like the Kardashians over coffee, cons love to talk shopping – new arrivals, sales, sold out items – preparing their weekly commissary list days in advance. A few months back we received an announcement that they would be adding donuts – the mini, chocolate-glazed kind – to the selection. For weeks afterward, it was the talk of the camp, although in the end the announcement was a teaser: the donuts have yet to arrive in the prison store.

Falling into the ‘grass is always greener’ category, I have a friend Bert who came here from Taft, the same prison camp where Justin did his time. Bert can wax rhapsodic for hours on the wonders of that camp’s commissary: fresh french bread, avocados, garlic, peaches, you name it. Assuming you’re rich and the hearsay is true, at Taft Prison Camp you can eat like a king. Not so here at Lompoc Prison camp, aka, Camp Cupcake, where you can eat like a couch potato (I’ll get to that in a moment). Other inmates extoll the virtues of their respective past ports of prison call: boxed pizza kits at La Tuna, real-live Froot Loops at Terminal Island, microwave bacon at Yankton, etc., etc.

Back to good-ol’ Camp Cupcake, where, true to the camp’s name, pretty much all they sell is junk. Chips in all shapes and sizes, but all sharing a common base of saturated fat and salts. Honeybuns, Oatmeal Creme Pies, Pork Skins, greasy butter-bagged popcorn. Plus most products are generic off-brands, sometimes way past their expiration dates. Maybe someday we’ll even be able to buy chocolate-covered donuts as an appetizer.

The weird thing about the BoP, which is a very centralized, bureaucratic, hierarchical organization, is that they delegate almost complete authority over store selection to low-level local administrators. Economies of scale? Enforcement of system-wide standards? Naw, let them decide all that at the local level; we trust ’em to make a good choice. I imagine Camp Cupcake’s selector of the fare as a fat couch potato, someone who jumps for joy when Frito Lay’s goes on sale at the local supermarket or who stands in line on Black Thursday for $3 twelve-packs of Coke. Taft’s, I picture as a Santa Monica-style foodie, a guy who eats healthy without a thought for the cost.

As for me, after a recent losing bout with a bag of popcorn, I’ve decided to vote with my feet and my pocketbook, limiting my purchases to essentials. At least until that next irresistible craving for some Moon Lodge Butter Popcorn hits again. Or a Cutie Pie apple pie (with real apples! And only 95% of your recommended daily fat!).

Yum, yum. Can’t wait for those chocolate-glazed donuts.

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