Friday, November 12, 2010

Tito’s Tacos

It’s 2.04 am and I am lying on my couch, feet resting comfortably on two pillows, as I write atop my Mac laptop. I can’t sleep. Rather than stare into space, watch TV, or read, I figured I would write a blog. Let’s talk prison food!

Besides writing and lecturing at business schools, I also work as a prison consultant. One of the first topics my clients want to know about is the food in prison.

“What’s up with the food at Taft Camp? Is prison food as bad as it looks on television and in the movies?” a client preparing to surrender to Taft Camp asked me.

Look, I know, we’re all familiar with the prison stereotypes that depict the meals prisoners eat as unappetizing gruel. I’d like to take this opportunity to debunk that myth. Before I do, I must admit that I, too, assumed the food in prison would be atrocious. To ensure that my hunger was sated before I surrendered to prison, I took action by planning for my “last meal.” But what restaurant could match the significance of that meal? I consulted with my friend Brad, and together we decided on Tito’s Tacos, a landmark in Los Angeles. The preparation was magnificent; more than four days went into planning. Game day arrived and I was ready. I threw on my extra-large sweat pants (in preparation for the tummy expansion), a comfortable T-shirt, a bib, and of course, some dollars in my pockets. It was party time. I ate as if I had a date with the electric chair. In fact, I remember rolling my distended belly onto Brad’s couch later that evening and wondering why (and how) I had powered through the remaining tacos, chips, and guacamole.

Folks, have you tasted Tito’s guacamole? It’s fabulous.

My gluttonous blowout was quite impressive and totally unnecessary. I now know that my overindulgent eating was exactly the type of behavior that led me into trouble with the law in the first place. Wait a second…I digress, this isn’t an ethics blog!

Prison food can be quite delicious—at least it was at Taft Camp while I was there. Prisoners had access to a salad bar, and the servers provided balanced meals three times each day. Most evenings we even had seconds, especially on Pizza night (once every 3 weeks). At Taft Camp the menu (during my stay) followed a five-week cycle.

The mornings usually brought French toast, pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, biscuits and gravy, eggs or pastries. I walked to breakfast each morning at 6:00, but I always brought my own oatmeal and ate it with milk. The milk is too expensive in the commissary (federal prisoners can only spend $290 a month in the commissary), so I got it for free from the chow hall.

For lunch, Taft usually served the following types of items once a week: hamburgers, enchilada casserole, fajitas, burritos, cold cuts and a lot of beans. Not bad, right?  The only food I never touched was the cold cuts. The first time I saw those cold cuts I looked at the guy next to me and said, “I wouldn’t feed that to my dog.” Lucky for him the cold cuts were his favorite. We formed a friendship, and for the next 12 months he got my cold cuts, while I got his apple. A true win-win!

Dinners were generally the same type of meals. Besides the food in the chow hall, I became proficient at microwave cooking.  The commissary sold tomatoes, onions, avocados, green peppers, apples, and bananas, brown rice, tuna, chicken, roast beef, salmon, pasta, bread, hummus, tabouli (my favorite), peanut butter, and numerous other items that easily sustained me.  Besides cooking for myself, I made some friendships with guys who cooked fantastic meals; every Friday my roommate Jay cooked me a terrific pasta dish that I loved.

The meals in prison may not be as good as Tito’s, but readers who expect a journey through prison need not fret about the food. I was pleasantly surprised, and in retrospect, I wished I hadn’t overdone it before heading to Taft. I figure I had to run 50 miles working off that last meal.

It is never too late to start preparing…Download Lessons From Prison Now to discover what is truly possible in federal prison.

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