05 November, 2014

Some Bizarre Eating Habits of the Midwestern US Prisoner

I’ll leave to culture experts and behavioral psychologists the whys and wherefores. The following are simply some things I’ve observed in the dining halls and around the prison, which are related to eating. The commonality that all of these things share is being exhibited by multiple people, leading me to wonder how widespread they are, and whether they’re products of this environment or of the minds that inhabit it.

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The Steamshovel. This seemingly awkward method of holding an eating utensil looks like a sideways Facebook “Like” icon with a safety-orange spork jammed into the curl of the fist. The thumb protrudes uselessly, parallel with the spork, in a way I’d think too awkward not to make a guy wonder if he was going about this eating thing all wrong. The Steamshovel’s popularity is widespread and inexplicable.

The Rinse. The clear plastic tumblers offered in the dining hall are a hit-and-miss affair, frequently speckled with dried particulates that have adhered so strongly to the cups’ sides that nothing short of a good scrubbing with a hard-bristled brush under scalding water will extricate them. Approximately one in five prisoners who come through the chow line, even when the cup they take appears clean, run their tumbler under the slow, cool flow from the water dispenser, slosh their half-full cup around once or twice, then dump the rinse water into the dispenser’s drain trough, as if this cleanses the cup of impurities.

The Grill. This relatively uncommon cooking technique is typically reserved for when one illicitly acquires ground beef from the prison kitchen and wants to put it to its most straightforward use: hamburgers. An area of paint must be stripped from the surface of a desk or bunk bed, and heat from either a modified “stinger” (a plug-in immersion heater) or a small fire below must be applied. Perhaps coupled with a pat of stolen margarine, this provides one with all the functionality of a real grill, minus the convenience of a spatula for flipping.

The Grown Man. This is something my current cellmate does, and it is from him that the practice acquires a name. The Grown Man involves heaping a large bowl with potato or corn chips, then encircling the rim with the contents of an entire box of Little Debbie snack cakes. The bowl is then placed atop one’s belly and emptied, one bite at a time, while lying in front of the TV.

The Conveyor Belt. Another act of wanton gluttony, this is the arrangement of assorted snack cakes in a row along the flat surface nearest one’s preferred place of repose. There is an apparent art to selecting the precise order in which the different cake types are to be eaten, and laying them down accordingly so that the actual act of eating is a fluid experience. Eight to ten snack cakes later, noisy finger-licking seems inevitable. I have had two cellmates who practiced the Conveyor Belt, leading me to believe that the practice is more prevalent than any of us might hope.

The Loaf. Prisoners wanting to indulge in an ostensibly more nutritionally balanced fashion will sometimes pool their foodstuffs to create this unappetizingly named product. It involves the creation of a doughy crust from pulverized saltines, graham crackers, and ramen noodles. Patted flat, the crust is then covered with a variety of canteen-purchased meats and processed cheese food products, rolled into a cylinder, and sliced into serving-size portions. No cooking required.

The Slurry Sandwich. Many prisoners slop the contents of their plastic meal trays (e.g., spaghetti, lima beans, and peas; or turkey alfredo, cooked carrots, and cole slaw) all into the largest depression, then blend them together. They then fold a piece of white bread in half, laterally, and pile the mixture into the fold, thereby making a sort of bread taco, which they eat from the side, accordingly. This operation is repeated with a second slice of bread. Presumably the Slurry Sandwich makes up in convenience what it lacks in good flavor and decorum.

The Prison Eclair. Similar in structure to the Slurry Sandwich, this consists of dollops of pudding in a folded slice of bread (rather than a questionable mixture of entrée and sides). I have personally sampled this and found it alternately agreeable and shameful.


  1. I have tried the slurry and I have regretted it. I kind of almost barfed while reading all of this, but maybe it's because I got food poisoning Monday and every time I eat since then I get sick and tummy pains.

    The only explanation I have for The Grown Man is that it could be an indie Chex Mix attempt. It's not the most disgusting thing really. Frat stars have consumed worse.

  2. I did some experimenting this weekend. I tried my own variation of the steamshovel and I found while it's not great for maneuvering food to one's face, based on the way it has to be held, if there arose any physical threat, that grip and angle would be suitable for a quick jab or cut. There's a tactical weaponry element. Personally I would just hold mine as I always do and if a threat to my life appeared I'd rather use my fists than a flimsy spork. So that's my theory. Some kind of unconscious protection going on. That or these guys are more Neanderthalensis than Homo sapien.


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