Slopping The Hogs (Part II)

I’d like to tell you more about what is happening in the Texas prison chow halls, because if there’s one place that a lot of taxpayer money is being outright stolen, or at least badly wasted, it’s in the prison kitchens.

There is a game that’s being played out throughout the State between the staff, the kitchen sergeants, and the kitthen captain. Here’s the way it works. Saturday and Sundays are almost always the worst meals served during the week. For one thing, almost all the administrators are on their days off. The only exception is the “duty warden”, who can even be only the rank of a captain, if all the higher ranking, administrators are on vacation or otherwise busy that weekend. Besides the duty warden, the highest ranking officer on this farm is a lieutenant. But the truth is that the duty warden will not be making an appearance in the chow hall during this time, and the chance of the lieutenant seeing what is going on with the food is slight.

breakfast at about 4:00 in the morning on Saturday, you are going to have undercooked pancakes, grits so watered down it looks like some kind of weird soup, and applesauce for the fruit. There is also a pitcher of milk on each table, but after the last round of budget cuts, they took out the cartons of real milk and replaced it with milk made from powder. If it’s mixed right, it tastes okay, at best, but it is NEVER mixed right. The milk is so watered down, you can hold the pitcher up and see through to the other side. Everyone who sees this, they know 73what to expect on Saturday morning, and they might wake up when the “get ready for chow” call tomes on the P.A., but they’re thinking, “There’s no reason to go down there.” And this is exactly what the kitchen sergeants want. These people have down to a science exactly how many people are going to show up for this meal, and they want as few people as possible to show up, so they serve this slop that they wouldn’t feed to their dogs, but they have the nerve to pretend it’s “wholesome and nutricious.”

Meanwhile, back in the dorm, the guards will come on the P.A. at about 3:00 AM, telling everyone, “Get,ready for chow! Get ready for chow!” Then, they open the cell doors and tell everyone who’s going to chow to get out in the dayroom. Then the waiting game starts. If you’re lucky, it’s only thirty minutes, but usually more like 45 minutes to an hour later; they finally run chow. And it’s at the same time nearly every week, so they KNOW what time we REALLY go to chow; But they do this knowing that just the thought of climbing out of bed at 3:00 in the morning and going to sit around in the dayroom with nothing to do or to look at but the giant white walls for an hour only to end up with pancake batter and grit soup for breakfast will keep all but the most desperately hungry away. On this unit with 1,390 inmates, breakfast is amazingly over and done withinn 30 minutes, start to finish, because the whole mess isn’t worth a shit.

Why are the pancakes raw and the grits watery and the milk see-through when, there’s a paid supervisor in there whose only job is to make sure the prisoner cooks are cooking the food right? Well, for several reasons. One, the employee supervisors want the meal jacked up, and they want it that way EVERY single week. That way, the inmates will ALWAYS know that meal is going to be trash, and won’t go. Second, the inmates that work as cooks are told, “Hey guys, let’s get this meal out of the way, cause, well, ya’ know, no one ever comes to it anyway, and then we’ll cook up something special just for us. What do you say?” Well, what ANY hungry-ass, half-starving inmate would say. Hellyeah! And the awful truth is, the average IQ of a TDCJ inmaie isn’t real high, and throw in 15 to 20 years of dope addiction on top of that they’ve fried whatever brains they had in the first place and now you’ve got a poor, hungry guy a few fries short of a Happy Meal. I AM NOT TRYING TO MAKE FUN OF THESE INMATES. My brother, Powers, and I have spemt countless hours in here doing free legal work and helping these guys write grievances or get needed medical help, just because it’s so hard to watch the system chew these guys up and spit them out. But the point I’m trying to make is this. These guys get in here, and they get these positions- cook, food prep, butcher- and for many of them, it’s the first time in their lives that they’ve been clean and held a job for any length of time! The supervisors take advantage of them, telling them what great workers 74they are, and how much they are appreciated... just help me get this meal out of the way real quick, and I’ll make sure you eat good. This guy thinks, “Wow! This lady sure is nice. I’ll help her do whatever she wants.” And if that means flipping the pancakes too soon, or adding too much water to the grits, it’s okay, because the cook sure isn’t eating that food.

So, here comes lunch time, and it’s pork greenbean casserole, a dish that doesn’t even make an appearance on the state menu, and for good reason. It’s crap. The state menu calls for beef tacos, but they have to get rid of all the leftover greenbeans they’ve saved up all week along with all the potatos they need to get out, and the only pork you can find in there is in the name of it. And you get this tray with no meat on it, and you try to show the officers or the rank, “Hey, there’s no meat in this stuff.” The officer smiles and says, what can I do about it? I don’t work in the kitchen.” So, again, no one goes to this meal, either. I mean, the chow hall is a 120 degrees. Everyone’s yelling, the officers are rushing everyone out the door. There’s flies on the pitchers. There’s chum water on the tables. It’s disgusting just to he there. Why even go? Amazingly, lunch is dome is less than an hour.

When the dining hall DOES have something good, say, BBQ chicken, you can bet your ass that it’s either a holiday or the executive director of something or other is walking about the unit. Just last week, the regional director was on the unit for a few days and was walking about the unit.We ate chicken fried steak and enchiladas on the same day! It felt like Christmas! And on these days with the special meals, as you can probably suppose, EVERYONE wants to go, and that means they’ll have to do a little work.

Now, I want to point out a few things about our dining hall. The way it is built and the way it is used are two different things. The chow hall has two sides (A & B), and each side has 7 rows of tables with three tables in each row. There is also one table on each side that has only two seats, and there it one “overflow”table on each side with an additional 4 seats. So, not counting the overflow table, there are 78 spaces available on each side. For as long as anyone can remember, all 78 of these seats have never been available. The whole first row was whacked off for use by the “waiters”, even though they have stainless steel tables built into the wall for their use. Goodbye, twelve seats. Then, about two years ago, the warden walks in one day and sees an inmate slide under the rail on the back row near where the food line 1.6 so he can steal another tray to eat. That warden decided to whack off the back row. Goodbye, 12 more seats. So, we’re down to 54 on each side. Recently, the kitchen, and I quote here, “Ran low on pitchers.” To solve this vexing problem, they whacked off another row. Adios, 7512 more seats. We’re now down to 42 seats on each side, 84 total. We now have a total usable area in the chow hall that’s just a little larger than the half of a chow hall the way it ‘was designed. On top of that, the Stevenson Unit was built to accomodate 4 buildings. They added on a trustee dorm that houses more inmates than any one of the other buildings. So, a 156-man capacity chow hall designed for a unit with 1,008 inmates at maximum capacity, how has an 84-man capacity chow hall with 1,385 inmates. See the problem?

So, back to BBQ chicken day. We are supposed to have 20 minutes to eat from the time we come in the door to the time we get up from the table. Yeah, right! When you get there, the line’s backed up all the way to the door. The first 15 minutes is spent in the line just waiting. Each row of twelve inmates fills up in no time. Just about the time you shovel the first spoonful of inedible crap into your pie-hole, the guard is yelling, “PICK IT UP! PICK IT UP! LET’S GO!” But, on this special, holiday tray you will probably have buttery corn, mashed potatos, a garlic-cheese roll, the chicken, and dessert like cake. (These guys really can cook, when they want to, trust me.) Looking around the chow hall at all these guys scarfing down this great food reminds me of a bunch of freaking werewolves over new kill. And, since any officer with half a brain could figure out that this is a special meal thet might take a little longer than our usual five minutes to eat, they’d give us more time. Instead, they give us less, because EVERYONE is turning out to eat, and they are starting to see that it’s going to take hours, not minutes, to feed the whole popullation. And, I want you to know, that this isn’t ALL the guards. They’re certain ones who see what’s going on, and it makes them just as mad as you or me. Also, there are two holiday meals, Christmas and Thanksgiving, where they let us bring our trays back to the dorms, and this is great. Why they don’t go ahead and let us take our big, plastic bowls down there all the time is beyond me. It would save them time, and it might just let us actually chew a bite of food instead of eat it like a snake swallowing a watermelon.

Do the offenders grieve these problems? Of course, but the kitchen captain’s second cousin’s brother-in-law is not going to take the grievance seriously. So the paper I use to wipe my ass is worth more than the grievance.

Along with the food supplies that come each month, they send stuff to clean with plastic gloves, hair nets, bleach, detergent. And you never see these guys wearing gloves behind the line, unless the Huntsville people are down here, when they all look like a bunch of freakin’ surgeons back there. Most of the workers have caps, so they don’t use the hairnets. So, where’s all that stuff going. They keep sending it! Are they throwing it out in the dumpster? I doubt-it.

Then at the beginning of each meal, they bring out this red, 2.5 gallon bucket and pour a smidge of detergent in it with a rag, also known as a cut up, ragged out towel that inmates used to dry off with. It’s about double the size of a piece of toilet tissue. Then, for the whole meal, this little rag and this chum water get used over and over and over again to, clean off every single table between sittings. You sit down sometimes, and it stinks so bad, because of this water, you’re gagging, and you’haven’t even tasted the food, yet.

The dish washing machine is supposed to get chemicals like bleach, but they never put the right amount in or change it when it needs it, so the guys working in the dish room are running the dishes through over and over again to get them clean, if they give a shit, or just running them right back out the window dirty if they don’t.

There must be some kind of bonus for the department heads who can most successfully hull out the inmates. Really. Congratulations, all the inmates on your farm look like a bunch of survivors from a WWII Japanese POW camp. You get another $1,000 this year! OR, maybe all this stuff that we know is coming in, and is supposed to be getting used, like food, detergent, sugar, bleach, is being sold out the back door for some serious bonus money.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez