by Erika Camplin
From the publisher: America seems presently fascinated by prison culture and the inner workings of what happens behind clinked doors. With TV shows creating binge-watchers of us all, and celebrities piquing public interest as they end up behind bars, Americans seem to enjoy a good gawk at prison life. Each year, more than 1.3 million visitors still trek out to Alcatraz Island, one of the most famous prisons in the world. And why shouldn’t they be curious about prison? We as a nation currently incarcerate more people per capita than any other country, and our prisons are notoriously rough, violent, and overcrowded.
At the same time, we love our food, take pictures of it, post it socially, and discuss our foodie favorites. Rarely do we consider the food experiences of those for whom sustenance is more difficult to obtain, particularly those incarcerated, where choice and access is severely limited. Prison food is often everything to prisoners. It is the only marker of time throughout the day. Food becomes commerce in the microeconomies behind prison walls. It is often the only source of pleasure in a monotonous routine. It creates sites of community when prisoners ban together to create recipes, but also becomes a site of discord when issues surrounding fairness and equity arise in the chow hall.
Prison Food in America offers a high-level snapshot of the fare offered behind bars, its general guidelines and regulations, fascinating stories about prisoners and food, and the remarkable and varied ways food plays a role in the fabric of prison culture.
Erika Camplin is a food studies scholar and has published works at Huffington Post, Food52.com, and other outlets.
Rowman & Littlefield, 2016