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One of the first questions my friends and family ask me about prison is about the food.
What do we eat? Is the food good? Do they feed us enough?
The overwhelming answer to this is: The food is awful, and often there's not enough to eat.
By nature, prison is designed to be awful. It is a degrading experience whose purpose is to break you through continual punishment.
However, despite the awfulness of this place, happiness exists! It would be a shame if I did not acknowledge it and share it with you. Inmates here try to find joy wherever they can, and they find reasons to celebrate life. It is these small rays of happiness that keep us all going.
For instance, we had a Super Bowl party!
The amount of planning and preparation that went into the party was truly impressive. It must have taken months to acquire all the foods from commissary and to order the special materials to decorate. We can order items for craft purposes through the institution.
Admission to the Super Bowl Party was $10, which was paid for by purchasing $10 worth of commissary items (basically contributing to the party supplies). With the price of admission, inmates got a ticket, food, and a customized NFL player T-shirt.
The tickets looked like real Super Bowl tickets. They were in color with the team's names and laminated. I have no clue how they managed to create them, but my guess would be it was done by combining a lot of creativity with a copier, typewriter, and some plastic substance, then using our clothing iron to heat it.
The women here spent all day the day before Super Bowl Sunday preparing the T-shirts. The creativity around me is amazing. We have so little, but they managed to make shirts that would rival what you would find on Etsy. They stenciled players' names on these shirts and used paints and glitter to draw logos and designs. They even made custom embroidered patches and sewed them on.
Another group worked preparing food. They made roughly 12 large pizzas using flour tortillas, sauce, cheese, and summer sausage purchased from commissary. There were also nachos, caramel popcorn balls, brownies, and a cheesecake in the shape of a football.
The creation of the cheesecake was a spectacular thing to watch.
First, they built the base and design by taping pieces of cardboard together. Then, they painstakingly crushed graham crackers in our medium-sized bowls in several batches in order to make the crust. Then came the filling, which was a combination of cream cheese and powdered coffee creamer to give it fluff. Finally, they melted chocolate and mixed in cream cheese to create a football-colored topping.
Now consider this: We can only purchase single servings of cream cheese, and only about 10 packets at a time. In order to make a cake this size (about two and a half feet long), it would take 150+ packets of cream cheese. These must all be squeezed out of the packets and into the bowl for mixing. It probably took 10+ women to purchase the packets and it took hours to squeeze them out of the tubes they come in.
The TV room was decorated for the party as well. One side of the room was AFC and the other was NFC. They have regions, East-West, North-South. Each team had a logo, and there were pictures of the major players.
The attention to detail was remarkable.
Unfortunately, I was not here when the Super Bowl planning started, so I was not an official attendee of the party. I did help with the decorations, which was fun. It also earned me a piece of pizza and cheesecake — both of which were amazing and rivaled something I would have eaten outside of prison.
It's funny, because even the Bureau of Prisons celebrated the Super Bowl. At 10:30 a.m. (our normal lunchtime) they announced we would not be having dinner so that the officers could watch the game. We were given bags with hard boiled eggs, bread, and a cookie for dinner. They even went as far as to change our standing count time to an hour earlier because it conflicted with kickoff time.
Right before the party began, the T-shirts these women had painstakingly made were confiscated. The official reason given was that they did not have a signed hobby craft form allowing them to make the shirts. Almost all of the women here are crafty: They crochet, knit, draw, etc. Most of them don't have signed forms and nothing has ever been taken before.
Despite this, we were still happy to have something to be happy about, and the party went off with great success. We need a reason to celebrate here. It gives us hope.
I guess, ultimately, it's about how you look at things. To some, it's just cardboard scraps, coffee creamer, and cheese. But to others, those scraps, nondairy creamer, and single-serve cream cheese packs can become a celebratory cheesecake. In the shape of a football.