Saturday, May 11, 2013

LIVING IN EXTREME POVERTY IN PRISON




“Could you live on $1.50 a day? For a week? Ben Affleck is joining Josh Groban, Sophia Bush, Debi Mazar and other stars to take the 2013 Live Below The Line challenge issued by the Global Poverty Project. They will live on $1.50 worth of food and drink a day — which means no Starbucks! — from Monday to May 3 to raise awareness about poverty. The $1.50 figure is the equivalent of the global figure used to define extreme poverty. The celebrities hope to encourage others to support the cause and do the same.”  (USA Today, Wednesday, April 24, 2013)

I didn’t realize that I was living in extreme poverty until I read the above blurb in the USA Today newspaper. What does that really mean? The Global Poverty Project defines extreme poverty as living on $1.50 worth of food and drink per day. In Florida, the state budgets $1.54 a day (down from about $2.80 a day 30 years ago, equivalent to perhaps $6.00 in today’s inflated dollars) for each prisoner’s food, three meals, which is four cents over the global figure, but surely a dollar-fifty goes further in Haiti, Sudan, or Bangladesh than in high-cost Florida.

Since Ben Affleck probably doesn’t have much experience living on such a meager food budget, with his multi-million dollar a year income taking good care of his superstar wife, Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” etc.), and privileged  children, I thought I would offer a few tips gleaned from my 35 years of prison food background.

First, Ben, get ready to eat a lot of bread. The traditional prison diet consisted of bread and water, but times changed somewhat. No pumpernickel, rye, or sourdough! Buy a lot of cheap flour, mix up a pan of biscuits, let them get hard, cold, and stale, like ours, then eat two each meal. Drink a lot of water to wash it down and fill you up. You can also use the flour to make bread variations for breakfasts several days a week — two pancakes, or make a pan of “coffee cake,” and cut two little squares for Saturday AM. Share the rest with Josh Groban, Sophia Bush, Debi Mazur and the other celebrities. Don’t feed any of these meals to your wife, Ben, or Jennifer might pack up the kids and walk out in a huff. To add some filling food value, buy a big bag of oatmeal, boil a few ounces down to the consistency of wallpaper paste, add no seasonings or flavorings whatsoever, plop a sticky spoonful next to the pancakes, enjoy. Bon app├ętit!

A bag of dry corn meal grits will alternate with the oatmeal a few mornings a week. Don’t waste a penny on any kind of seasoning.

Next — potatoes! A big bag will suffice for servings up to three times a day, a spoonful each time, for pennies a serving. Again, bland is the key. Don’t squander a dime on butter or sour cream. Not in the budget.

Don’t forget beans — the cheapest ones you can find. For years we lived on white beans and pinto beans — don’t overcook — leave them half-boiled like ours. But for the past six months or so, the prison system has been buying tons of black beans, or frijoles negroes, as the Latinos call them. Some suspect Florida may have made a clandestine deal with the Castro government, shipping oranges to Cuba in exchange for black beans. We certainly aren’t getting them! Oranges, and all fresh fruits, for that matter, have been off the prison menu for years. A couple of weeks ago, fifty of us were lined up outside waiting our turn to enter the chow hall. A guard standing by took  banana from his “Little Debbie” lunch cooler. A hundred eyes focused on him as he peeled and ate the banana, smiling, taunting hungry wolves.

Forget the fruit, Ben, it’s not in the budget. Boil the beans, spoon a few ounces on your tray, no more than three or four — serve the same to the other celebrities — try to find some salt if you can, otherwise, get used to it. The beans will serve for two meals a day, along with the all-purpose potatoes.

Using that cornmeal again, Ben, you can alternate the hard biscuits for little flat squares of cornbread for a few meals a week.

Perhaps you can get a deal or some greens, collards or turnips in season, boil them to death, don’t concern yourself with washing them very thoroughly, the tasteless sandy grit adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the gastronomic process of prison realism.

I hesitate to mention the word, meat, Ben. You’re probably better off going vegan, but they do serve sort of pseudo-meat-type products at times, an indecipherable ground-up gray substance that I call “possum” — it’s certainly not beef, pork, or chicken, in the form of a “patty.” Once a week or so you can serve  two thin “poultry dogs,” they call them, but probably not “poultry,” and hopefully NOT “dog.”

Once a week — a chicken leg and thigh with a real bone in it — our only clearly-recognizable animal product, is served, Ben, but rumored to be replaced soon by a “zesty patty,” “southwest patty,” “country patty,” or “Salisbury patty,” composed of the above-mentioned “possum,” patties that differ only in their names, an unknown soy/meat combo squashed into squares or circles.

Ben, I hope these hints help you stay within your budget, and you make the best of raising the world’s awareness of extreme poverty. Alternately, you could invite your friends down here to Okaloosa County, to the prison, and share our meals with me. Don’t worry, most of the prisoners will behave like perfect gentlemen, although they will desperately stare at the “womenfolk.” They don’t dare act up, or risk going to lockup, where they have to live on the meager trays shoved through the slot in the steel door, deprived of coveted access to the prison canteen, where one can buy a cheeseburger (two bucks, far more costly than the three prison trays, $1.54 per day)  if he has funds sent from home.

Trust me on this, Ben — extreme poverty is not a condition you want to extend beyond a week, especially if you’re in a prison and forcibly separated from your loved ones.

Charlie