We were watching a Publix commercial on TV showing a happy family sharing a Thanksgiving meal, a table filled with delectable dishes most of us hadn’t tasted in years, and a massive, glistening roast turkey that might have been an ostrich, for all we know. On the outside we were laughing at one prisoner’s comment, “They’ll be serving that same meal in the chowhall on Thanksgiving,” but on the inside some of us were crying, bemoaning our enforced separation from family and loved ones for another traditional holiday, many for the rest of their lives.
After the mouthwatering Publix commercial came one for a nonprofit Pensacola homeless mission seeking donations to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving Day for $2.23 a plate. Scenes of pitiful-looking dental-deprived folks — some were ex-convicts, I felt certain — holding plates piled high with sliced turkey, dressing, and gravy, generated wistful memories of long-past holidays at home, where I was the delegated turkey slicer, followed by visions of what the actual prison meal will look like on that day. I thought, how much I wish I could pay $2.23 for a plate of turkey and dressing. That is not to be, not with the Florida prison food budget limited to $1.54 a day, for three meals.
Although my memory flashed back to holiday meals in prison years ago, when they served real turkey, it has been so long that I couldn’t pin down exactly when. Over thirty years ago, at Raiford, Union C.I., the University of Florida agricultural experiment station donated a flock of huge turkeys to the prison, They made an agreement — the prison slaughterhouse would weigh each giant bird, then kill and “process” each one, then measure the dressed weight. All the university wanted were the numbers. The turkeys were irrelevant. In exchange, we got a ton or so of prime turkey for free, roasted and served to 2,600 hungry prisoners.
That was prison, which is synonymous with crime and corruption, and a percentage of those Florida Gator turkeys went out the back door of the prison kitchen, stolen, sold, and surreptitiously turned into turkey sandwiches for those with the money to buy them. Some of the whole roast turkeys even escaped in cardboard boxes out the back gate and were consumed by the guards and their families. C’est la vie!
The only type of “meat” served in Florida prisons on Thanksgiving is some anonymous laboratory concoction that has only the most tenuous links to any winged creature. This tasteless, ground-up gray substance is added to potatoes, rice, or beans and ambitiously labelled with monikers like “Tuscan Stew,” “Conquistador Chili,” “Tamale Pizza,” “Zesty Patty,” “Breakfast Meat Gravy,” and other euphemisms that make it sound like gourmet meals from Bon Appetit magazine are being served in prison. The reality is far different. I call it “possum meat,” for lack of a better name.
As for myself, I will not be sharing the repast in the chowhall on Thanksgiving Day. I am blessed to have Libby, my dearest friend, making the trek of hundreds of miles from Jacksonville to this distant outpost on Thursday, and we will share a meal purchased from the visiting park canteen. It won’t be roast turkey from Publix, but the company we keep is more important than what we eat.
Even in prison for thirty-five years, oppressed and wrongfully convicted by a corrupt, politically-ambitious prosecutor, I am thankful for my many blessings. I love, and I am loved. I have miraculously survived eighteen prisons, against all odds. I have fought all attempts to silence my voice, and speak out via the Internet to thousands of people in seventy-five countries. I have maintained and grown my Christian faith and dedicated myself to helping those less fortunate than myself. I have hopes and dreams for a life in freedom, and I am grateful for those who have helped me along this path for all these years.
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by family and loved ones.
from Charlie and Libby!
Counting Our Blessings and Giving Thanks!