Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Dateline February 9, 2010


Surely you’ve seen those “Chik-Fil-A” commercials where the cows steal the hamburgers and hold up signs saying, “Eat Mor Chikin.” Sometimes the cows parachute into a football stadium and knock down the vendor selling hamburgers. The message is clear—don’t eat beef.

Someone in power in the Florida Department of Corrections took that message to heart, eliminating all parts of cows from the state prison menu and replacing it with “Kibbles and Bits,” or something remarkably like it, also know as “Texturized Vegetable Protein,” or “T.V.P.” According to some prisoners, however, the T.V.P. actually stands for “turkey vulture parts,” although turkey vulture might be safer to eat, or so says the Weston A. Price Foundation.

According to a recent notice on the Foundation’s web site, http://www.westonaprice.org/Cruel-and-Unusual-Punishment-Soy-Diet-for-Illinois-Prisoners.html, since the Illinois prison system switched to a soy diet (read, “Kibbles and Bits”) in 2007, lawsuits have been filed claiming alarming adverse effects from prisoners consuming a diet high in unfermented soy protein.

Complaints include chronic and painful constipation alternating with debilitating diarrhea, vomiting after eating, sharp pains in the digestive tract, especially after consuming soy, passing out, heart palpitations, rashes, acne, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, and symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as low body temperature (feeling cold all the time), brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, frequent infections, and enlarged thyroid gland.

Since the soy protein is also a source of plant estrogen, a.k.a. the female sex hormone, other side effects, such as enlarged breasts in young men, have been recorded. Since estrogen consumption is used as an anti-fertility drug in women, experts say many young prisoners may be unable to father children after their release from prison.

I know what some people are going to say. I’ve heard it before. They are in prison, they violated the law, screw ‘em, they don’t deserve decent food, give them bread and water, like the “good ole days,” chain them to the dungeon wall, let them rot. That’s one argument. Heaven help those people if their son or daughter winds up in prison, left to the mercy of abusive guards and rapacious prisoners, sick, no medical care, starved, dirty, hungry. Heaven help those poor Baptist missionaries caged in an inhumane Haitian jail suffering conditions you don’t even want to imagine, worse than anything in our country.

Someone said that prisons are microcosms of society. How our society treats its captives reflects the morality and humanity of us all. This isn’t Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Saudi Arabia, Guantanamo, or Haiti. We believe in basic human rights, and are signatories to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners. Those of us who have been victims of crimes, or whose loved ones have been, are naturally more averse to treating convicted criminals with decency, including feeding them healthful diets. We are not a brutal third world country, however, and subscribe to standards of treatment of prisoners similar to other civilized countries. Medical care and decent food are two of the responsibilities our government takes on when it strips its citizens of their liberty, right or wrong.

Back to the Florida prison menu and the switchover to the risky soy diet, or “Kibbles and Bits.”

When I first entered the Hillsborough County Jail in the 1970’s on this bogus murder charge, I was amazed at how good the food was. My first meal had chunks of actual beef stew on rice, green beans, two hot biscuits, and a cooler full of iced tea that we served ourselves. Breakfast ws eggs and grits one day, large pancakes another, and an extra tray slid into the cell for whoever swept and mopped afterwards.

A Tampa Tribune food editor wrote an article reviewing the jail food, pronouncing it better than some restaurants she’d eaten in. The otherwise ascetic and humorless sheriff, Malcolm Beard, a hardcore law-and-order type if ever there was one, explained that hungry prisoners caused trouble, got in fights, stole weaker men’s trays, assaulted his guards, whereas prisoners whose bellies were full did not. Consequently, it was wiser, safer and more economical in the long run to spend a little but more on food and run a more peaceful jail.

I can attest to the wisdom of that philosophy, having experienced food riots in another county jail when they tried to serve rotten fish and other unpalatable items. It wasn’t funny. Too bad the prison system is unaware of those lessons. Times have changed. The “old timers” who ran the prison system thirty years ago are long-retired, and the new breed of “administrators” seem otherwise clueless to what it takes to run a prison.

They used to serve actual meat in prison. At Raiford, where I spent my first four years, they also served beef stew, hamburgers, and meat loaf, along with pork chops, fish and chicken. The Lake Butler Reception Center chow hall had a prominent sign posted, “Take What You Want, Eat What You Take.” And they meant it. A guard stood by the swill barrel at the chow hall exit where we dumped our trays. There’d better not be anything edible on your tray, or you’d be sent back to eat it. If you didn’t like spinach, don’t put it on your tray.

Nowadays, they have swill contracts with pig farmers and have to provide so many barrels of uneaten food to feed the hogs. When the food is tasteless and inedible the swill truck drivers are happy. The pigs aren’t talking.

One reason the prison system used to serve beef was because they raised their own cattle, along with hogs and chickens. The state owns over 11,000 acres of land in the area around Florida State Prison, and even more in Union County, much of it cow pastures. Right outside the fence beyond my Southwest Unit cell window grazed some of the prettiest Black Angus beef cattle I ever saw.

I know cows. Spending the first nine years of my life in Texas, moving to Florida and spending several teen years working for legendary cattleman, P.D. “Pal” Stokes, I learned firsthand most of what there is to know about cattle and beef. Something that I couldn’t understand, though, was why, with the herd of prime beeves grazing outside my window, steers that would be welcome in Omaha, why was the meat served in the chow hall the toughest, most gristly beef I’d ever eaten? Something was wrong with that picture. Your jaws got a workout chewing the shoe leather beef stew, at odds with the huge, shiny-coated cattle feeding on state land.

I asked my friend, Howard Magid, the prisoner who did all the clerical work in the slaughterhouse office outside the prison, why that was so. Easy. They were stealing.

Modern day prison cattle rustlers don’t round up steers and drive them to Abilene, changing the brands on the way. The prison staff who got rich on the state beef did it in a much subtler way.

Howard told me that industry-wide the percentage of beef to waste in cattle slaughtering was fifty-five percent beef to forty-five percent waste. A thousand pound steer, on average, produced five hundred fifty pounds of beef and four hundred fifty pounds of waste—hide, bones, blood, and guts. In contrast, the prison slaughterhouse, on paper, produced only four hundred fifty pounds of beef per thousand pounds of steer, an automatic hundred pound bonus of prime beef available for sale off the books. It didn’t stop there. No prisoner got so much as a quarter-pounder from the prime beef they tended on state land. Instead, a thousand pounds of prime beef would be sold for top dollar, and a thousand pounds of scrawny, stringy “grade” beef would be purchased at a much lower cost, in substitute. The numbers came out right, if the quality didn’t. A great hustle, or “rustle,” for those on the inside.

Who knows how many years that went on? They’ll have a much harder time selling the soy “burger patty,” “country patty,” “BBQ,” or “dinner stew,” as they label the Kibbles and Bits, “texturized vegetable protein,” that took the place of meat.

A perfect example of the evolution of prison food is found in what used to be known as “S.O.S.” Originally, that breakfast serving was called “chipped beef on toast,” some sort of preserved meat similar to corned beef was sliced very thin, cooked in a large kettle with milk and flour added to make a gravy, salt and pepper to taste, then a large serving ladle poured the mixture over a couple slices of toast. I can still recall the flavor. No one missed that meal. From the U.S. military came the derogatory name of “shit on a shingle,” or “S.O.S.,” even though everyone ate it.

For years it was known by “S.O.S.” The chipped beef was eventually replaced by ground beef and gravy, which was still pretty tasty for a while. Then the age of processed turkey products arrived and everything changed. Turkey hamburger, turkey patty, turkey salami and pastrami, turkey hot dogs. Who knew turkey could be so flexible? The “turkey gravy” replaced the ground beef, only to find itself replaced by “T.V.P.,” texturized vegetable protein, or turkey vulture parts, take your pick—your guess is as good as mine. Now the menu calls it “breakfast gravy,” as generic and anonymous a term as can be found, not a molecule of meat to be found in it.

They used to serve half-pints of milk at breakfast, too, but replaced that with “breakfast drink,” a concoction of some type of non-dairy coffee creamer mixed with water. The few ounces of “fruit juice” has evolved into a toxic-looking red liquid that won’t wash out of your clothes if spilled. Jim Jones would be proud.

And let us not forget the elimination of salt from prison food! Where they used to put salt and pepper shakers on the table to season the unsalted food, now you’re lucky to find one tiny salt packet on the corner of your tray, usually water-soaked, often empty, never enough to season the dried beans and rice that that comprises most meals.

Not that I’m complaining! I love unsalted pinto beans and gummy rice. It beats bread and water any day. It is a shame, though, that the prison system has become “penny-wise and pound foolish,” cutting back on a crucial category—food—that comprises less than five percent of the corrections budget.

What item takes the biggest bite out of the $2.5 billon in taxes Florida’s citizens pay each year for their prisons? Salaries! Payroll! Health costs come in a distant second, but is still a sizeable chunk. Perhaps they could spend a little more on improving the food quality that would result in a reduction in the mounting health care costs. Surely lawsuits complaining about the dangerous soy diet will only put the prison system deeper in the hole.


Saturday, February 6, 2010


Dateline: December, 17, 2009


Does anyone really believe that American college student, Amanda Knox, slit her roommate’s throat because the girl complained about Knox’s being a slob and not picking up her clothes? Come on, people!

The Italian justice system is so screwed up that if they’d tried O.J. Simpson there, they’d probably have ruled that Ron Goldman hacked Nicole Brown Simpson to death and then committed suicide! They had no better evidence that the twenty-two year old girl from Washington State joined her Italian boyfriend and an African-American guy in gang-raping and butchering the English student than they’d have had against poor Ron Goldman.

So how did it happen?

AMANDA: “Hey, fellas, my roommate dissed me. I left my panties on the bathroom floor. Big deal. Let’s teach her a lesson. We’ll hold her down, rape her, then we’ll slice her throat from ear-to-ear, got to your place, and I’ll discover the body tomorrow!”

Sorry, but that’s not how it went down. With millions of Americans watching “CSI,” “CSI New York,” “CSI Miami,” “NCIS,” “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” and all the other modern crime/murder shows, we’ve grown into a nation of armchair forensic scientists. Prosecutors are complaining that juries are demanding DNA tests, fingerprints, and chemical analyses to convict defendants, not being satisfied with the old-fashioned techniques of coerced confessions, perjurious jailhouse snitches, and misconducive prosecutorial shenanigans that have been mainstays of American injustice for generations.

They must not watch “CSI” in Italy. If they did, the jury would never have convicted Miss Knox when not a scintilla of forensic evidence connected her to the murder. No fingerprints, no DNA, no pubic hairs, no video.

Perhaps one side effect of the Italian injustice concerning “Foxie Knoxy” will be a refocusing of attention on the same kinds of prosecutorial misconduct in America. Does it take the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of a sexy, young college student in Italy to outrage the American public to the point where they say, “What about cases like this in our own country?”

Do not say, “It couldn’t happen here,” because it has been happening all along. Corrupt prosecutors like the now-disbarred Mike Nifong of Duke University lacrosse team infamy and state attorney Mark Ober, formerly best-known as the tireless advocate of notorious rapist and serial killer, Oscar Ray Bolin, who terrorized the Tampa, Florida, area, are just two examples of unscrupulous men who “do whatever it takes” to get a conviction.

In Mark Ober’s case, I know firsthand what it feels like to be accused of and framed for a murder I didn’t commit. I’m sure that Amanda Knox’s prosecutor has already used her case to promote his overweening political ambitions, as Mark Ober did to me.

Just like in “Criminal Minds” each week, all the evidence is right there in front of us in the Amanda Knox case. Unfortunately, Miss Knox doesn’t have the benefit of Hollywood experts to solve the case and clear her in the last five minutes.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the black guy did it!