The chow hall, also known as where we eat, is probably the most important place in prison. At least initially, as it seemed to me there was a period where I basically just lived for the next meal.
I guess it is important that you eat because if you don’t you will eventually die, so it’s good to know the rules of the chow hall, both written and unwritten to keep you out of both embarrassing yourself or getting in trouble.
So, like most other things in prison the chow hall is split up into sections, based on race, states, gangs, and even the sex offenders have a section in the lows. This section is made up of 95% white males over the age of 40, not because sex offenders are only white, but because the rest are hidden in the other sections.
Initially, it’s good to know which section to sit in because when many inmates are asked about the most embarrassing prison moment this one would rank number one on family feud. So, if you see a section full of guys that look like Santa Claus just go to the next section. But in reality at the camps and lows you can sit wherever you want and nothing will happen.
The higher prisons (we call them higher-ups) are different, you want to sit where you are supposed to sit.
Next rule, don’t cut in line even if a buddy or homeboy says it’s okay because someone further back might not feel the same way. They might not even say anything right then and there, it might catch up to you down the road when that individual is having a bad day and, snap, you’re in a wreck.
Patience is truly a virtue in prison, so learn to just take your time and enjoy the wait from the back of the line, remember you are in prison and you have nowhere you need to go.
Next, don’t reach over anybody’s tray until you get to know the individuals you are eating with. There is nobody I hang out with right now or in the last four years that would freak out over something so small (because they know how I am now), but to be safe it’s good practice because some people will lose their mind and fight you on the spot.
That brings me to another point…don’t mess with another inmate’s food, ever, even if you think you are being thoughtful.
I once walked through and put my extra burger and fries on a friends tray, when he was getting a beverage and I left, he came back didn’t know who put the extra food on his tray, flipped out and threw it away.
I thought I was being helpful and generous. Guess again…
He went on with his day trying to figure out who did it. I heard about it and told him it was me, he told me don’t ever do it again, and let’s just say…I didn’t.
So, if you are giving an inmate something off your tray make sure he is present and has given his consent to you.
The last part of the chow hall is knowing if you can go twice, some places you can just hit the line once. At Milan (where I was at first) you had to ask the cop first, and in Yankton (where I am now) you will get a shot for it.
You might still be hungry but it’s not worth getting an incident report over, so keep extra snacks or food in your locker for these short serving days.
Some tips about the chow hall…
- Become friends with the line servers, because they control your portion size.
- Get a bag of coffee and walk up and give it to them and see if there is anything else they need, it will pay off tenfold.
- A couple of dollar gestures can go a long way in prison and the next time you go through the line they will remember your face.
- Drink lots of milk and eat a lot of fruit in the morning, as there are plenty of people there that will leave these items on their table, BUT don’t grab anything off a table still occupied by inmates.
- If there is a meal you really like, such as meatloaf or pepper steak (a couple of my personal favorites) find a friend who doesn’t attend them regularly, have them tag along to give you their tray.
- If you don’t have money coming in from family and friends, the chow hall will be your primary source of food, so utilize it as much as you can, and learn how to get the most out of it.
- The weekday lunch meals are the most consistent…burgers, chicken quarters, and fish, to name a few because you know how much you are going to get prior to going, as the size rarely varies.
- Also, be prepared to eat something else in the unit on the less flavorful days…meatballs, hot dogs or Italian sausage (we call these days lady’s night), and ziti.
In the near future, I will compile a list of good dishes to make in the unit as I have seen some very creative ways to use the limited resources we have available.
Thanks for listening!