International Journal of Drug Policy - 2014

Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2014

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A.B. Smoyer, K.M. Blankenship / International Journal of Drug Policy 25 (2014) 562–568 565 daily life – in this case the delivery, consumption, and removal of cafeteria meals on trays – constructed a sense of place and meaning that evolved over time. A central feature of the all confined housing spaces, including assessment, was the women's singular reliance on meal trays from the cafeteria for sustenance. As P5 describes, meals were deliv- ered to people in these units three times a day. In the assessment and medical units, logistical issues made it difficult for women to acquire commissary snacks. Women in these units did not work and the short-term nature of these placements made it impractical to order through the commissary system. Placement in the segregated unit was usually accompanied by a "loss of commissary" status that suspended women's ability to purchase food from the prison store. With only the tray meals to sustain them, women described retaining pieces of uneaten food, in all of the confined spaces, to eat between meals. As P11 phrased it, it was common to "put it to the side." Doing so created a micro-geography of plenty and food access in the food desert: "In medical, you can hoard food. . . Soup. Or potato salad, you want for later. . .Peaches" (P8). While these confined spaces were designed to be strict food environments con- sisting of only meal service, women resisted this construction by creating their own personal micro-geography with fruit and cake in Styrofoam cups. General population Once assessment processes were complete, medical problems resolved, and/or disciplinary consequences completed, women were relocated to housing units in the general population wings of the facility, which afforded more movement and access to activity spaces, including the cafeteria. Participants reported two primary food spaces when discussing their lives in the gen- eral population: the cafeteria and the housing units. Cafeteria meals were served three times a day, there was no charge for the food, and attendance was optional. Going to the cafeteria was the only activity that was universally available on a daily basis, making it the principal pathway for movement through the prison place. "It [going to the cafeteria] felt like you were out in the world, in your own little way, like you were doing something because you're not just stuck in a cell, you're out and about" (P25). This narrative illustrates the role of daily food prac- tice in constructing and organizing the prison's internal places. Movement from the housing units to the cafeteria was equated with going out to eat, crossing boundaries from one area to another. If going to the cafeteria was eating out, then the other major food space – the housing units – offered the opportunity to eat in. Food prepared and consumed in this inside place included commissary items and food smuggled in from the cafeteria and kitchen. The only items that were officially permitted in the housing units were the commissary foods. Women were able to purchase these items once a week. Choices included candy, cakes, chips, crackers, pre-cooked rice and pastas, condiments (e.g. peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise), and processed meats, cheese and fish. Funds for these purchases came from friends and family in the community or income from prison work assignments. Women had access to hot water in the common area of the housing unit that could be used to prepare soups, coffee, and tea. Trading or sharing commissary items was prohibited: "I wasn't allowed to give you a soup because if I was to give you a soup that's considered contraband to you" (P13). In addition, taking commissary items out of the housing units and into other places in the prison and bringing food into the housing units from the kitchen and cafeteria was prohibited. In these ways, prison food policy sought to create a static, impermeable border that included only the individual and her commissary supply, if any. Hunger The third and final major food space described in this data about the prison experience was hunger. This micro-geography tran- scended physical space, it was found in the confined units and the general population, especially at night, and even the cafeteria. I would wake up in the middle of the night, my stomach would be so hungry, like I would be starving, I mean my stomach would be, I would wake up cause I was so hungry, that my stomach was like hurting, it was growling really bad like the pit of my stomach felt like it was burning, like it was just. . .I was starving. (P5) Hunger can be understood as a micro-geography because it describes an individual experience that may not be shared with other people in the same physical space (Parr, 2000). All of the women in the housing unit are in the same space, but varia- tions in their lived experience and the meaning they ascribe to the prison create the unique micro-geographies in which they dwell. On one level, this micro-geography of hunger was built by a physical lack of food. Avoiding hunger required women to have snacks on hand and not all women had access to the financial and social resources that were needed to supplement cafeteria meals with commissary items and/or food smuggled from the kitchen or cafeteria. Participants' reports of hunger, however, cannot be completely explained by inadequate food supplies. As the anthro- pological and sociological theory about food maintains, "There is no more absolute sign of powerlessness than hunger" (Counihan, 1999, p. 7). Power disparities between the incarcerated women and the prison institution and its agents produced hunger. For example, P17 described how she "left the chow hall hungry" because she was "rushing to eat." In trying to explain this hunger she said, "I don't know if it was because you had to inhale it, and it didn't hit my stom- ach, but I always hungry in there." P26 told a similar story: "You're trying to eat it fast and there's no substance to it, it just sort of fills you for a minute and then you're starving again." P13 described the breakfast food as plentiful yet "it doesn't do nothin' for you" because of the awkward timing. Stripped of the power to decide when, where, what, and how fast to eat, some women reported that the cafeteria meals–however plentiful - could not satiate their hunger. Movement In spite of prison food regulations that sought to discourage food movement between and within the confined units, general popu- lation, and activity spaces, women described moving food through these places in a way that diminished boundaries and assigned new meaning to these spaces. Interior boundaries Women described an illicit flow of food between the cafete- ria, the kitchen, and the housing units in the general population. For example, participants who worked in the kitchen stole food from this place and brought it to the housing units: "A big block [of butter]. They wrap it up, like a lot of people, cause you wear, like the little cook's, chef coat, and they put it in that, wrap it up, and just walk with it, you know" (P1). This movement of food and subsequent preparation and consumption of smuggled items in the housing units deconstructed internal boundaries and transformed the housing units into kitchen and cafeteria places. Smuggling food from the cafeteria to the housing units was a near daily activity for many women, a constant reiterative performance through which place was produced.

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