International Journal of Drug Policy - 2014

Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2014

Issue link: http://digitalreprints.elsevier.com/i/364061

Contents of this Issue

Navigation

Page 65 of 153

566 A.B. Smoyer, K.M. Blankenship / International Journal of Drug Policy 25 (2014) 562–568 I would take the hamburger back [to the housing unit in general population]. All of us would go to chow and we'll get our ham- burgers and we'll bring the hamburgers back from the chow hall. And then when it was time to cook, I'll chop up the hamburger and I'll use the Roman Noodles (sic), and just some sauce, and make Hamburger Helper. (P24) In this narrative, P24 sounds like a happy homemaker on the outside, shopping for food with friends, cooking up an everyday dish, adding her own sauce and garnish. This performance rejects the conventional meaning of the "chow hall" as a place of super- vised eating, reconstructing the cafeteria as a corner store and the housing unit as a personal kitchen and dining room. Every participant spoke about how they traded and shared the food with each other, moving food between and within housing units and pooling resources to prepare fairly elaborate dishes using hot water and heat from hair blow dryers and radiators. These activities satiated hunger by allowing access to a greater quantity and variety of food between meals and providing women with the opportunity to gain some semblance of power by controlling when, where, and how they ate. Let me tell you how we do cooking. They give us trash, clear trash bags, and then we have a hot pot. What we would do was take our noodles, and since I worked in the kitchen, I would get chicken bits. You could also order off the commissary you could get sauces and whatever, but you take it and mix it with the noodles; you pour water in there, you twist up the bag, put it in something. Sometimes you wrap it in a towel and sit it there till the noodles get soft. The food will get soft. That's how we cook. (P3) The cooking groups, like the one that P3 described here, rep- resented yet another micro-geography within the prison space, a unique space within a larger place created by an individual, or in this case a group of individuals. Women described moving in and out of these groups, depending on social dynamics and their ability to contribute resources or cooking skills. Those who found them- selves inside a quality cooking group enjoyed a higher level of food security than those on the outside. Inside/outside boundary In addition to destabilizing interior boundaries, the movement of food through the prison diminished the boundary between places inside and outside of the facility by reproducing the street dynamics of policing and drug trafficking on the inside. For exam- ple, women prepared and exchanged seasonings in a unit called balls, the size of which was standardized and assigned a spe- cific value: "We would bring our own commissary to the chow hall and dress stuff up, too. . ..like on chicken day, on Sunday, we would make hot sauce ball, bring 'em with us to put on our chicken" (P25). The "hot sauce ball" that P25 described was a static form of currency and exchange, like a "dime bag" or "eight ball" of drugs on the street. Participants described meticulously preparing these packets with a variety of different products using trash bags and hair ties. Another form of currency was the "cof- fee ball" that included a specific amount of coffee, creamer, and sugar, and was widely exchanged for other food, services and social power. The trafficking of food was prohibited and actively discour- aged by the prison administration and correctional officers. Inmates caught smuggling food could be issued a ticket and brought before the Disciplinary Board. Here, P8 described the events surrounding her attempt to bring food, including several coffee balls, to another inmate during Bible Study: [The female CO] put me up against the wall and search me. . .She feels the coffee balls. . .And I'm like, I'm trying to whisper to her, "Come on man, it's only coffee. . ." Everybody's comin' up out of Bible Study now, looking at me. It looks like I'm being arrested in jail, like for a drug bust. . .[The ticket] wound up getting thrown out. . . I went through that embarrassment of being put against the wall. Searched. . . that is how I was treated for trying to give something to a friend. . .So it was really like how we get treated on the street, exactly. (P8) This type of scenario reinforced the participants' drug-using street identities as hustlers in an underground economy working to get a fix. As P8 states, "it was really how we get treated on the street, exactly." In this moment, the distinction between the street place and the prison place was suspended. In addition, the fundamentally unenforceable character of the prisons food rules, given the ratio of prisoners to correctional officers and the cre- ativity and effort dedicated to circumventing food rules in order to feed their hunger for food and control, brought the dynamics of drug policy and enforcement in the community inside the prison walls. Heath implications The (re)construction of food places in prison that is described here has implications for thinking about both nutrition/weight and substance use outcomes for incarcerated women with histories of drug use. Nutrition/weight As is the case in non-incarcerated US communities, obesity and overweight are on the rise among prisoners (Dong & Tang, 2014). This data illuminates some of the ways in which the organization of the prison place may produce detrimental health outcomes related to food and eating. Women described experiencing food insecu- rity on the street and as they travelled through the intake frontier. They found the daily serving of three cafeteria meals in assessment to provide some degree of relief, at least initially. In addition, the construction of micro-geographies with hoarded items, in this and other confined spaces, reinforced a sense of food security. How- ever, as they moved deeper into the prison space, their hunger reemerged as access to food varied by site and time and feelings of powerlessness dug pits in their stomachs. In an effort to satiate their hunger for food and power, women described excessive snacking on commissary items and consumption of elaborate dishes cooked with peers between meals. While data about participants' pre- and post- incarceration weights were not systematically collected, field notes indicate that 14 of the women were visibly overweight or obese at the time of their interviews. More than half (57%, n = 17) of the participants reported gaining weight while incarcerated, amounts ranging from 5 to 100 pounds. Three participants (10%) reported that their weight remained the same, 4 (13%) lost weight and no information about weight change was reported from 6 (20%) of the participants. This analysis of place suggests that these detrimental weight outcomes can be attributed, in part, to behaviors produced by the prison's internal boundaries. In an effort to deconstruct and push back against these boundaries, women overate, under-ate, and obsessed about food. For some, their addiction to drugs in the external, non- prison, environment seemed to be replaced inside by an addiction to food. In short, we are suggesting that the physically and mentally unhealthy eating behaviors that women described were partially fueled by poorly constructed internal boundaries and efforts to enforce these borders.

Articles in this issue

view archives of International Journal of Drug Policy - 2014 - Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2014