Undercover inmates describe what jail food is really like

Prison pizza 60 days inScreenshot/A&EA screenshot from a video produced by A&E about food in jail and prison.

To cut costs, jails don’t exactly offer gourmet meals.

Several participants on A&E’s documentary series “60 Days In” learned that the hard way. The show follows seven undercover inmates who spend two months in an Indiana jail under false identities to expose problems with the system.

In fact, some of what the inmates ate hardly resembled food you’d find on any plate outside bars. Clark County Jail spends about $1 on each inmate’s meal, an A&E representative confirmed, and participants suggested throughout the series that the meager budget is obvious.

Barbra, one of the participants on the show, told Business Insider:

The worst meal I ever acquired in jail was beans. That was literally the entire meal. Beans with disgusting little wormy looking maggot things in it, served with raw uncooked onion and a tiny piece of over-dry corn bread.

That was a dinner meal, and if you chose not to eat it, then you typically went hungry for 14 hours until breakfast the next morning. For me, the meal was so bad, that I started skipping it for dinner and starving myself until breakfast the next morning. It was literally inedible for me.

Jail food 60 days inScreenshot/A&EInmates line up for food in an episode of ’60 Days In.’

In other jails and prisons around the country, meal budgets are as little as 56 cents, according to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit publication that covers the criminal justice system in the United States.
A pair of videos produced by A&E to accompany the series shows just how bad it can get. One video shows a grim portion of “jailhouse fish and chips” — sardines, bread, a few potato chips and a dollop of mysterious “white sauce” unceremoniously thrown together on the plate.

“The food is depressing, the scenery is depressing. I mean, if you weren’t super depressed when you came in here, you feel a bit of that,” Tami, another participant, said in a scene in the show’s second episode.

Another video details how to make “prison pizza” — mushy ramen noodles and crackers topped with salsa, spray cheese, and chunks of processed meat. Inmates can make the dish if they pool together enough ingredients purchased from the jail commissary.

Several scenes from the show demonstrate the role food plays in the social life of inmates. In one scene from the third episode, which airs tonight, a participant named Zac scores an invite to a “slam,” a potluck dinner of commissary items hosted in a cell.

In an earlier episode, Zac knows the group has accepted him when an inmate hands him a pack of ramen noodles.

“In there, ramen is like the common currency. It’s like gold,” he said in the third episode.

Jail food 60 days inScreenshotA screenshot from an episode of ’60 Days In.’

On special occasions, such as a birthday or someone’s last day in jail, inmates prepare “jail cake” for each other, Barbra told Business Insider. The inmates make dough out of crushed-up peanut butter cookies, then layer it with melted Reese’s cups and cappuccino mix.

They then melt a Hershey bar by leaving it in a cup of microwaved water with the wrapper on. Once it’s melted, they can tear off a corner of the wrapper and drizzle the cake with chocolate.

Once it’s finished, they “refrigerate” the cake by placing it on a bowl of ice for two hours.

“In jail, you learn to become very innovative with meal preparation,” Barbra said.

The show’s third episode airs Thursday at 10 p.m. EST on A&E.

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