HURRY UP AND EAT
Well, hello, my forward facers! How are ya? So once again, here we are dealing with another recognizable phrase— Chow Time! This is what I’m going to talk about today. Chow time– what it means behind bars and where the phrase comes from. Secondly, how it works. Next, how fast you’re expected to eat and why. After that, I’m going to talk about my definition of “Chow Time”, how I ate, and you can too. Lastly, we’ll discuss why and what you should really hurry up and eat to move forward.
So, let’s chow down! In jail or prison, when you’re called to “chow time” this means it is time to eat. When you’re incarcerated, one of the main things you focus on is eating. Food in jail is pretty bad. It is usually a sandwich and maybe a piece of fruit or a cookie. The sandwiches are made up of what prisoner’s call “mystery meat”. It is made up of 2 pieces of bread and a mustard packet. Initially, chow was usually referred to as food given to barnyard animals, so this is why it was adopted as a term for jail or prison food because it is like slop. In prison, the food is a little better because of the monitoring of government dollars, and the longer-term inmates are there. I’m not going to talk too much about the particular foods, nutritional part of chow time, or lack there-of. I mainly want to talk about the “hurry up” aspect that is placed on eating on the inside.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about how the whole food thing works. In Georgia, there is the Dept. of Corrections Food and Farm services whose job is to supply the GDC with nutritional meals for offenders at the lowest possible cost to the state’s taxpayers. They have been affiliated with Georgia Correctional Industries since January 2009 and are responsible for feeding 44,000 inmates daily. They produce 41% of the Department’s annual food requirement. They also utilize approximately 14,100 acres of land and approximately 5,000 offenders for labor to produce that 41% of the Department’s annual food requirements. In an era of tight government budgets and little sympathy for the incarcerated, three square meals per day in jail are also giving way to aggressive cost-cutting through outsourcing of food services. In Georgia dozens of jails have moved the responsibility from the hands of government to private companies when it comes to their food service; even small counties save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Some have even cut their costs in half. Institutions pay approx. $1 – $3 per inmate per meal to companies such as Trinity and Aramark. Two meals a day are the minimum requirements by state law, but most serve 3. Any other food, such as snacks, come from the jail commissary or care packages, but that’s only for prisoners who follow the rules or who have money in personal accounts managed by the jail or prison.
With regards to how it works in the life of an inmate, the process is very systematic from our perception. “Chow time” is called, the doors are popped, and if you snooze-you-lose. You line up single file, you go to the chow hall, you get your food, you sit where you are directed to, or if you’re taking your food to-go, then, you keep it moving out the door. If you’re eating in the chow hall, you better learn to “hurry up and eat”. Now, lets discuss why you’re expected to eat so fast. The reason I laid that initial ground work was to simplify this part and make it much easier to understand. There are two things that are going on with why you’re expected to eat so fast. One of the explanations for this is that there are personal issues involving deputies; It allows some of them to show authority over the inmates by rushing you and really showing you who’s in control. It also cuts down on socialization time and any aspect that may make you feel a part of a community, group, or in unity; as they may perceive that as a threat to their safety. They may also want to “hurry up” and return to whatever they were doing, or it may even simply be that it is close to time for them to clock out and they have other things to finish up prior to that. Now to you, it’s all part of this “hurry up system of incarceration”. As you know, there’s nothing nutritional or healthy, or even sensible about rushing someone eat a full meal in 7 -10 minutes. The second explanation is what I previously talked about, which is the technical side of how it works. Simply put, cost cutting equals smaller meals, smaller meals equal less time needed to eat, less time needed to eat equals the faster government can get inmates out a controlled environment they have to create requiring more staff and provisions that may cost them more money. SO, HURRY UP AND EAT, INMATE! Unfortunately, either explanation involves you being rushed and expected to eat fast. However, there is good news, which is the reason why I’m here. This is the reason why I love doing this podcast. I want to reassure and encourage you that you don’t have to look back at it all, you don’t have to continue with those enforced bad habits, but you can learn new ones.
When I say “chow time”, it means it is time to learn. Chow time technically means to eat food, immediately and when it is first available. To learn means to gain or acquire the knowledge of a skill in (something) by study, experience, practice, or being taught. All the while I was incarcerated, even from day one, I made it my business to learn. When you first go to jail, they tell you all about what is happening, what you have the right to do, what not to do, and how things are going to go. I learned exactly what to do by listening carefully and asking questions every chance I got. I asked other inmates, I asked staff, and I asked my family to look things up and make phone calls. If I was given a piece of paper, whether it was from an attorney, counselor, chaplain, an inmate, staff member, or volunteer, I read it. I learned what information on the piece of paper was referring to or what it was asking of me. I learned by observing what was going on around me, from the behaviors of others and what treatment they received in return as a result of those behaviors. I always listened to the many sounds, instructions coming from a loud speaker, words between inmates, conversations between guards and inmates, and even logs shared from guard to guard during shift changes. I read any reading materials that were made available, especially the Bible. When I went to prison, everyone was being handed these really big books. I noticed most of the women were using them as pillows while waiting in holding cells. I looked at the cover and it said something in the form of CDCR Policy and Procedures Handbook. There were hundreds of pages, I read every page. During my prison stay, next to my Bible, reading that book proved to be one of the most nutritious things I partook of, as it proved to be exactly what I used to get out prison 2 years early on a 5-year sentence. As a result, I was able to spend the remainder of that time in a program with my son, but that’s a whole other podcast for a later date. I continued to eat the whole time there, through programming, the library, vocations offered, church services, yard time, and anything else that was available to me. I learned so much so fast, and I didn’t stop and spend a lot of time concerning myself with things I couldn’t change; for instance, questioning how I got there or what everyone else’s program or problems were. If I was asked for prayer, teaching, guidance, or help (which was a lot of the time) I gave it freely. My whole time behind bars and in the CPMP (community prisoner mother program,) I chowed down, baby. So, if you’re about to be locked up, or currently locked up, that’s how I want you to eat.
When I got out, I continued to eat well and eat fast. I learned all about what was expected of me and my parole. I didn’t wait for them to give me their version of how things were going to go. I started asking for immediately what I had read was available to me as a resource. I didn’t wait for them to pop up on me; rather, I called and asked them frequently to come on over and help me out with getting back into society. Needless to say, I hardly ever got a visit. I was taken off parole a lot sooner than I was supposed to. After a couple of appeals, I did an interstate transfer and moved back home to GA from CA to care for my dad. I went to the Dept. of Labor and got bonding for felons and a very good paying job as a reservation agent with a major Hotel chain, which allowed me and my family to stay in 5-star hotels all over the world for little to nothing. I had taken parenting classes that had taught me how to spend time with my kids, and I built personal relationships with my family 100 times stronger than before. I hung out in the library and book-stores; and enhanced my technical skills to a very high level following my vocational training from in prison. These are just some of the ways I did it, and you can do it too. Some people think I’m cheap, frugal, or hustling but I’m actually what some would call a “minimalist”. I actually use the least possible of anything to get the most out of it or exactly what I need. I don’t have a lot of things in my life that I don’t love or enjoy or use often. I don’t spend a bunch of money for things I need; especially learning. To be more specific, here’s a few ways you can chow down:
• Utilize the internet and google as a starting point for most things
• Don’t underestimate your public library and its resources still available to you
• Hang out in bookstores. They have coffee and very comfortable chairs, as well as very helpful staff members.
• Don’t be afraid of government, even though they are the ones who housed you; they have a lot of resources for you to utilize. Go straight into any Dept. of Labor, Welfare, any Legal Aid, any city, county, state or Federal office, and ask for whatever help you need; especially career centers and rehab centers
• Join Facebook groups and meetups online
• Utilize churches and community agencies to become a part of the community and learn from them
• And of course, visit my website, listen to my podcasts and so many others that are truly waiting to help you
These are just a few of the ways you can do it. There are many many others. Just keep looking, keep learning, and keep growing. Lastly, the reason I want you eat fast, is nothing like the reasons jails and prisons want you to. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against you; 76% of all inmates end up back in jail within 5 years. American correctional facilities are known for high recidivism rates. The Marshall Project conducted a three-month survey of state corrections departments, finding more than 61,250 technical parole violators in 42 state prison systems as of early 2017. These are the inmates who are currently locked up for breaking a rule of parole, rather than parolees who have been convicted of a new crime. This number does not include those in county and local jails where thousands more are likely held. Time is not on your side. This comes down to how you approach incarceration. The system needs to treat prisoners as individuals who need counseling, resources, and preparation for the outside world — not as bad people who deserve punishment. The inmates need to stop following the crowd or the norm and take more advantage of what you do have at your disposal. If more jails and prisons ran like they should, and if I and others keep doing what we are called to do, continuing to share and teach and learn from each other, I believe we could bring these numbers down. I beat the odds. If it happened for me, it could happen for you.
So, I’m saying to you today, “Chow Time, Hurry up and eat” How: Chow down – eat fast. What I want you to eat: Knowledge. The way: To eat up informally means to like something so much that you want to hear or see more. So, Eat Up my friends, EAT UP! And Until next time, thanks for joining me here. where we “Face Forward, and Move Forward”