Inmate Blog: “Hard Time Café”

By Austin Mays, an inmate, student, and cook at Stafford Creek Correction Center

Written November, 2014

The way food is prepared is an art. From the choice to the plate, it’s all about painting a picture. I live in a world where the art is lost. The simple things that make food taste good have been removed and replaced with mayonnaise labeled as “salad dressing”. When the best part of the meal is the water, you know something’s wrong.

My name is Austin Mays and I have been eating this food since I was 15 years old. This food is in prison. You may automatically put up your guard reading this, but I encourage you to keep an open mind.

After serving 10+ years, I have seen that the price of food has increased exponentially and in turn nutritious foods have fallen out of the reach of the budget. Feeding 1900+ inmates at one facility is quite expensive.

Cyril-Ruoso-cucumbers

An inmate gardener at Cedar Creek Corrections Center talks about the fresh cucumbers he just harvested. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

Fresh vegetables make all the difference

In 2013, I began a job that opened my eyes to the larger picture. I became chef in the “Hard Time Café”. This is the dining hall for all staff. On a daily basis I, along with three other individuals, serve anywhere from 40-60 staff members. What do we serve them? Leftovers. We dress up the meal that was previously served to the 1900 other inmates. A difference between the “Hard Time Café” and the main chow halls is the fresh vegetables. Each day, a salad bar is prepared with mushrooms, tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, carrots, celery, fresh green leaf salad, and four premade salads. This is a lot of produce used daily.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center has been taking measurable steps in the direction towards becoming more self-sustaining. In the last four months, I have been able to use the produce grown by the sustainability garden in all of my salads and main course meals. For example, in October 2014, the garden produced close to a hundred pumpkins. Now, November, we are gearing up to make homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkin pies are nearly $5.00 a piece and purchasing enough for 1900 inmates would hold a heavy price tag.

A pie pumpkin grows in a prison garden. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

A pie pumpkin grows in a prison garden. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

Prison is its own city

Living in a place where you have little outside interaction causes you to be left behind. We, in prison, fail to see the world consuming itself. I recently graduated from “Roots of Success” (an environmental literacy curriculum) and during this course my eyes were opened. Prison is its own city. The overhead is huge and anyway we can work together to create the best living conditions, by using the natural resources around us, is the best way.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center grows flowers and vegetables in every part of the prison campus. From early spring to late fall it is a multicolored display! Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center grows flowers and vegetables in every part of the prison campus. From early spring to late fall it is a multicolored display! Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Changing lifestyles

Sustainability is not about cutting cost. It’s about changing your lifestyle and taking into account the future of your children. We are a world that feels the need to consume. Why? Because our parents tried to teach us what their parents taught them. Once we prove them wrong, we write our own path and neglect to see the big picture. Instant gratification, I want what I want and I want it now.

So, next time you buy a tomato or cut an onion, think of how far it traveled, how long it took to grow, how much money was spent on labor to process it, and how much you enjoy it. Think of… the “Hard Time Café”.

September flowers bloom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

September flowers bloom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

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