At a recent Texas Inmate Family Association (TIFA ) meeting in Ft. Worth, we had a legislator as guest speaker. During the Q & A session, Con-Care Services raised the issue of how deplorable the TDCJ-ID inmate food has become. Con-Care presented a strong case that while the quality of inmate food was continually deteriorating, the food being served in the Officer’s Dining Rooms (ODR) was as...
At a recent Texas Inmate Family Association (TIFA ) meeting in Ft. Worth, we had a legislator as guest speaker. During the Q & A session, Con-Care Services raised the issue of how deplorable the TDCJ-ID inmate food has become. Con-Care presented a strong case that while the quality of inmate food was continually deteriorating, the food being served in the Officer’s Dining Rooms (ODR) was as extravagant as ever. The subject pricked the ire of several attendees: Many members told stories of how their incarcerated loved ones go to bed hungry.
Our guest conceded that he and his colleagues were aware of the problem. They confronted Director Brad Livingston about the alleged ODR excesses, but Mr Livingston protested vehemently, saying in effect, “You can’t mess with the O.D.R. Food!” Our guest then said a most curious thing, “There are an awful lot of prison employees – and they vote!” In other words, our legislators in Austin handle the TDCJ-ID with kid gloves because its employees represent a large voting bloc: you don’t want to piss off the people who can kick you out of office.
Based on that revelation, we are confronted with a grave realization: if we ever hope to have a persuasive voice in Austin politics, if we ever hope to initiate real and meaningful change within the TDCJ-ID, or the criminal justice system in general, we must build a membership that will represent a voting bloc large enough to outnumber that of TDCJ. We should not be daunted by this prospect. Inmates outnumber prison staff more than 100 to 1. Inmates have families and friends. If we can enlist the voting voices of just fifty percent of that number, we will be heard in Austin, and listened to.
Con-Care rejects legislators who choose to look the other way and turn a deaf ear to family organizations while Brad Livingston and his colleagues break the law. In 2003 Con-Care co-founder, Joan Covici, published a paper entitled, “FEAST for the Guards, FAMINE for the Prisoners.” That presentation gave persuasive proof that inmates were being deprived of nutritious meals while the TDCJ staff enjoyed lavish excesses in the Officers’ Dining Rooms. The cover page quoted, “Texas folklore tells of a man in a small town who once tried to train his dog not to eat. Sadly, the dog was almost trained when it died.” This folktale can be paraphrased here by suggesting that prison administrators would like to train their inmates to go hungry, but sadly, before they succeed, there may be dire repercussions. Malnutrition causes illness and disease. Maltreatment causes resentment and rebellion.
Feast and Famine also quoted state laws that clearly prohibit many of the privileges that TDCJ-ID takes for granted. For example, quoting Feast and Famine, “In 1995, a rider was attached to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice section of the General Appropriations Act which was passed into law. That rider can be found in the General and Special Laws of Texas, Acts 1995, 74th Legislature, Chapter 1063, Article V, page 5767. Section 17 of the rider reads as follows: “ . . . Food Service: the Texas Department of Criminal Justice may provide food items to employees in employee dining facilities, only after the food requirements of inmates are met. The food served to inmates shall be of the same quality as food served to employees.” It is common knowledge, not only among inmates and their families, but also among TDCJ administrators and legislators in Austin, that this law is totally ignored by prison administrators.
When prison administrators remove salt and pepper, serve smaller portions, and stop feeding lunch on weekends – yet allow themselves the same lavish meals any time, 24-7, the “needs of inmates are not being met, and the quality of food” is certainly not the same. At the recent TIFA meeting in Ft. Worth, Con-Care posed the question to the guest legislator, “Why should prison employees enjoy free meals at all?” We pointed out that law enforcement officers do not receive free meals. Fire fighters don’t receive free meals. School teachers can’t eat free meals in their school cafeterias. What entitles prison employees to such special perks? If prison administrators believe that cutting out lunch on the weekends for inmates will save money, just imagine how much money can be saved by cutting out free meals to their employees.
Con-Care holds the position that our legislators in Austin must enforce the laws they legislate. It is an absurd double standard to allow those charged with the responsibility of confining lawbreakers to be law breakers themselves. Please add your voice to ours by lending support for our effort to bring about long overdue progressive changes. Let’s make TDCJ-ID a fair and respected institution that serves the people over its own self-interest.