Eating Twenty Years of “Porridge”

Posted: 20 September 2012 in Prisons, Understanding Others

Twenty years of porridge? Year in year out, day in day out. Fancy it? Well?? When I go into prison, I want to understand the experience. Recently I spent two days in a lifers prison. I came, I saw, I tate. Two days of it was … interesting.

Porridge it wasn’t, strictly speaking. I and my fellow travellers were offered a choice of six items for lunch, and a different six for evening meal, including vegan and halal. Sounded wonderful. But the reality was that the warm food was somehow high on carbs and probably fat, and short on flavour and texture. And samey.

The prison Governor turned up twice to see what we were doing and ate the food himself with us. Yes, we were eating what all the prisoners ate too. Prison staff with us ate it too. An old lag from another place advised me to watch what the kitchen porters ate, as they “knew what actually went in!” But careful espionage on porter culinary choices gave me confidence that the problem was not in additives excluded by I’ve-just-been-in-Brixton-nick-Gordon.

The issue was that the budget for food was around £2½ per person per day for three cooked meals. It wasn’t cruelty by the prison regime. Far from it. The prison was aware of the issue. But there just wasn’t more  money.

Prisoners were allowed to buy ingredients for food and did make their own meals to fit personal and cultural preferences. This was allowed. But consider this. When you are a lifer, you could spend 20 years inside.  You will eat 14,600 lunches and dinners like this. Sure, prison is not like when Ronnie Barker did “Porridge”. Prisoners get more nowadays, but people in outside society expect far more too. So what might have been OK, is in today’s’ expectations – tough.

Leaving aside the morals for the moment, if you can’t face the mash-n-gravy, don’t do the smash-n-grab.


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