Being Vegetarian in Prison


I wasn’t introduced to my creator in prison, like some people are. My introduction came almost 2 years after.  And maybe that’s because I wasn’t looking for or open to it at that time. I did, however, learn a few religious things due to my diet…

Some people are curious about what food is available in prison or jails. First you should know the difference between jail and prison because people confuse the two a lot. When you initially are charged with a crime and are taken into custody you are taken to the nearest county jail.  After you are seen by a judge and depending on what crimes, what sentencing you get and where the crimes were committed – you either spend your time at that initial facility, or you are moved closer to where the crimes were committed or are sent to prison. Jail is more of a temporary thing while prison can be up to life sentences.

I’ve spent almost 2 years in jail concurrent and almost 2 years in prison consecutive. All for crimes and offenses committed within a 2 year period of my life when I turned to street drugs over pharmaceuticals because of my back pain and 2 surgeries.

Drugs turned me into a person that I myself would not recognize but my eating habits remained the same as far as what I ate… it was just far less frequent during drug use.

I am a vegetarian (ovo-lacto) and have been since I was pregnant with my first born 25 years ago.  That means I eat no meat or meat bi products but I eat eggs and milk as long as they are cooked into things beyond recognition (muffins as opposed to French toast or scrambled eggs). I choose not to eat anything that comes from the ocean because it makes me go “eww, gross”.

If you can imagine, jails and prisons are not exactly accommodating. The sectioned off food trays consist of what makes up to a state imposed desired caloric amount while attempting to touch on food groups-ish. So a meat like substance (Salt Lake County jail in Utah has a “meat loaf” that is referred to as a “rhino ball” and I’ll leave that up to your imagination as to why), with some sort of mushy, watery vegetable or “fruit” along with ALWAYS a slab of bread substance (sheet bread cut into squares usually) and possibly a dessert substance (a slightly sweeter sheet cake bread substance cut into squares) called “cake”. The “salad” you get whipped consist of various strange varieties of soggy, wilting lettuce with a version of Italian or French dressing usually.

You get a lot of “corn bread” which does taste like corn bread in just the slightest way,  but does leave a lot to be desired.  There is always a slab of butter scraped onto the tray somewhere, and you get a liquid substance called “juice” (0% fruit juice) that resembles Kool-Aid for lunch and dinner, but milk with breakfast. The “juice”, bread, and butter are there to help hit that required caloric amount, I believe.

Breakfast consists of “cakes and flakes” pancake shaped bread bricks, and corn flakes or oatmeal or grits. I literally broke a tooth on a “pancake” once there, so that might explain just how great they are.

Some people might say, “Well you’re in jail – you shouldn’t expect the food to be great”… indeed, you would have a point… but try being on the other side of that statement when, in general, you believe that you are a good person, but you made huge mistakes… You still need to eat and trust and believe when you come down off of drugs in a jail cell the one thing you’re going to need… is food. It can be argued all day long and the food is generally ample to sustain life for periods of time but it is exactly what you would expect to eat if you were behind bars.

Commissary (items you can purchase from your jail inmate account if there is money on your books) is a totally different story and I’ll get into that another time.

Prison food and jail food differ as well,  reason being is that, as I stated earlier, people in prison are generally doing more time so there are more options. I was always told while in jail that if I was going to do large amounts of time, that I should do it in prison because the food is way better.

They were right.  Meals at the Draper prison were better. Also, more women were on self imposed diets to lose weight or had massive amounts of commissary foods so they were more willing to share the prison given food with others. On a lucky day, if you were starving, someone would give you their whole tray.

The women there had meal calendars to keep track of all of the options. You would get those trial sized boxes of cereal or a pack of microwaveable pancakes or waffles and a thing of syrup like the ones on the table at restaurants.  There were hard boiled eggs and actual fruit! There was still always bread but this time it was actual bread slices with a wheat or white option (still very thin and very dehydrated from being frozen and thawed) and you got 2 slices with every meal. There were days I ate a whole loaf of bread and virtually nothing else.

The lunches and dinners were varied with things like tuna casserole, mixed vegetables, always a bag of chips and cookies or snack treats like Little Debbie snacks. On holidays, there were actually grilled hamburgers and hot dogs with buns and chips and potato salad or green salad.

After I had been at the prison for about 2 months, someone told me you could request a “vegetarian tray”. This was after almost 2 months of starving and begging everyone and anyone for the bread that they weren’t eating and living solely off of that.  It took 2 days to get the form and 3 weeks after I turned it in to finally receive the special “diet” tray but the day it came I’ll never forget.

It had a veggie patty instead of the meat and for once in a very long time – I was full after the meal and i didn’t have to beg anyone for extra food. I was so relieved and I can’t tell you how much better you sleep at night when you aren’t literally starving to death.

I got used to this and started to think that maybe I could survive the 2 years I had left and then one morning it happened. My name was called and I was told to “roll up” (gather any and all items that didn’t belong specifically to the prison or jail) and head to the gate house.

I was “farmed out” (due to overcrowding of the prisons, they contract with some of the county jails to house prison inmates along side the jail inmates because jails have more room due to there being 1 prison and many jails per state).

Seriously? Go from the jail to the prison back to jail? Holy unfair. One of my first thoughts was of starving due to lack of my special diet tray I had become accustomed to.

I was sent to a tiny little jail in the middle of nowhere… or as others refer to it as Cache County jail. No special diet tray. Back to begging for bread scraps. Eventually I was transferred to a slightly larger facility, Davis County jail and heard they had something similar to a veggie tray called “kosher” diet tray. Growing up in a predominantly Mormon state in a predominantly Mormon family, kosher wasn’t fully understood by my brain, but due to my starving belly, I decided to try and get it anyways.

I put my request in and I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally 5 1/2 weeks later I was called out of the pod around lunch time and an officer met me outside the pod door with what I could see was my request for a kosher meal form. I got excited too soon because the first thing he did was ask if i was Jewish. Criminal brain switched on and I answered him stating that “No, but I’m considering it.” He countered with the question “So you know things about the Jewish faith?” “Um, sure.” I replied.

He stated that if I could answer ONE question about it then I could receive the tray. Ok, I thought. I can usually BS my way out of anything.

“What book or books of the bible does the Jewish faith study?” Mathematically, I was screwed. There were too many possible answers and no way to pretend or actually guess the answer. “Uh, Revelations?” I said because it was the only ‘Book of’ that came to my mind.

Nope. My quest to not starve to death was just ruined by my lack of knowledge of the Jewish religion.

Answer: Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Never in a million years could I have guessed that answer. So for the rest of my stays in county jails and then back to the prison, I received a regular tray and had to beg, trade and barter food with people. I also started studying the Jewish religion and I’m grateful for the knowledge because I’m not sure I would have had the interest if it were not for this experience.

My advice to vegetarians… stay out of jail and prison. So, that’s actually my advice to everyone – but especially vegans and vegetarians.

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