By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Adult detention centers in Maryland, Virginia, and New York — just to name a few — are using prisoner palates to curb bad behavior. Now New Mexico can be added to the list.
Following a suggestion from the prison kitchen manager, Curry County Adult Detention Center Administrator Don Burdine agreed to try out the system: If inmates throw their food, a common problem at the center, according to officials, they could be served what has come to be known as the prison loaf — that day’s meal ground up, floured, baked and served in a bread-like form.
“I ate one,” said Burdine, who tried out the “prison loaf” before agreeing to serve it to prisoners. “It really wasn’t that bad. It kind of tasted like a carrot loaf with fish in it. It wasn’t unpleasant — honestly. It’s more psychological. Some people tend to value food based on texture and appearance. If you are one of those people, then it would be unpleasant.”
The Curry County version of the prison loaf, said Burdine, is derived from the same foods served to inmates in whole form on a daily basis. Therefore, it holds the same nutritional value as a regular prison meal, which Burdine describes as similar to hospital cafeteria food; some common side dishes, mashed potatoes and pudding. The advantage to the loaf form, Burdine said, “it can’t make as big a mess.”
The center has used the prison loaf once, Burdine said, in response to a prisoner who threw his food after being moved to the prison’s new maximum security area, the Annex.
For Janie Pena, the prison loaf is not an appropriate form of punishment. Pena is the mother of an inmate who has landed in the county jail more than once. Despite her son’s consistently bad behavior, her reaction to the punishment trend is vehement: “Dogs deserve better than that,” she said.
“It’s OK for them to be punished,” said Pena from outside the detention center, where she waited to visit her son. “But not with food. They are not dogs, even dogs deserve better than that. Punish them another way — maybe don’t let them have visits — but not with food.”
In his nine-year career, assistant jail director Larry Sanders estimates he has had “about two dozen” plates of food thrown at him.
“It (the loaf) might have them realize that maybe they should go ahead and eat lunch instead of throwing it,” Sanders said.
The food attacks, say Burdine and Sanders, are one way for inmates to express frustration and anger at certain officers and situations.
“Inmates tend to be like spoiled kids. When they don’t get their way, they try to create a disturbance any way they can,” said Burdine from his office.