June 1, 2002 -- Vegparadise News Bureau
Vegetarian Food Goes to Jail
A vegetarian meal--is it the ideal tool for punishment? Or is it, perhaps, quite the opposite, an anticipated pleasure? While one prison warden views a vegetarian meal as punishment for aggressive behavior, another has achieved remarkable results in rehabilitating inmates with vegan foods.
At the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore unruly prisoners are served a "special management meal." As reported by Scott Simon on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday (April 6), the meal consists of a one pound loaf that "smells a little bit like the food they serve in the elephant cage at the National Zoo." Simon tasted the concoction and described it as "blander than bland."
The Victor Valley Medium Correctional Facility in Adelanto, California is miles apart from the Maryland prison, not only in distance but also in the philosophy toward their 550 prisoners and their diet that includes vegan meals for approximately half of the inmates.
When new inmates arrive at Adelanto, they attend an orientation that describes two distinct programs. One option is the traditional program followed by most correctional facilities. The other, the NEWSTART Program, focuses on vegan meals, bible study classes, an anger management program, job training, and psychological counseling. Those who choose the NEWSTART Program must commit to participating in the entire program.
The prison has two dining halls and two feeding lines with all food made in one kitchen. Breads and rolls are made in the prison bakery. Those 50 to 60% selecting the NEWSTART Program are fed a vegan diet, except for the weekend when desserts such as cakes or puddings with milk and eggs are brought in. These inmates receive no meat, fish, chicken, dairy products, eggs, or sugar with their weekday meals. Because of budget limitations, it was necessary to deviate from the vegan meal program on weekends.
How do the prisoners react to the vegan meals? "They even tell us how tasty the vegan food is," says Doug Anglen, director of food service. " They really like it."
In contrast, Maryland's Warden Thomas Corcoran told Simon the inmates don't like the prison loaf that's served to them three times a day for one whole week. The loaf is part of a plan to "discourage negative inmate behavior," says the warden.
If the prisoner curbs his aggressive tendencies, he returns to the regular prison food that mirrors the standard American diet loaded with animal protein and dairy products. In the two years the prison has followed the behavior modification program, assaults on prison staff have been cut by half. "The proof is in the loaf," says Warden Corcoran.
As the warden admits, the loaf sticks to nutritional guidelines and meets the needs of most special diets.
Studying the ingredients, VIP recognized a wholesome vegetarian dish that could be improved with a bit of seasoning. We also thought of turning the recipe over to our Aunt Nettie who could probably transform that prison loaf into some "purty tasting fixin's."
When we heard the warden describe the change in prison behavior, we thought about the question we posed to Dr. Neal Barnard in our 24 Carrot Award Interview http://www.vegparadise.com/24carrot44.html. We asked Dr. Barnard, "We often hear that vegetarians are less aggressive, calmer, more peaceful people. Is there any medical evidence to support this view?"
Dr. Barnard answered as follows:
Anglen echoed Dr. Barnard's comments about vegetarians on high fiber diets being less violent. The NEWSTART prisoners are housed together in one section of the building. "When there is a violent outbreak, 90% of the time it's on the non-vegetarian side of the facility," says Anglen. A vegan himself, Anglen says there are rare occurrences of violence on the vegan side of the prison.
"There is a noticeable difference in the personalities of the vegetarian inmates. They smile more, are fully racially integrated, attend religious classes and anger management classes eagerly," he told VIP. "Within 10 days the vegan inmates express improvement in how they feel."
Anglen detailed some of the health improvements of the vegan inmates. He described how diabetics were able to rid themselves of medications, a good number saw their skin conditions improved, many lost excess weight, and most felt more energetic.
Among the non-vegetarian inmates there is little mixing and more inter-racial fighting. When they are released, there is a 70 to 80% rate of recidivism. In the four years the prison has operated, only 30 to 40 of the NEWSTART inmates have returned. "We have a waiting list to get into the program," he says.
The Victor Valley Medium Correctional Facility is a privately owned prison that is operated by Maranatha Corrections, LLC under contract with the California Department of Corrections. Maranatha Corrections, LLC is owned by Terry Moreland whose Moreland Croporation was responsible for building the prison. Moreland, a Seventh Day Adventist, is a vegan.
VIP was able to obtain recipes from both of the correctional institutions.
SPECIAL MANAGEMENT MEAL (Prison Loaf)
These freeze well. Make a double recipe and freeze half to have ready to use for another time. Cool completely, wrap and freeze. When reheating, thaw and heat on a non-stick skillet.