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This story begins more than 20 years ago when I first entered prison. I learned the rules of the mob in prison before I learned the rules of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DCO). Life in prison is never a cakewalk, but one thing we’ve learned is how to cook homemade prison food.

The food we make in prison is the closest we will get to homemade food. In Menard Correctional Center and in Stateville Correctional Center where I’ve been for the last 18 years, there are a variety of foods that we make. You wouldn’t believe the methods we use to cook and prepare these foods, but they are some of the best meals in prison I’ve ever tasted.

These meals include tacos, pizzas, burritos, tamales, nachos, breakfast wraps and many other foods. We also prepare and make desserts like cakes, pies, pudding, cookies, etc.

I really didn’t like preparing and cooking prison food until I landed in a cell with my former cellie named Drip, who was a master of cooking jail food. He taught me how to become a prison chef.

Drip taught me how to cook all kinds of meals. Salmon patties, pizzas, pizza puffs, burritos, spicy chili and many other great dishes.

My favorite meal to make is pizza. Everyone loves my version of pizza. We used to cook the pizza by preparing it and cooking it by burning milk cartons and heating up the metal bunk. But the institution banned fire along with cigarettes, so we had to find alternative ways of cooking our food.

One way we found was to use a stinger. A stinger is a device made with an extension cord. This is made by cutting the outlet sockets off and putting metal pieces like fingernail clippers on the wires and putting a state toothbrush between them so they don’t touch. Tie a string around it really tight. Get a gallon milk jug and cut it in half. Clean it and pour water in it. Maybe a half a tablespoon of salt. Place some metal pieces in the water and plug it to an outlet and the water will boil.

We also had to find alternative ways to cook pizza. We use crackers to make the pizza crust. Depending on how big you want your crust, this will determine how many sleeves of crackers you’ll need.

As far as how we actually cook the pizza, I learned through trial and error. But the way I figured it out was to place the half-cut gallon milk carton of water and salt in a garbage bag (clean or new of course). Put the stinger in the water, plug it in. Wait until the water boils and put the pizza inside, tie the bag tight, and the steam cooks the pizza.

Ingredients

1 sleeve of saltine crackers
½ sleeve of graham crackers
4 oz of water
5 oz of shredded chicken breast
5 oz of shredded beef
½ a tablespoon of garlic powder
½ of a tablespoon of lemon pepper
½ of a tablespoon of minced onion
3 oz of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce
4 slices of American cheese
1 onion (as desired)
1 bell pepper (as desired)
1 5-ounce summer sausage

Cooking directions:

Dump graham crackers and saltines on a clean surface. Crumble the crackers, add water and knead until the crumbles are flat and roll out to your desired size. Place the dough on a cut out plastic sheet a few inches larger than your dough. Place the dough in a bag and seal it.

Next, take your seasoning and season your chicken and beef. Chop up your summer sausage. Also chop up your onion and bell pepper.

To heat up the meat, place it in a resealable bag and place that in the jug and stinger contraption. Let the meat sit for about 10 minutes.

Get your dough out and spread your sauce over the dough. Spread the mixed meats over the dough. Sprinkle the onions and bell peppers over the meat. Put your cheese slices over the meat.

Place the pizza on a small 16-inch fan top. Place that top on top of the jug stinger contraption and let the water boil. Once the water starts to boil, place the contraption in a garbage bag. Tie the bag closed. It’s going to inflate like a balloon. Let stand for 20 to 25 minutes. Take out the pizza, let sit for a few minutes to cool and serve.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Flynard Miller

Flynard Miller is a writer and a student at Northwestern Prison Education Program at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois.