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Shortly after the supply chain issue became a hot topic in the mainstream news media, I noticed the meals served at this prison were changing. 

The sloppy joes, which usually come with a side of potato squares, were missing the squares. Instead, there was a pad of margarine and a high-fructose corn syrup jelly packet. When I inquired as to why we received these two items, the staff said it was “to meet the daily calorie count.” 

The biscuits and gravy were missing the biscuits. An apple burrito breakfast was missing the burrito, substituted again with margarine and a jelly packet. A meal of two silver dollar-sized pancakes came with no syrup. Instead we received scrambled eggs that looked like rubber. 

We have also been increasingly served breakfast or lunch “boats,” named for the cardboard container they come in. The breakfast boat consists of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bran bar, a muffin, cereal and powdered milk. Lunch consists of two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and a brownie. There is so much sugar that I feel sick after I eat.

About three weeks ago, two kitchen staff tested positive for COVID-19. All the prisoner kitchen workers were placed in quarantine and a call was made by the shift sergeant for prisoner volunteers to fill in for them.

I am currently housed in a mental health unit alongside prisoners with a variety of mental health issues. As far as I’ve seen, three of those who volunteered have only taken a shower once in the previous year, and they never turn in their laundry or clean their cells. One individual’s white T-shirt is entirely stained yellow with sweat. That image has helped with my new weight loss program. I just don’t eat the food.

Instead, I have been creating edible meals by combining items the prison serves us with ones purchased from the prison store and that come in the monthly food packages our families order for us from

Although many of these items have been unavailable lately, I recently received several bottles of non-refrigerated mayonnaise, packaged pulled pork, shredded beef and smoked cheddar cheese squares. 

On days that the prison serves us chopped lettuce (their version of salad) and tomato salad (tomatoes, green peppers and onions soaked in a vinegar and oil mix), I will soak the vegetables for several hours in my sink-toilet combo, draining and adding cold water every 15 minutes until clean and the oil and vinegar is mostly washed out. I individually wrap the lettuce and tomatoes in a plastic bag from the meal boats and place them by my window, using the cardboard boat as additional covering.

When I’m hungry, I slice the cheese, so it fully covers one of two slices of bread, (from the boat) and warm it on top of my hot pot. I spread a liberal amount of mayonnaise on each slice, take the pulled pork or shredded beef heated in the hot pot and put it on top of the cheese. I place the tomato slices evenly across the other slice of bread, covering it entirely. I top the sandwich off with lettuce and shake on some pepper before I enjoy it.

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.

Jeffrey McKee is a writer incarcerated in Washington.