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When I first entered prison in 1991, I began by eating meals prepared by friends. I eventually learned to prepare my own meals. One meal I learned to enjoy were burritos. I chose my own ingredients because I didn’t want to burden others. 

In the beginning, I attempted to substitute some of my grandmother’s recipes. I finally created my own recipe using ingredients that I could get from the commissary, which sells ramen noodles, sausages and other items as well as junk food. I didn’t include onions because I don’t like them. 

My second set of burritos I chose to share with my neighbors to get some feedback. They all loved my recipe and the ingredients, but they claimed it would have been much better with onions, etc. However, no one sent them back to me. This wasn’t so much about the burritos, but an opportunity to share a meal with my family of prison brothers and friends. I listened to the advice of others about some of the ingredients used by others.

We didn’t have access to microwaves or ovens, so we had to improvise. For example, when we mixed all of the ingredients and filled the tortilla shells, we put melted cheese on the edges to keep the burritos from opening while being heated. We then placed them in a potato chip bag with two or three burritos per each bag. We tied them on the heat pipe in the building for about 30 minutes and distributed them to the cells of people who had contributed. 

Sometimes, I will be fortunate enough to catch a kitchen worker who is selling real cheese like mozzarella, cheddar and American. I may even use a teaspoon of mayonnaise.

Sometimes, I will make foot-long burritos, which means spreading melted cheese over two separate tortilla shells and connecting them together. I wrap them lightly in plastic and let them boil as they swell.

I try different techniques, and some come out nice. Other techniques come out not so nice. I do enjoy cooking though. I try to make it taste as close to home cooking as possible.

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.

Leon Robinson is a writer and a student in the Northwestern Prison Education Program. He is incarcerated in Illinois.