Prison is a scary place. A dark place full of violence, drugs and manipulation. It’s a place where your life can go to hell fast. But there is one thing that I dread much more than any of that.
I didn’t always fear the classic breakfast food. That’s something I attribute to my prison experience, where a cherished childhood meal and memory has turned into a daily nightmare.
Growing up, my mom would wake me for school at the crack of dawn. She would tell me to get up and eat breakfast. I always protested, and always relented, skipping teeth-brushing to eat breakfast as soon as possible.
Mom served our food on paper plates (when you have four kids, it’s logical). Each morning, I’d gobble down a meal of buttered toast, little sausages, fluffy scrambled eggs and a big glass of milk. I can still smell the toast and sausages. I would always put Tabasco sauce on my eggs, and my dad would get mad at me and say, “That’s mine.”
Back then, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to go to school on a full stomach. Even when I was older and would get breakfast with friends after a long night, I would order the same food my mom used to make.
When I first got the “Grand Slam” tray in prison, I thought, “Hell yes!” Two soft pancakes with a packet of California Prison Industry Authority syrup, a little sausage, scrambled eggs and a small, cold carton of milk. I used to look forward to this breakfast every Sunday.
Other times, trays consisted of cereal, beans, yogurt or coffee cake, but there was always scrambled eggs. Even in prison, the eggs reminded me of my mom.
But as time passed, the trays became increasingly pathetic. They still always included scrambled eggs, but the poor taste of the eggs overpowered my nostalgia. The ritual of scrambled eggs for breakfast was sullied.
In prison, the administration tries to jazz up the scrambled eggs. Sometimes they add bell peppers or some kind of meat they’ve referred to as chorizo. Often they add onions that make the eggs smell terrible. No matter the recipe, scrambled eggs always taste like dirty prison water.
For years, I ate prison scrambled eggs, powered by ritual, memories and hunger. Now I just throw them in the trash.
Over the last six years, many things have changed in the California prison system. Prison sentence structures have been reformed. Electronic tablets are now filled with music and movies. The state has strengthened protections for LGBTQ people. And we now get 75 minutes of free phone time every two weeks.
But one thing has stayed the same. It will never change no matter how much they try to cloak it with disguises. Scrambled eggs are here to punish me. I am forced to look at them every morning, knowing tomorrow will be the same. They are a constant reminder of how prison breaks you down.
Now, when I think back to those mornings with my family at the kitchen table, the smell of little sausages filling the house, a glass of milk too big for my tiny hands, and the paper plate with mom’s fluffy scrambled eggs on it, I gag.
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.