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Aramark delivery truck parked in front of concrete building
Photo by Bmarks13 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

This article was first published in September 2022 by Endeavor, a newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami, Florida. Aside from the headline, it appears as it was published and has not been edited by PJP.

Aramark recently took over food service operations in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), raising many concerns for the residents of Everglades Correctional Institution who remember services from year’s past.

The company is contracted for food service operations in over 450 correctional institutions in North America. Food service is only one of its many offerings under the banner of Aramark. They also make uniforms, operate canteens and provide care package services. Additionally, the company has services geared toward helping reduce recidivism through various means, including job training.

Residents are hard pressed to offer five-star reviews. That has been made very clear in preparing this 60 day review of food services in the hands of Aramark here at Everglades. The service offered here is a far cry from where Aramark is contracted to provide refreshments at big sports arenas or meals at conventions across the United States.

Several people were interviewed in an effort to parse out the good from the bad with an emphasis on before Aramark to now. Getting a single good comment out of anyone was bordering on unethical journalism. Even when the new incentivized items like salad, nachos, baked potato, and ice cream were referenced, it was suggested that they’re only doing those things because the state is making them do it. Of course, that is true., It is part of the contract only offered to residents of the incentivized program.

Some residents brought up smaller portion sizes, and others talked about food running out when the last dorm shows up to eat. There is a consensus that one good meal will be paid for by several bad meals to follow. And apparently no amount of ice cream can make up for some recent chili mac experiences, but tell that to the guys eating the religious diet meal (known as RDP) who lost the slim offerings of variety from their menu when Aramark took over.

Maybe those losses would be outweighed by ice cream if it were given to those on RDP, but even though the ice cream is kosher, it is not served to anyone on DRP. This prevents those who choose to eat according to religious beliefs from enjoying the benefits of the incentivized program which they earned to be part of through good behavior.

David Taub says it demoralizes his ability to keep kosher when he is denied a benefit provided to others who are participating in the incentivized program just as he is. “Why are kosher items being withheld from the kosher diet,” Taub asked.

Jack Kelly says Aramark could improve by simply putting out a menu so people will know when the ice cream and salads are being served. Some residents wanted to know what happened to the incentivized menu of pre-Aramark days. But overall the menu doesn’t do much good if the cooks are not trained or given what they need to make the meals what they are intended to be.

“Get the cooks to put some effort into it, and add just a little seasoning,” Staley Manker said.

Everglades Food Service Director, Mr. Valdes, said he has no plans to post a menu for when ice cream or other incentivized items will be served. This is because he often does not know when the special inventory will arrive at the institution.

Valdes says the ice cream will not be given to those on RDP because it is not part of that program, and being on that program is an individual’s choice.

If someone wants ice cream from Aramark they’ll just have to turn their back on RDP and eat the regular meal.

At the end of the day it boils down to all the parts working together perfectly, and even when that happens, not every meal will be suitable to the tastes of everybody. Could Aramark do more? Could the workers do better? Could the FDC spend more to get better? Yes, yes, and yes. Are things better today with Aramark than they were without them? That’s a matter of opinion, but many would say it’s about the same.

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.

Frank Morse is a self-taught portraitist, writer and public speaker who has been incarcerated since he was 23 years old. He is the president of the Draft Pick’s Gavel Club, an affiliate of Toastmasters International, staff writer for the Endeavor Newsletter, a prison publication at Everglades Correctional Institution, a peer facilitator in the Horizon Faith and Character Program dorm, and facilitator of the Art Expressions Program. He is incarcerated in Florida.