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Crates of spoiled lettuce, concept prison food
Photo by Lucas Ninno on iStock

I’m getting skinny —
maybe it’s from not eating the food
or possibly — from the food eating me.
Succumbing to chicken patties
where the meat resembles plastic,
abandoning the prison’s staple dish, bologna
that burns the stomach like acid,
making my intestines twist in tight little knots,
sharp pains — that feel like something may erupt
or burst inside me.
With no recollection of the last time I had a
whole fruit or vegetable
other than apples and tomatoes,
with dreams of eating bananas and mangos.
98 percent of food is processed
and toxic to digest.
I was informed not to eat the lettuce
because they were subjected to mice piss.
Rat poop, roaches and flies infest the sugar-laden cakes.
Forewarned not to eat
no matter how good it looks or taste,
no wonder cancer is running rampant in this place.
I’m suffering malnutrition
because this prison food doesn’t nourish —
maybe it was designed that way
so certain people wouldn’t flourish.
Some people tell me to be grateful because
there’s people in other countries with a lot less,
but dying of starvation or food-related health problems
both equal an unfortunate death.
I drink the water with caution
because even that is suspect.
Our menus state most of the food is hazardous
so I’m almost forced daily to ingest a biological threat.
I wish I could tell you I was lying
or just simply exaggerating,
but here it is.
I’m this type of political prisoner
every day — ducking a dietary assassination.
I’m getting skinnier —
some argue that it’s because the portions are too small.
But after recognizing the dangers of this stuff disguised as food,
smaller portions are somewhat of a blessing after all.
On Thanksgiving the turkey was pink
and the meat
looked like something you study in biology class.
Of course I couldn’t eat the main course;
I easily decided to pass,
because I’m trying not to die in jail.
I wanna be healthy — and free
with no high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes.
Or cancer, like so many
after eating this garbage for so many years.
And now I pray for the suffering victims
that have been told they’re dying while in pain and tears.

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.

Jamil Ruffin is a poet incarcerated in Maryland.