In the New York Times Magazine, Jon Mooallem follows two ex-convicts who pick up inmates the day they are released and help then navigate through their first day of freedom, which can be unnerving if they’ve been behind bars for more than a decade.
Three of these pieces look at what mealtime is like on the inside, from an examination of chow hall food to stories of inmates’ ad-hoc cell-made meals to an in-depth look at a commissary food that’s both dietary supplement and currency for thousands of inmates. A fourth adds a different dimension, revealing how some of the foods on our own tables are the product of prison labor.
In a perverse tribute to human endeavor, solitary confinement began as a reform. Thinkers in Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries imagined that it might be possible to induce criminals to change from within, especially if they could be kept isolated from one another and from the corruptions of the outside world. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s famous design for a Panopticon—a circular prison with a central “inspection house” that allowed authorities to look into any cell at any time—was predicated on the idea that the prisoner under constant surveillance would internalize authority’s gaze, and cease misbehaving.