The doors to the Chow Hall kitchen at Bastrop FSC open at 5:00 am Monday through Friday and 6:00am on weekends. First to arrive are the two cooks and the CO [correctional officer] in charge of the kitchen for the morning. I roll in at 5:30am on weekdays and 6:30am on Sunday. Invariably I’m greeted with “good afternoon” or “where the hell have you been?” or something unprintable, even though I arrive exactly when I’m supposed to every day.
While my job is now vegetable prep for all meals, I usually work with the morning crew which is the A Team. Theoretically I should have all my work done by noon when the afternoon B Team starts preparing for 3:00 pm dinner. With my new job, I’m responsible for preparing all the fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, pasta salad, potato salad and cole slaw. As I mentioned before, I have always just assumed all these things simply self-prepared. The morning crew complains that I’m slow, when they are not complaining about something else. I think of myself more as an artist, cutting each grapefruit and dicing each onion as an outward manifestation of an inner expression of peace and love.
In addition to two cooks, the morning crew consists of an orderly (my old job), two line servers and a “barista” who makes what few would call coffee, but can make decent water. While not in the kitchen, there is also a three-man dish room crew working a 5 hp disposal and a pre-Cold War Hobart dish washer. Both pieces of equipment work 75% of the time, seldom at the same time.
During a normal week, there will 4-5 different COs working different parts of the morning shift. They all have different, some polar opposite, rules. The inmates just roll with whomever is on duty, as it’s their real job.
The kitchen is well equipped, when the equipment is working, which is essentially never. The kettle was out of commission for months, as was one of the four ovens and one of our two warmers. All were miraculously repaired days before we had a program review from the Bureau of Prisons on December 8-10. In addition, again thanks to the review, we got new kitchen tools, trays, cups, pans, cutting boards and baking sheets.
The morning can sometimes get a little crazy, but we consistently serve food, often edible, on time for 185 inmates. I’m convinced that if we were a reality TV show, we would have a decent audience and we would make the Kardashians look like a Billy Graham Crusade. I would be the quiet character that no one would remember.