About a week after my cellie (roommate) turned 69, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations gave him a job working in the kitchen. Kitchen jobs are among the most contentious jobs in prison.
On one hand, for incarcerated people who lack financial support, these jobs are an excellent means for them to eat a little more (Each incarcerated person is fed on a budget of about $2 a day). Kitchen jobs are often very popular with struggling addicts as well, because kitchen jobs are among the easiest ways to steal or “hustle” in order to make extra income. Regardless of your ethics, stolen kitchen food is often the only source of fresh vegetables, raw eggs, or other items to supplement the poor diets we endure.
On the other hand, kitchen jobs produce tones of conflicts among their workers. What if my cellie is given an assignment that grants him access to raw sugar or fresh vegetables? The pressure from his peers to turn a blind eye or give potential theives even more direct assistance will be enormous.
There is one other consideration though. My cellie is about 18 months away from his initial parole board hearing. To prepare, he is currently in a substance abuse class, an anger management class, taking college courses, and a writing class. His new kitchen job conflicts with his self-help schedule, so he will have to drop most of these classes.
If he refuses the kitchen job, he will most likely face disciplinary action and lose his chance at parole. If he doesn’t complete the self-help groups, the parole board could easily determine that he remains a threat to public safety and deny him release.
In a perfect world, my cellie could go to the assignments office, cite his age, and the importance of the work he is doing to prepare for potential release next year and be unassigned from his new job. But littered throughout the CDCR, there are several career officers who are not really on board with “rehabilitation” as a priority. The person who assigned him to the job simply has to state that my cellie’s job in the kitchen is important for the functioning of the prison and that assertion will take precedence over anything that is in my cellie’s best interests.
At this point, my cellie has only one option to get out of this dilemma; decades ago while he was struggling with his addiction, he contracted Hepatitis-C, and it is against the health and safety codes for him to work in food services. The bureaucracy gives, the bureaucracy takes away.
By James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10
James King is a writer. Some of his influences are James Baldwin, Angela Davis, his hometown of Ferguson, Mo, and that all oppression must be eradicated. He writes to introduce marginalized perspectives, and he writes to feel whole. Read more about James.