HEALTH IS WEALTH: Or, “I can make Curry Chicken with Rice & Beans better’n anybody in here!”

[In which the Library does its humble part for Health Awareness Month, remembering to change the genuine HP color Inkjet cartridge several times in the process….]

At Norfolk, April has been designated as Health Awareness Month. The Library has been directed to participate by creating a display of health material and health-related posters. We also have contributed 30 health-related DVDS/videos  to the Library cable channel, one health-related film per day for the entire month.

We created the display yesterday evening between 6PM-8:30PM, using 50 books, eight ready-made posters, and 12 health-related  internet images found using Google Images. That’s where the color Inkjet cartridges come in. Well, it takes a lot of ink to create these images, especially when you use Paint to print out nine, 12, or 16 8.5″ x 11″ pages which you then have to trim and tape together to make a decent-sized poster.  The Microsoft Paint program is useful when you need to print out multi-page poster-size images, and we use this each month when it comes time to change the theme in our display cases.

This became one of our centerpieces:

We created (6) displays: Laughter is the Best Medicine,; Sneezes Spread Diseases; Health Around the World; AIDS/HIV Awareness; Men’s Health; and Mental Health Awareness.

These display cases are in the hallway leading past the Lending Library and continuing on to the staircase that takes you to the second floor School Department.

Approximately 300 people will pass these cases in the course of a week. Few will stop and look at what my clerks have created.

But I’ve noticed that the ones who will are also the ones who will stop in the Library and give compliments. Last night, about 5 minutes after we completed the displays, 15 minute movement period was called, and the inmates who were attending classes upstairs were released. One of them came into the Lending Library and said “Bill! Who put that nice display together in the hallway?” I pointed to one of my clerks, the man who creates the displays each month. “Well I just wanted to tell you how nice it makes the hallway look.” We thanked the guy, and he went away.

Years ago, I used to say this was a thankless job. Then, I learned to pay attention to the “Thank-you’s.”

One new aspect of Health Awareness Month for this year is that the Administration is holding a recipe contest. One of my clerks, a latino from Philadelphia, and a cook on the streets, feels more than up to the challenge. “Give me the ingredients I need, and I’ll win that contest hands-down,” he boasts with a smile. “Nothing better than a plate of rice and beans on a cold Spring day. And it’s healthy eating, too.”

A cook-off in jail. This is how corrections chooses to emphasize health awareness in 2012. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Be well.






5 thoughts on “HEALTH IS WEALTH: Or, “I can make Curry Chicken with Rice & Beans better’n anybody in here!”

  1. It’s interesting that the inmate had to ask for ingredients to make a healthy meal. I realize there are huge budget constraints, but I would think that having prisoners eat healthy meals would be part of the rehabilitation. I’ve seen prison menus- nothing at all healthy about them. Are there books on gardening and can inmates grow their own fresh food if they choose? I know there are some experimental programs around this concept….

    • Prison food is hit/miss. I can say this because I eat it. And I’m talking about “eating off the line,” meaning the food prepared for prisoners, and not eating the food prepared for staff through our Culinary Arts program. Some line meals are decent; some (like the ‘turkey baloney’) are not.

      Regarding the healthfulness of the food, the correctional concept invoked here is “Nutritionally adequate.” All corrections must show is that the ingredients and portions provided meet a prisoner’s daily need for proper nutrition. If that can be proven, then corrections meets its mandate. That “Nutritionally adequate” directive is from the Courts, by the way.

      I believe that food preparation for prisoners has political considerations. Departments of Correction want to avoid an irate public up in arms that convicted felons are being given (at taxpayer expense) the best food available. Keep in mind that corrections must balance their self-imposed mandate of re-entry, re-integration, socialization and rehabilitation with the prevailing political winds and legitimate penological objectives (it’s a wonder ANYTHING gets done….)

      You’re correct about the experimental gardening programs. Norfolk had one when I got there in 1991. It was withdrawn because of legitimate penological objectives. Prisoners were discovered:

      • Growing marijuana;
      • Growing chiles and using them to assault officers;
      • Strong-arming gardeners for their produce

      And–ultimately–some gardening tools came up missing.

      Currently, the gardening program is back online (corrections is cyclical, and the longer you’re in the organization, you can see these cycles play out). The Norfolk library offers a few gardening texts, but not many, since gardening plots are necessarily limited. In other words, only a small percentage of the population participates in the program at once, and the Library has limited resources. The Librarian attempts to spend available monies on material that may be useful to the greatest number of people. Prisoners also may request this stuff through the interlibrary loan service.

      • I really liked this post. I think that it’s great that inmates are given an opportunity to be competitive in a healthy way.

        I have worked with a number of former inmates looking to re-enter the workforce and it always amazes me how surprised they are when I say things like “what a great idea” or other positive affirmations when we work on things that require some level of creativity. I’m not really sure how to change this, as I personally believe many negative beliefs are ingrained in individuals from such a young age.

  2. What wonderful parallels– food to food censorship– public library to the prison library–
    and the role of
    the prison librarian to the institution, the public,
    and the profession.

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