Some Flavorful Culinary Tips For the White-Collar Criminal

Unfortunately for the pampered chief executive used to eating at nine-star restaurants, the moment he is incarcerated his dining options dwindle precipitously; in prison, CEO might as well stand for Can’t Eat Out. But here’s the good news: Adapting to eating in prison after years of living high off the hog — or, should I say, high off the shareholders — is not nearly so tough as most convicted CEOs expect it to be. In fact, if you take a step back for a moment, the similarities between expense account dining and prison dining are both numerous and startling.

In prison, as in the corporate world, you never have to make your own reservations, you never have to pay for your meals, and you never have to wait to be seated — in fact, if you dawdle even for a moment the guards are likely to hit you. And what about the legendary scenes of prison cafeteria violence so luridly portrayed in Hollywood prison movies? In actuality, these eruptions, while frequent, pale in comparison to the far more violent melee that occurs when a maitre d’ in New York or Los Angeles fails to recognize a combustible movie executive and gives him an undesirable table near the kitchen or Steven Seagal.

Navigating the mysterious world of dining behind bars is no different from figuring out where to eat in a strange new city you’re visiting for the first time. I’m sure you can recall the many times you landed in a foreign capital to sell some local bankers on some tax-dodging currency-trading scheme of yours — even if, at your trial, you said you couldn’t recall doing any of this. How did you decide where to eat in those places you’d never been before? Simple: Your assistant probably flipped through a Zagat guide, chose the most overpriced restaurant in town, and you were off to the races.

Unfortunately, even though Zagat’s most loyal readers — executives with grotesquely bloated expense accounts — are now headed for the pokey, Zagat has not yet stepped up to the plate and issued a dining guide to our nation’s penitentiaries. In an attempt to fill this regrettable void, I decided to create such a guide myself, using survey questionnaires filled out by thousands of experts in the world of fine prison dining — convicted CEOs like me. Here, then, is my very own Zagat guide to the top five prisons in America, rated by food, décor, service, and overall dining experience:

  • U.S. Penitentiary Marion (Marion, Illinois)

Surveyors rave about this “low security facility with high quality cuisine” which, despite recent challenges from innovative prison chefs elsewhere in the Federal system, remains the gold standard for prison food everywhere. While some inmates say that the food “doesn’t live up to the hype,” most surveyors agree that the main courses “taste better than they look” and “rarely make you ill”; still, Marion’s detractors say the food’s “not worth getting stabbed on line for.”

  • U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth (Leavenworth, Kansas)

“You won’t want to be paroled” after tasting the sumptuous meals at this old heartland favorite, which recently changed chefs when its former cook was sidelined in a mysterious scalding accident. With desserts that “you can usually keep down,” it’s no wonder that surveyors rate Leavenworth the one prison “you’d want to break into, not out of.”

  • Federal Correctional Institution Butner (Butner, North Carolina)

If you can “get past the name,” you’ll want to “strap on the feedbag” at legend-in-the-making Butner, where the food is generally “edible”, if not always “identifiable.” Inmates say “you won’t want to miss these meals” even if your “teeth” have been “knocked out,” making it “difficult” to “eat.” Some surveyors complained about poultry dishes that “even the Birdman of Alcatraz wouldn’t recognize as chicken,” while others said the kitchen suffered from a combination of “disinterest and dysentery;” still, most inmates agree that if you are locked up at Butner, this is “the only place to eat.”

  • U.S. Penitentiary Lompoc (Lompoc, California)

Johnny Cash “wouldn’t have been singing the blues” if he’d been stuck in Lompoc, say surveyors who call the meals here “rarely lethal.” Despite the generally passable food ratings, some surveyors complain that the service ranges from “leisurely” to “downright hostile,” and warn inmates not to linger too long over their slop.

  • U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute (Terre Haute, Indiana)

Home to a number of inmates on Federal death row, the storied kitchen at Terre Haute has more than its share of “tough customers” who, when it comes to their last meals, can be as “finicky as Morris the Cat.” Still, the USP Terre Haute chef manages to produce “amazing” made-to-order meals for this notoriously “hard-to-please” group, with such special requests as “tender” Porterhouse steak, “exquisite” French fries, and chocolate pudding that is literally “to die for;” in the words of one satisfied surveyor, “you’ll wish your last meal wasn’t.”

By Andy Borowitz

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