Abstract

This essay examines diet, institutional control, and prisoner resistance and explores ways of improving the treatment of inmates for whom food is often a form of punishment. It addresses four questions: How does food contribute to the “pains of imprisonment”? What traditional strategies do individual prisoners employ in an effort to regain a sense of agency, autonomy, and identity? How can prisons restore their rehabilitative function by involving inmates in the production and preparation of food? How might the field of folkloristics contribute to changing penal policy, practice, and culture? Data are drawn from news articles, legal and historical materials, prisoner memoirs, popular culture, and Internet resources. Although nearly 2.4 million men and women are incarcerated in the United States, few studies have been undertaken of their food and foodways or have examined the customs, narratives, and conventional wisdom of those behind bars. This essay contributes to the topic of prison provisioning and its problems and possible solutions, helping to fill the lacunae in penological research and expanding the realm of public sector advocacy in folklore studies.

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