Book Review: Prison food in America

Date01 September 2020
Published date01 September 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Mechanism of Resistance,” provide s brief background on Guantanamo Bay as a case study of
prisoner resistance through inmate’s refusal to eat and acts of protests. Murguı´a puts forth four
methods that inmates use as forms of resistance: (1) food as a bargaining tool and as a form of
currency for leverage, (2) food alteration to improve flavor, (3) food storage for later use, and (4)
refusal to eat followed by subsequent grievances such as hunger strikes.
The remaining three chapters build on Murguı´a’s methodological framework and complicate his
theory with three subtopics: bricolage, survival, and pleasure. “Bricolage,” the title of Chapter 5,
refers to an inmate’s ability to put several items together and create new mechanisms of resistance or
novel foods like Prison Ramen and hard candy out of Kool-Aid and hot sauce, as well as defense
mechanisms such as weapons out of plastic utensils and projectiles of feces and urine used against
correctional staff. According to Murguı´a, prisoners use bricolage to mentally overcome their con-
finement and illustrate their creativity. Chapter 6, “Survival,” focuses on the importance of food in
the correctional system and the substitution/manipulation of food for currency. The author contends
that food can be used as a manipulative tactic for prisoners to get what they want, is a form of trade
for other goods, and creates varying levels of power among prisoners. In sum, resistance is a form of
survival for inmates. Lastly, Chapter 7, “Pleasure,” is based on Murguı´a’s belief that food is
considered an amenity among certain prisoners and causes pleasure if the food is tasteful which
only occurs after bricolage. Pleasure is most witnessed during a death row inmate’s last meal which
is one of the only times that correctional administrators respect a prisoner’s wish for a tasteful and
pleasurable meal.
Murguı´a’s body of work is best suited for scholars of corrections and criminal justice policy as
well as advocates for prison reform. A weakness of the book is the repetition of food preparation
throughout, in particular, the several times that the author mentions and explains the institutional
“blast-chill method,” the use of hunger strikes to garner leverage and the significant impact that
hunger strikes have on an inmate’s health, and prisoners’ creativity when it comes to food prepara-
tion. A main strength of the book is that Murguı´a contributes to the field of corrections by juxtapos-
ing the politicization of food in jails and prisons with the social consequences of refusal and, at
times, the ramifications of acceptance of food by prisoners. Future research, in agreement with
Murguı´a, should focus on dietary intake information in the prison system. Indeed, measuring the
quantity of prison food can be objective if caloric quantification is utilized. The author contends that
further research should also ascertain why correctional administrators focus on food as the main
point of contention when there are many other ways to control prisoners. Is it because of the social
and psychological toll that the absence of food has on an individual or is there something more?
Lastly, future research can look at the effectiveness of nutritional programs such as farm to table
programs and the relationship between prison gardening programs and recidivism.
Camplin, E. (2017). Prison food in America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 139 pp. $38.00,
ISBN 978-1-4422-5347-6.
Reviewed by: Zoe Livengood, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818765264
The current literature on food in prisons is often speculative and focuses primarily on last meals or
prison food recipes. Few sources have included original research on the topic and relatively few
empirical studies exist. Although food is something central to American culture, food in a
382 Criminal Justice Review 45(3)

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