Loaves give rise to good behavior

Discipline: A diet of flavorless, foul-smelling `bread' helps keep unruly inmates in line.

March 25, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Take a handful of dehydrated potato flakes. Mix with a quarter-pound of finely grated imitation cheese. Fold in 8 ounces of powdered skim milk, some raisins, raw carrots and tomato paste, add six slices of whole wheat bread, 2 cups of Great Northern beans and a can of spinach.

Knead it into the shape of a meatloaf and bake it. Forty-five minutes later, you've got a "special management meal" - one of the latest tools used by Maryland's prison wardens to keep inmates in line.

As brown and grainy as a bran muffin, the loaf tastes vaguely like the inside of a lima bean - but with less flavor.

"It smells kind of foul," says Michael N. Jackson, a Supermax inmate whose misbehavior has caused him to be put on the bread diet twice. "The first few days are the worst. I can't even describe it. It's awful."

That's the point, says Thomas R. Corcoran, warden of the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, known as Supermax. His prison has been a sort of test kitchen for what inmates call simply "the loaf" - served as breakfast, lunch and dinner to prisoners who run afoul of the rules.

"It's not supposed to gag anyone," Corcoran says, "but it's not supposed to be appealing either."

First used two years ago at Supermax, the recipe has in the past year been shared with wardens of maximum-security prisons across Maryland.

The loaf is reserved for the most unruly inmates, those who have not responded to being cut off from the Little Debbie snack cakes in the commissary.

Corcoran says he became worried after receiving a letter from an inmate who said he loved the bread. He rushed to the prison kitchen, concerned that the staff might be using the wrong recipe.

"I tasted it again," Corcoran said, smiling. "He got me."

Still, while describing how the meals are used, the warden didn't hesitate to spoon himself a sample.

"It's just bland," he said, swallowing. "I wouldn't want to eat it for three days, though. Then again, I like chicken, but I wouldn't want to eat it three days in a row either."

Prisoners must wash it down by scooping handfuls of water from the taps of the sinks in their cells. Cups and serving trays are considered a privilege in these circumstances.

Maryland is not the first state to use this modern variation on the medieval bread-and-water diet for prisoners. In various forms, they've been baked in prisons across the country for decades.

In California, inmates call it the "brick." In other places it's known as "Nutraloaf."

In Pennsylvania prisons, the "breakfast loaf" contains prunes, eggs, toast, hash browns, bacon and orange juice. And in Texas, misbehaving inmates are given "food loaf," a breadlike substance made up of the previous day's leftovers.

Maryland's Division of Correction approved the loaves for statewide use about a year ago, but only after tests determined that they were nutritionally complete.

The 1-pound loaves are low in fat and cholesterol, and meet or exceed daily requirements for calcium, vitamin C, iron and other essential vitamins and nutrients, says Richard G. West, director of food services for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"The ingredients are things you'd find in a well-balanced diet," West says.

Inmates are evaluated by prison medical and psychological staff while on the special diet, correctional officials say.

For most prisoners, the bread is perfectly healthy, DOC officials say. For diabetic inmates who need to eat more than three times a day, prison officials created the "snack loaf" - half the regular portion, served between meals.

Officials say the loaves have been prescribed dozens of times in the past year at six maximum- security facilities. They say statistics show that once the bread is added to a disciplinary menu, the staff doesn't need to serve it a lot.

"It's an immediate response" to dangerous inmate behavior, says Supermax security chief James Smith, who says correctional officers are authorized to place inmates on the meals for assaulting staff among other infractions.

"It's about empowering your staff," Corcoran says. "If they feel they don't have the tools to deal with these inmates, they come up with ways of their own. We need effective tools ... that are legal."

But some prisoners say they don't really mind the bread.

"Some of the inmates have to portray their macho image," said Lt. Tyrone Crowder, a veteran supervisor at Supermax. "Some actually say, `I like the loaf.' But those same inmates then write letters asking to get off it."

Special Management meal

6 slices whole wheat bread, finely chopped

4 ounces imitation cheese, finely grated

4 ounces raw carrots, finely grated

12 ounces spinch, canned, drained

4 ounces seedless raisins

2 cups Great Northern Beans, cooked and drained

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 ounces tomato paste

8 ounces milk, powdered nonfat/skim, instant dried

6 ounces potatoe flakes dehydrated

Mix all the ingredients together in a 12-quart mixing bowl. Make sure all wet items are drained. Mix until stiff, just moist enough to spread. Form three loaves in glazed bread pans. Place loaf pans in the oven on a sheet pan filled with water, to keep the bottom of the loaves from burning. Bake at 325 degrees in a convection oven for approximately 45 minues. The loaf will start to pull away from the sides of the bread pan when done.


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