Food Reviews from Behind Bars: Everthing Else
I arrived at the Political Security Prison late at night so my first meal was breakfast. Before my imprisonment, I had discussions with former prisoners about how it was in jail, so there was some mental preparation for what was to come. I remember the words of one of the shuyukh who had been to this same prison. He said the food was so horrible, so I was expecting the worst. Early in the morning, while all the prisoners where asleep, I began hearing the opening of the doors and soldiers screaming at prisoners to pick up their meals. It was my turn and I was already awake. They opened my door and there were two soldiers, one holding a bucket and the other dragging a sack full of kudam. The one with the bucket took my plate and poured in it a cupful of steaming pinto beans while the other handed me six kudam. Before my imprisonment, former prisoners had specifically told me how horrible the beans were, so that was what I was expecting. But, to my surprise, the beans just tasted wonderful!
I have never bean a fan of beans. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t eat them. But somehow now I was very pleased that I would be served such wonderful food! The beans where served in a spicy tomato sauce with bits of chili pepper. The fact that they were serving them out of buckets that where identical to the ones we used in the restrooms (although they were not the same ones) was not really appetizing, but in jail one is not particular about such trivialities. However it happened once that the food bucket was not cleaned so the soldier just picked up a restroom bucket instead and served us our meal out of it.
So far I was happy; then came lunch. Now there were two soldiers carrying two buckets, one had rice the other had a vegetable stew. The rice was brownish in color so it must have been cooked with some stew in it, and to my surprise there was cardamon, cloves, and bits of cinnamon mixed with it. Because many readers of this blog may be brothers and sisters who are used to eating basmati rice, I want to note here that this was no basmati rice. This was a very bad quality rice that either came from the US or Egypt or some other country that produces rice that is short and fat and totally out of shape, rather than the tall and slim basmati.
The vegetable stew was mostly potato with some squash, tomato, okra, and carrots thrown in. It had possibly been cooked with chicken that had been taken out to be served to the wardens because I once discovered a small piece of chicken meat in it.
Again, under normal circumstances I would not have had the appetite to eat such a meal but probably because I had such low expectations, the food was appealing to me. Dinner was identical to breakfast.
The next day we where served kidney beans for breakfast and dinner. The following fava beans and the following lentils. This carried on for a while but after that we would be served mostly pinto beans while kidney beans and fava beans only once in a while. Lentils disappeared forever. For lunch we were served rice and stew for eternity.
After a few weeks I began to feel the same as every other prisoner I had met; this food stinks. Alhamdulillah, by then I was allowed to purchase some food items from outside such as yogurt, fruit, and tuna. I was also allowed to get hot food from home twice a week. However the prison administration would use this as a method to pressure prisoners. Under the pretext of searching our food for contraband items I would sometimes receive my food in an inedible state. They once mashed together my rice, chocolate cake and salad and then poured over it a package of cranberry juice. Even the guard who delivered the meal to me was saddened by the state of my food. I waited an entire week to receive some proper food from my family and then this is what I got. The issue here is not only that this is proper food served from one’s home, but it is also the memory of one’s family that he misses. It is the house where the food was cooked and the hands that cooked it. So for them to mess with it in such a way, is a violation of one’s sanctity and what the prisoner holds dear. What was even worse is that my family was being told that I was allowed to have food from home twice a week and then they stole that food altogether for a period of over two months because they claimed that I was uncooperative with the investigators. I made an issue out of it and eventually I would receive my food and they would search it without mixing the different items together. However, this improvement only came when I moved from my underground cell to the ground floor.
On the ground floor there was another major improvement; each wing had access to an electric boiler. This allowed us to make tea, coffee and Indomie noodles (instant noodles).
The best treat was at Eid. For each Eid we would be served beef for lunch for three days. Because this was such a monumental change in prison diet, prisoners would talk about this for weeks before and after Eid. All of this makes me wonder how we have taken for granted all that Allah has blessed us with.
O Allah we thank you and praise you for all that you have given us. O Allah we ask you to make us from your grateful servants.