Various “lockdown meals,” the food that incarcerated people have to eat day after day during prison lockdowns. (Brian Hindson)

A prison lockdown can occur for various reasons, and can last from just a few hours to the worst-case scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau of Prison’s policy, they have to give you a hot meal by the third day if at all possible (the emphasis is mine). If you’re lucky, you might get “bus meals,” which come in a small box, with the most common contents being bologna, drink mix, cookies (made in India), crackers, cheese (that will never melt; trust me, it’s been tried!), bread, and sometimes a package of peanut butter. 

Recently, we got lucky and started receiving hot lunches on the third day at our doors. In a medium or higher security institution, they’re brought to your cell. 

We’ve gotten our meals on styrofoam trays on and off through the pandemic whenever we have to eat in the unit, but bag meals are the most common way we receive meals under lockdown. There is not much difference in them among low, medium or high-security facilities. A few of the contents can vary, but not by much. 

Before we started getting the hot meals, we received bologna for lunch and dinner. Illustrated is a log of our meals as it occurred. 

In the prior three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), we were basically served the same breakfast with an occasional change in the type of fruit. The lunch and dinners were bag meals. Sometimes they threw in jelly with the peanut butter. There was usually plenty of bread, though you never knew if it would be white or wheat. 

Most guys try to keep some commissary items in their lockers for lockdowns, but it’s the repetitiveness of the food that gets to you. 

A lockdown also usually means no phone calls, no emails. We are suddenly cut off from friends and family. There is no recreation, and we can’t leave the unit except maybe to pick up a meal. There is no programming. 

But the biggest thing that gets to a person are the meals.

This story was originally published by the Prison Journalism Project, an online publication that is working to bring transparency to the world of mass incarceration from the inside, and training incarcerated writers to be journalists, so they can participate in the dialogue about criminal justice reform.

Brian Hindson is an artist whose favorite styles of work are impressionism and pop art. He particularly likes pop art for its audacity. His favorite artist is Edward Hopper. Brian is currently incarcerated in Texas.