‘Inedible’ and ‘Inadequate’ Food Is Being Served to People Incarcerated in Massachusetts DOC Prisons


Dec 7 2020
Boston Eater
By Terrence Doyle

Incarcerated people, abolitionists, lawyers, and lawmakers paint a grim picture of the state of food inside the Commonwealth’s prison system, especially during the pandemic

COVID-19 infections are surging across Massachusettsespecially in prisons operated by the state’s Department of Correction (DOC). Since the beginning of November, hundreds of people incarcerated by the Massachusetts DOC — including at least 13 percent of the people incarcerated at Massachusetts Correctional Institution–Norfolk — have been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Because COVID-19 is highly transmittable among people who share close quarters, outbreaks in prisons are difficult to contain once they begin. For people incarcerated by the Massachusetts DOC, the specter of a deadly disease has been exacerbated by another health care justice issue: a lack of consistent access to nutritious food.

The quality of food served to people inside prisons operated by the Massachusetts DOC has deteriorated since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. Over the course of several months, Eater has corresponded with numerous people incarcerated by the Massachusetts DOC — both currently and formerly — as well as lawmakers, prison abolitionists, and defense attorneys about the food within the state’s prisons. Each source described instances of inadequate or inedible food — small portions, cold, moldy, slimy, spoiled — being served to the state’s incarcerated population.

“The food they’ve been eating, forget about it,” said Cassandra Bensahih, a prison abolitionist who works as a coordinator with Massachusetts Against Solitary Confinement and an organizer with Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network. “The [Massachusetts DOC] gets too much money to not be able to feed nutritious meals to incarcerated people. These cats are so greedy, I could just scream.”

Bensahih, who was formerly incarcerated at MCI–Framingham women’s prison, also emphasized that the quality of food inside prisons operated by the Massachusetts DOC was subpar before the onset of the pandemic.

“I was diagnosed as diabetic while incarcerated [at MCI–Framingham],” said Bensahih in an email. “On a visit to a doctor, I discovered that my thyroid was too large and that I was diabetic at the same time. I cannot say that this was caused by their poor diet; however, I can say the food was terrible, and the answer to better nutrition for people with diabetes was one apple and one peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a brown bag for the day.”

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