StefanieKaufmann / Flickr prison...
StefanieKaufmann / Flickr

This, from multiple outlets, threatens to be the dumbest federal shutdown take yet put forth by a major news organization. Some inmates at federal prisons ate steak as a holiday meal, even though their guards weren’t getting paid. In an interview, Joe Rojas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 506 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida, told NBC News that “some inmates mocked demoralized prison staffers while feasting on a New Year’s Day lunch of grilled steak, garlic macaroni biscuits and assorted holiday pies.”

The entire story is premised on this single grievance: Prisoners were still given their customary “special” New Year’s Day meal despite the federal shutdown screwing those that feed and guard them out of their much-needed paychecks. And yes, yes, that is a thing that happens, during a shutdown. Mentioned only in passing is that those meals were planned and the food ordered before the shutdown; no one quoted in the story appears to suggest that the food instead be thrown away or prepared extra badly out of spite, suggesting that no matter how much grousing there is about the notion of inmates getting a single holiday meal even though it makes their unpaid guards sad, nobody really thinks a damn thing should be done about it other than reopening the government so that the guards do get paid.

And if we’re going to base a story on trained, professional guards who report that federal prison inmates “mocked” them in uncouth ways that hurt their prison-guard feelings, then buddy, I don’t know what to tell ya.

I realize that all of us in political circles are sometimes desperate for column-inches to fill, but this story is more than just a wee bit silly. It also was self-evidently planted by those with this specific, very personal grievance. Each version relies on prison union officials for their most incendiary claims (including the same official, local guard union president Joe Rojas). Each has no specific complaint other than the guards being miffed that they were not getting paid during the inmates’ holiday meal. The inmates were “eating like kings and then laughing at us”, says Rojas; this is obviously untrue, as royalty in general does not eat its meals in the less-than-cozy confines of a federal prison cafeteria and, in general, is allowed to take its silverware into other rooms afterwards without being gang-tackled and thrown into solitary for the after-party.

It is absolutely unacceptable that prison workers are not being paid and yet still are obliged to do their duties as sniffing federal tantrum-havers in Washington hold their very economic stability hostage as their only bargaining chips in a purely political, purely narcissistic power play. It is abso-one-hundred-percent-lutely unacceptable, it is abominable, it is grotesque, and anyone who tries it should be tossed out of Washington on their ear and barred from ever returning. Why we do not do that, as a nation, I’ll never know.

This does not have a damn thing to do with feeding prisoners their planned meals, however, and does not have a damn thing to do with the practice of planning rare but predictable holiday celebrations among inmates as a rough approximation of the society they will someday again be a part of. Being in prison is intended as, in most cases, a temporary solution; it has long been established that treating the imprisoned like feral animals only increases the odds that they will oblige by acting the part.

Most importantly, none of these prisoners, with the specific exception of those who worked on the Donald Trump campaign, have had any power whatsoever to put their guards or their food service workers in this situation. This is a transparent effort to stoke deserved sympathy for federal workers involved, yes, but it is being attempted by grousing about the one set of people in America who have had the absolute least to do with it. They are not even allowed to vote, for God’s sake; they have less responsibility for the current government shutdown than your average cable news viewer.

Everyone involved needs to grow the hell up and start pinning the blame for the situation squarely where it belongs: on the people advocating for, and insisting on, withholding federal paychecks as a negotiating chip for a monument to racism so nonsensical and silly that even two years of full Republican control of the House, Senate, and White House could not make it happen. And there is only one person in America who is doing that, and many of the people quoted in these stories likely voted for the bastard.

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  1. I know someone who was in prison many years. He never had steak for any holiday. He did have turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas though and I’m pretty sure it didn’t taste anything like the turkeys we fix in our homes.

  2. Too bad it hurts their fee fees that the prisoners get a few decent meals a year. A lot of these people voted for the impostor president to shake things up & take benefits away from needy people. Now they’re collateral damage. Hate has consequences.


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