How to Eat Well in a Mexican Prison

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How to Eat Well in a Mexican Prison

Rather than force inmates to survive on watery soup and mystery meat, family members often bring their loved ones home-cooked meals at this prison north of Mexico City.
January 11, 2016, 11:00pm

Two lines of people form in front of Reclusorio Preventivo Norte (The Men's Preventive Prison), located north of Mexico City. From 5 AM until 10 AM, they wait for the prison to open its gates and let them go through. Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are the only days open for visits. Women, men, and kids carry large shopping bags and buckets full of food, in which you might find pork rinds, bread rolls, sodas, Tupperware, and a bunch of disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. Families have until 5 in the afternoon to share a meal with their inmate. That's how it is on every visiting day.

In a jail designed for 1,500 inmates, there are more than 14,000 here—and only a handful are fortunate enough to eat an occasional home-cooked meal brought in by their families. Families bring chicken stew, Mexican rice, pozole, pollo al achiote, sauces, cereal, eggs—all of it far better than the "onion soup" (a lukewarm broth of water and onion), mystery meat, poorly cooked soybeans, and other "hideous things" that families claim are fed to inmates in Mexican prisons.

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Steak in salsa verde with potatoes. Salted popcorn.

Bringing outside food into the prison's dining hall costs money. Experienced family members carry five- and ten-peso coins to grease various palms before reaching the dining hall. Five pesos for each smuggled bag of powdered milk or instant coffee. Ten pesos to get a frying pan, a disposable plate, a plastic knife, or other cooking utensil through to an inmate. It's five pesos a day to keep food in the fridge (in case the inmate is left with food for the week). If you want to get a hotplate through, it can cost up to 500 pesos. Accounting for these "tips," transportation, food, calling cards, and the cash left to inmates, each visit can cost around 1,000 pesos—too much money for a family that can usually visit just once every two weeks.

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If you want to sneak in yogurt or chocolate or oats, you have to pay extra. Gelatin desserts sold outside the Reclusorio Preventivo Norte.

Visitors know to bring food in transparent bags and Tupperware so that prison officers can easily see what's on the inside. They also know that fruits need to be peeled and chopped, and that grapes, pineapples, and plantains aren't allowed because they can be fermented to make alcohol (as if there weren't worse drugs inside). They know that cakes have to arrive pre-sliced in small portions; if not, they'll be touched and handled by officers. They know to always bring more food than planned, because there's always someone who will ask for a taco. Prison is full of people who don't have anyone on the outside to bring them food or comfort.

puntas de filete

Steak tips. Many people can't afford to go see family members themselves, so they send food and drinks with others who, for a small fee, can deliver them inside the prison.

Don Roberto, a man who has been visiting the prison for 25 years, tells me that there's a food court inside that sells hamburgers, pizzas, and other food. (The business were started by inmates, even though not everyone can afford such luxuries.) Others tell me that the inmates sometimes have to recook the raw meat they are fed in the dining hall.

I'm not exactly sure what the inmates inside Mexico City's prisons eat, but I'm certain that visiting days are the most awaited, because it's only then that they can taste a bit of home.

cigarros carcel

Cigarettes sold outside the prison cost 15 pesos. Toilet paper and razor. Inmates don't get any toiletries for personal hygiene inside the prison.