Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

vegan food in prisons

At the AR conference this year, Dallas Rising made an announcement at the end of one of the sessions about a new group being formed to work for getting vegan food in prisons. The other members of the board of directors are Peter Young and Aaron Zellhoefer. I signed up to be on the mailing list, but have yet to hear anything. Anyone else sign up? And if you did sign up, have you heard anything from them?

I finally found a website for them, SARP (Support Animal Rights Prisoners), which looks like it is very new, so perhaps they’re not yet ready to bring on the mailing list aspect, and organizing the interested folks into targeted campaigns.

Vegan food in prison is important. I can’t imagine how demoralizing it would be to be sent to prison for, say, waging a successful and non-violent and legal (if controversial) campaign against a company that tested on animals, only to get there and have a daily struggle for vegan food.

I was, of course, talking about the SHAC folks, and I know that they are having a hard time even though they (or at least some of them) have court orders requiring that they be given vegan food.

But it isn’t just activist prisoners who are impacted by the lack of vegan food in prisons. A former cell mate of Josh Harper‘s went vegan after many conversations with Josh. Jesse is someone I keep in touch with, and he amazes me. He is completely dedicated to being vegan, he researches issues, is incredibly thoughtful about all of it, and he’s doing all that in prison. He is working on getting soymilk into the commissary at the state prison he’s now at, even though he doesn’t expect it to happen while he’s there. And even though he’d have to pay for that soy milk out of his own pocket if it was there. He just wants that option.

I think it is absurd that a healthy, if basic, vegan option isn’t given for prisoners.

Some might think that these people are in prison, and thus don’t deserve options or special consideration for ethical decisions, but I can’t agree with that. People end up in prison for many reasons, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not. Regardless, not all prisoners are the hardened criminal types of people, and even if they are, the supposed mission of prisons is rehabilitation. Encouraging, or at least not blocking, prisoners in making ethical choices could only be a good thing. Part of the mission, you’d think.

If nothing else, it is the compassionate thing to do. And, as it happens, in the UK where there has been a lot of work done to get vegan meal options into the prisons, there are quite a few prisoners who go vegan because the vegan meals are better.

While it is true that most of these prisoners are likely to only be temporarily eating vegan food, it is still less animal products being consumed. I can’t fault that. And you never know what long-term changes people might make after they have a chance to step away from their animal-product habit.

Hearing that there was a group being formed in the U.S. to work towards the same goals was very welcome, especially as it seems more personal to me, from keeping in touch with Jesse. I know from him just what he has to deal with, and how much it would mean to him to see even small positive changes.

Jesse is inspiring, and in his dedication and positive spirit despite an almost oppressive lack of options he makes one truth bitingly clear – no matter what our food situations are on the “outside”, we really have nothing to complain about. We have options, and even when our options suck on planes or at conferences or for team lunches, all we have to do is put up with it for a few hours, and then find ourselves some real food. Jesse has to wait years, not hours. It puts an entirely different perspective on things. Working on a campaign to get vegan food in prisons seems like an fantastic way to participate in prisoner support.

Though for immediate support, nothing can really beat writing them letters. I do that too.


9 responses to “vegan food in prisons

  1. Mary Martin October 10, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Nothing like perspective. Thanks.

    And what’s the story with the semi-clothed creature?

  2. Deb October 10, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    The pup has a story that remains a mystery! He (and he is clearly a he) definitely has a story though. I wish I had tried harder to learn it, but my Spanish isn’t good enough.

  3. rich October 11, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    This is an issue i am familiar with both from knowing about jesse, being at the conference and knowing about some of the issues of the SHAC members. I wonder if there has been any studies of violence and vegan meals? Not that I believe the industrial prison complex cares, but if we can show proof of less violent tendencies it might be an angle to pursue.

  4. Deb October 11, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    I haven’t found any studies like that, but it is so interesting that you bring it up! It is an upcoming post of mine, sparked by a letter I got from Jesse a couple days ago. He was asking the same thing, based on his own observations.

  5. Tracy October 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I was going to mention that, too. If prisoners are taught compassion to animals, it seems like that would carry over to compassion for people.

  6. liz October 28, 2008 at 9:50 am

    It seems totally illegal for a vegan in prison to have to
    eat cereal dry because they will not supply them with
    soy milk. Legally, they may have to–but the prison can take
    it’s time doing so, thus denying the prisoner their
    rights. This happened to one of the SHAC prisoners.

    Does a vegan diet lessen violence? There are studies
    that show difference diets in schools. THe regular,
    junk food, mystery meat diets definitely have more
    acts of aggression associated with them. The healthier
    diets (abit, not vegan) show less aggression, calmer,
    healthier kids.

  7. Deb October 28, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    liz, I could go on about the prison industrial complex and all the ways they cheat people of money – the absurdly expensive phone cards that the prisoners and friends/family are required to use, the fact that we can’t send care packages (not even stamps!) so the prisoners are forced to use the commissary with its high markup….And then when it comes to prisoners like the SHAC prisoners, they have to pay a certain percentage of their “earnings” to HLS, so when/if we donate money to their commissary funds, we’re giving HLS money.

    Anyway, I don’t think there are any laws against them refusing to accommodate vegans. Some exceptions for religion and potentially health, but even that makes me angry – ethics don’t count?

    The SHAC prisoners were specifically granted vegan food (which the prisons have been pretty lax about fulfilling) but they were a special case and from what I understand it was very unusual that they were given that.

    I posted asking others about the meat/aggression connection, and some of the responses brought up some really good points, which you might find interesting.

  8. Pingback: » Blog Archive » easyVegan Link Sanctuary, 2008-10-12

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