Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work


Dinner in Haiti
When I was in Haiti last month, we ate a big breakfast every morning at the hotel cafe. At the first place we stayed, these meals were quite extravagant. Plates filled with bright orange mango, sliced avocado, spicy grits, hot chocolate, and cod fish. At the second place, the selections were more limited, but still plentiful. Bananas, cold spaghetti with sliced hot dogs, spicy meat pastries, hard boiled eggs.
Spicy grits in Port au Prince.  Can you say, "Yum!"??
At lunchtime, we ate with the children at the workshop site.  These meals were brought in from a local restaurant.  Again, this was a big meal.  Usually rice and beans with vegetables (canned beans, carrots, beets) and chicken. Delicious.

Lunch: As in a lot of places around the world, this is the main meal of the day in Haiti.
By the time we made it back to the hotel after the workshop, it was late and we were all exhausted. We mostly wanted to take a shower and get going on the evening tasks required to prepare for the next day. Having already eaten two large meals, we weren't really that hungry, just hot and tired, so we chose not to go out for dinner. However, as the evening wore on, the munchies arose. Around 10 or 11, we'd invariably start looking around for snacks. These snacks were all items that we had brought with us from the US. The trip's organizer, who was familiar with the workshop's daily rhythm, had told us to bring snacks. What snacks to you pack for the trip to Haiti? Processed, packaged food that can be transported, will not go bad, and doesn't need to be cooked.  Peanut butter crackers, trail mix, chips, crackers, granola bars, candy, tuna.
Sound familiar?  I had packed the prison commissary.

My experience with these foods mirrored the stories that women told to me about their days and nights eating in their prison cells. At first, these snacks are kind of fun. Skittles and peanut butter offered a welcome taste of home. But after a few days, cold tuna on crackers gets old. Very old. Without any prompting from me, the folks in my Haitian travel group began to engage in the same food-related activities that my study participants had described.  Asking each other, "What have you got? Want to trade?" Experimenting with different combinations, mixing the food in an effort to make them more palatable. After several days of this, none of us wanted to ever eat granola or peanut butter again.  Imagine 18 months.  Imagine 5 years.

When I got back from my trip, I received a copy of a prison cookbook written by women incarcerated in the CA system called, Stinging for Their Suppers: How Women in Prison Nourish Their Bodies and Souls. Pity I didn't have this resource when we were in Gonaives. Did you know you can make lemon pie with graham crackers, Sprite, and non-dairy creamer? Written as a collaboration between faculty at the Claremont Colleges, an LA community-based organization, and formerly incarcerated women, this lovely cookbook provides dozens of creative recipes that highlight the ingredients for survival and joy in the face of hardship. Worth reading to catch a glimpse of prison life and also learn some creative cooking ideas - you never know when it might be just you and a box of crackers.