Hope you all had a good breakfast, because this story about the local jail in Etowah County, Alabama — Judge Roy Moore’s old stomping grounds — will turn your stomach. A couple months back, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin made national news after local journalists broke the story that Entrekin had pocketed at least $750,000 in federal, state, and municipal funding earmarked for feeding inmates in the county jail — and it’s perfectly legal. Thanks to a loophole in state law, county sheriffs are allowed to keep any “excess” funds from outside sources that aren’t used to feed prisoners, and by golly, Entrekin has managed to allocate other jail funds to cover food and paper plates and stuff, so don’t you go getting upset over the more than $1.7 million in property Entrekin and his wife own. Especially not the $740,000 beach house in Orange Beach, which he bought with about three years’ worth of money transferred from his “Food Provisions” budget. Unless the state legislature changes the law, it’s all perfectly legal.
As a follow-up to that story, AL.com this week brought some insight into the other side of that tale: The Etowah County Jail keeps the costs of feeding prisoners to a minimum by relying, whenever possible, on donations from food companies and charities — often of food that’s well past its expiration date — and by buying steeply discounted stuff that isn’t actually supposed to be fed to human people. The story is based on interviews with former inmates who worked in the jail kitchen or in other positions where they handled food that was used for inmate meals. It’s not a pretty picture.
One former inmate, Alec Allen, has suffered digestive troubles since before he was released, although doctors aren’t quite certain what caused them. Allen says he had a parasite at the time of his release, and links his problems directly to what he had to eat while in jail for nine months:
They fed the inmates up there stuff I wouldn’t feed to my dogs, that’s just the God’s honest truth,” Allen said. “I guarantee that Todd Entrekin wouldn’t eat it.
Another former inmate said the jail would send a big trailer up to a church food bank in another city twice a month to collect “crackers, cereal, packs of stuff that’s past the expiration date,” and then put the food in tubs to be fed to prisoners — without any hint that the stuff was expired. A representative of the church acknowledged the church had donated to the jail, but didn’t want to go into any detail, and wouldn’t answer questions about the food being expired. We all remember how Jesus gave the masses some stale loaves and fish that was starting to go a little funny, after all.
And would you believe that almost none of the food companies the former inmates said had donated expired food wanted to talk to the reporters, either? A spokesperson for one company from Pennsylvania did at least say it was pleased to help give back to local communities, and that may have included some donations to the jail. No, the spokesperson didn’t have anything more to say than that kthxbai!
Then there’s the literal mystery meat:
The meaty product arrived in long, cylindrical rolls, tasted vaguely of turkey or chicken, and had a dull greyish pallor. Emblazoned in big red letters on its white plastic wrapping were the words “Not Fit For Human Consumption.”
And yet the mystery meat was frequently served to inmates at the Etowah County jail, according to the four former inmates. Sometimes kitchen staff chopped, boiled and mixed the product with pasta. Sometimes it was combined with various leftovers and made into a sort of stew that inmates call goulash. But it should never have been given to humans, the former inmates said.
“I couldn’t give you a positive ID of if it was turkey or chicken or what it was,” Allen said. “It looked like processed meat. It had a kind of a turkey taste to it, which is what made us think it was turkey.”
Another former inmate, Benjamin Hunter, who never worked in the kitchen but did unload the stuff from trucks, remembers it vividly as well:
“The meat patties they feed you and call it either chicken or Salisbury steak or whatever, it’s literally for dog food,” he said. “We called them starfish patties because they look more like a starfish than anything. They literally said in bold red letters plain as day on the top, bottom and sides of the box, ‘Not Fit For Human Consumption.'”
OK, but doesn’t that depend on what your definition of “human” is, and whether it includes lawbreakers who broke the law and are therefore lucky to be fed at all? Hunter also said that he regularly handled chicken that was partially rotten, or that would not have passed inspection at a factory. Alec Allen, who worked in the kitchen, said he regularly had to “cut the rotten shit off” chicken thighs that he then cooked into prisoner meals.
For his part, the sheriff explained at a presser last month he’s certain everything at his jail is just fine, although he won’t be accepting any luncheon invitations there:
“This is a jail, this is not a bed and breakfast, Domino’s does not deliver here … but we do prepare a healthy meal that is served here three times a day,” Entrekin said. “It is true that many of our people are not happy with the food they are served.”
Just because something’s all rotten and smelly doesn’t mean eating it will make you sick, after all. No thanks, none for the sheriff, that’s fine.
Not surprisingly, the comments on AL.com are full of Entrekin supporters explaining that the inmates are bad people, and the former inmates’ accounts are obviously slurs on the sheriff because criminals never tell the truth, and grifty lawmen are the best, because they’re tough on crime.
But wait, if things at the jail are so darn bad, why does it always ace its county health inspections?
[Two] of the former inmates said that the jail is notified of the inspections days before they take place, and that Entrekin and his staff in the jail make the inmates do a deep clean before each one to ensure inspectors never see how the kitchen operates when they are not around.
“We knew three days to a week ahead of time in advance of health inspections. We spent all that time throwing away old food that we were still going to serve and scrubbing,” Allen said. “When it came time for a health inspection we would get rid of that ‘Not Fit For Human Consumption’ meat and the chicken thighs wouldn’t be there.”
It’s really quite neighborly of the health inspectors to support their local sheriff like that. Yr Wonkette also notes that Sheriff Entrekin is up for re-election this year; he’s certainly come a long way since the state Republican Party proclaimed him a “Rising Republican Star” — like on a sheriff’s badge, get it? — a few years ago. He’s got a national profile and everything, and we won’t be the least bit surprised if Donald Trump tries to find him a spot in the Justice Department. Or maybe in the Education department, planning school nutrition guidelines.
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