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Lawrence inmates tell commission they are starving

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — Inmates at the Lawrence County Jail sent a message to the commission Monday: We're starving in here.

The message was delivered by Wallace Graham, a Moulton resident who, along with a group of inmates' mothers, has brought meals to the jail four holidays a year for the last three years.

He told the commission that several mothers had complained their children were starving in jail and asked him if he could do something about it.

The sheriff — currently Gene Mitchell — is responsible for feeding the inmates at the county jail on $1.75 per day per inmate. State law allows the sheriff to pocket any money he doesn't spend. While campaigning for office, Mitchell said he would put any leftover funds back into the department.

He defended his handling of the inmates' meals Monday and told The Daily that he has been "breaking even" with his allotted jail food money.

Mitchell could not immediately provide documents showing how much of the jail food money he has spent, but said he would do that later this week.

Graham said he didn't believe the sheriff was spending $1.75 per day for each inmate. He told the commission he had asked a couple of inmates to record what they ate for a week and mail the list to him. He received one letter but the other one was intercepted by jail employees, he said.

Graham compared the meals list from June 23-29 to reports from other inmates to verify its accuracy, he said.

He copied the list in his own handwriting "to keep the inmate from getting in trouble," he said, and presented it to commissioners Monday.

According to the inmate's report, jail employees served, on average, a hamburger or hot dog bun, a two-inch sausage link and half an egg for breakfast, and a bun or cornbread, six ounces of pinto beans and four ounces of instant mashed potatoes for lunch and dinner.

If the list is accurate, inmates' daily caloric intake averages about 1,150 — an amount insufficient for even the most serious dieters — according to www.thecaloriecounter.com. That caloric estimate does not include beverages which were not listed on the inmate's menu.

Mitchell told commissioners that's not all inmates are eating in the jail cafeteria.

"I don't know where he's getting his information from, but it's not true," said Mitchell. "Most inmates are in there for being dishonest, so they haven't been honest to begin with."

He gave them a copy of the jail's menu for next week, approved and signed by Lawrence Medical Center Food Services Director Jerry Pearson.

Mitchell said he has Pearson look at each planned menu to ensure inmates are getting adequate nutrition, but that he's feeding them what they need — not what they necessarily want.

After all, it is a jail.

"It's really about what we're feeding them, not how much we're feeding them," he said. "They want us to feed them fast food, and we're not going to do it."

The following is a sample day's meals from the menu Mitchell gave the commission:

  • Breakfast — one fried egg, one fried wiener, one slice of toast, one spoonful of jelly.

  • Lunch — 8 ounces of pinto beans, 6 ounces of mashed potatoes, one slice of cornbread, macaroni and cheese and an onion slice

  • Supper — 8 ounces pinto beans, 6 ounces mashed potatoes, one slide of cornbread and an onion slice.

    The estimated calorie count for the sample day, excluding beverages, is about 1,600 — the lowest adequate amount for a dieting woman, according to most nutritionists.

    The days are not always the same, according to the menu. Some days, the inmates get a cookie or pudding for dessert, and some days, supper is spaghetti or hot dogs, said Mitchell.

    The sheriff admitted to changing the menu when he took office in January, but said the new way is healthier and keeps him from having to use money outside of the jail food fund to provide meals.

    Inmates previously ate a lot of junk food, he said.

    "They didn't feed a balanced meal, just junk food," said Mitchell. "You can't break even (financially) if you serve chips instead of potatoes. A bag of chips takes up half your daily allowance."

    He invited the commission and reporters to eat lunch in the jail cafeteria but didn't have any immediate takers.

    As for Graham? This isn't over, he said.

    "When we treat a three-legged dog in Decatur better than a human being, we need to take a look at ourselves," he said.

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