How To Write Badly About The Shutdown And Prison, By A Doctor Of Rhetoric
Death of a convict on the hulk 'Justitia', National Library of Australia

Just in case anyone was under the impression that the news media were "liberal," check out the recent wad of lame stories about the supposed irony -- or even injustice!!! -- of federal prisoners being fed one half-decent meal for Christmas while their guards went without pay. OMG shocking! Outrageous! Proof that Democrats love criminals! Or maybe proof that the correctional officers' union is really good at pumping a misleading narrative to media outlets that should know better. Still, because the media are fucking lazy, we were treated to a whole bunch of seriously bad takes implying that since Donald Trump shut down the government, then by golly, we shoulda cancelled Christmas dinner in prisons, even though it was budgeted and paid for long before December.

The pure awfulness of blaming prisoners for Donald Trump's shutdown was pointed out by Atlantic journalist Vann Newkirk in a good and pissed-off thread on Twitter:

And oh, criminy they're awful. According to NBC News, prisoners ATE LIKE KINGS, YUM!

Inmates at FCI Pekin in Illinois enjoyed a fancy meal of steak and shrimp on Jan. 1. Cornish hen and Boston Creme pie were on the menu at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. And the prisoners at a federal institution in Minnesota munched on heaping plates of chicken wings, according to staffers and documents obtained by NBC News.

USA Today went all in on the fancy eatin' words. Federal prisoners in that story "were treated to a display of culinary largesse" and "tucked into a Christmas spread of herb-dusted Cornish game hens, cornbread dressing, gravy, rice pilaf and assorted pies." Oh, oh, the horrors of these "generous meals" -- and a regular hit parade of rightwing language for how useless eaters get fed: USA Today discussed the "generous meals," while NBC had the prisoners gorging themselves on a Luntzed-up cornucopia of gourmet words for institutional food. The prisoners not only "munched on" those "heaping plates" of wings but also "feasted" and "chowed down" on "choice meals" and "lavish meals." All three stories present prison menus as if they were the bill of fare at the Ritz, not mass-cooked institutional food that's somewhat better than the usual nutra-loaf or mystery meat products.

By contrast, the "demoralized" correctional officers -- all apparently members of the same union, natch -- face an "increasingly raw struggle" to make ends meet (USA Today). We're reminded the guards are "working without pay," "fretting about bills to pay and children to feed" and "bracing to go without their next paycheck" by NBC.

Sunday's Washington Post story was especially vile, illustrating the outrageous welfare-queen gluttony of the well-fed prisoners with a photo of a steak on a china plate, but noting in the caption that it was actually from a fancy-schmancy Washington hotel, not a prison. But yeah, let's pretend this is what's served in prison:

Even WaPo appears to have been embarrassed; by the time we saw the story, the illustration had been replaced by a stock photo of a prisoner's hand on iron bars. Fortunately, the Internet Archive is almost forever.

All three stories heavily rely, as Newkirk points out, on a single corrections-officer union head, Joe Rojas, president of Local 506 of the American Federation of Government Employees, in Coleman, Florida. He is very righteously pissed, and apparently a one-man media operation for federal prison guards. And by god, he is sick and tired of prisoners being fed identifiable meats.

WaPo's story appears to be solely sourced to Rojas and other general information about the shutdown. Why not? He clearly speaks for America. The inmates are "eating like kings and then laughing at us," and those nasty Washington politicians are "using federal workers in a game of chicken. Who's going to blink first? We're a pawn."

And all for a bunch of worthless animals who really do not deserve steak, even if it's not on a china plate:

"These inmates are not here for singing too loud at a church," Rojas said. "These are dangerous felons. We're working with killers. We're working with terrorists. All these guys do is think and hatch plans and figure out how to get weapons. It's like a molotov cocktail waiting to explode."

Please be more afraid, won't you? The USA Today piece also relies heavily on Rojas (again with the steak, again with the danger, again with the laughing at the guards), and on prison workers' national union head Eric Young. It also plays up the difficult work of federal correctional officers, who not only have to face murderers and rapists and terrorists, and being horribly overworked and short staffed, but face horrible unfair scrutiny, we guess.

Few agencies have endured a year as difficult as the federal prison system. Apart from the persistent staffing shortages, officials had to deal with sexual harassment claims and problems managing 12,567 female inmates.

OMG, sexual harassment claims and having to manage ladies? Who's really being punished here?

Rojas also shared with theWaPo and USA Today some emails sent by prisoners, as forwarded to him by other guards, although only WaPo identifies him as the source. You might get the impression Rojas selected them to present prisoners as Maximum Gluttons who can't spell. Laughing at us!!!

"Ima end up fat i been eatin like a boss all week i just had steak, pie, chicken, potatoes, salad mac nd cheese rice all type of (things)," one wrote. "bro ibe workin out for (nothing)" (WaPo)
Another prisoner, Terrance Johnson, 43, wrote that he was ready for bed after "that dam steak got me full." (USA Today)

Jesus, Average American, why are we feeding them anything, let alone steak or fancy Cornish game hens, which honestly are just little damn chickens. But boy, they piss Rojas off something fierce.

The NBC piece only briefly cites Rojas (yes, the steak and the laughing again), but the other prison workers interviewed for the story (including Young again, surprise!) all agree with him, and funny, of the six officers interviewed, only one isn't identified as an officer of the local union. Imagine that.

All three stories mention, briefly, a statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons noting that the special meals are restricted to holidays as a departure from the usual slop, and that the holiday meals were planned and paid for long before the holidays and the shutdown. Hell, considering how big institutions operate, it probably would have cost a lot more to cancel the meals and substitute another normal bland meal, because the budget covered only 29 days of regular meals.

Oh, yeah, and as USA Today notes, while the menu at the prison where Rojas works does list "grilled steak" on the Christmas menu, a spokesperson for the prison said the actual meal was "roast beef." Either way, it was almost certainly served on china plates, and we bet the guards had to bow and call the prisoners "M'Lord." Or maybe it was slapped onto a tray in the cafeteria like every other meal.

Then there's this: As Newkirk observes, not one of the stories includes a comment from a federal prisoner. Prison worker union officials are much more available for comment, and hey, there's a government shutdown on. You certainly wouldn't expect a correctional officer to waste time escorting a terrorist murderer rapist to meet with a reporter, would you?

Besides, the prisoners are all getting in line for seconds or even thirds, and laughing, laughing, laughing to beat the band.

[Vann Newkirk on Twitter / NBC News / USA Today / WaPo]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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