Federal Prison Inmates Eat Steak While Guards Go Unpaid During Government Shutdown

The prisoners reportedly mocked the guards as they chowed down on their New Year's Day meal.

stock photo of a prison inmate eating
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The prisoners reportedly mocked the guards as they chowed down on their New Year's Day meal.

Inmates at a dozen or so federal prisons enjoyed a New Year’s Day meal of steak and other goodies, even as the guards who served it to them continue to go unpaid because of the government shutdown, NBC News is reporting. The irony wasn’t lost on the inmates, who reportedly mocked the guards and laughed at them.

As the government shutdown enters its third week, with no end in sight, federal employees are not getting their paychecks, even though they’re still expected to show up for work. That includes federal prisons, where hundreds of workers keep the operations running.

Ordinarily, prison food is pretty simple: scrambled eggs for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch, maybe some kind of easily-prepared casserole for supper.

But as it turns out, on New Year’s Day — at some federal prisons anyway — the menu is special. At the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Orlando, according to the New York Daily News, inmates got Cornish hen, pie, and black-eyed peas. Inmates at FCI Pekin in Illinois got steak and shrimp, while inmates in Brooklyn got Boston creme pie. Inmates in Minnesota got “heaping plates” of chicken wings.

Joe Rojas, the head of the guards’ union at Coleman, details how the inmates chose to laugh and ridicule the guards.

“This is appalling. We’re not getting paid, and the inmates are eating steak. The inmates know what’s going on; they know about the shutdown, and they are laughing at us.”

June Bencebi, a case manager at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, was similarly outraged.

“A lot of the staff were upset over the fact that we don’t know where our next meal is going to come, and these inmates were served so much food they were able to get on the serving line twice.”

The Bureau of Prisons, for its part, said that holiday meals are intended to boost the morale of prisoners who are separated from their families and to give them something special to look forward to when they have little else. The Bureau also explained that prison meals are planned weeks or even months in advance and that the holiday menus were in the pipeline well before the government shutdown was announced.

That’s little comfort to Aaron McGlothin, a guard at FCI Mendota in California. He’s taken up a night job as an Uber driver to make ends meet while he waits for the government to reopen and start paying him again.

“I never wanted to drive an Uber, but I don’t know if I’m going to get a paycheck at the prison. And so I have no choice.”