Marin: not a good place to be a vegan inmate  »

Having volunteered in jail and jail-adjacent settings, I have seen some pretty ridiculous things happen, and been bummed out by the treatment some people receive at the hands of those in power. Here’s the thing: our jail system is really broken. I don’t want to go into the details of how and why, because this isn’t “Mark gets on a soap box about mental health and the jail population (if you’re interested, email me!), but if you google “jail” and “mistreatment” you won’t want for examples. One thing I have never heard of or seen, however, is anyone being refused a vegan or vegetarian meal. Because that’s crazy, right? There’s no reason to do something like that. Except, apparently, in Marin (and a whole bunch of other places, but we’re just focusing on Marin today).

In jail you are already stripped of so much. You shower when you’re told to, you have to raise your hand to go to the bathroom, and you have to submit to random searches and do count times and all sorts of other weird administrative things that seem both frustrating and annoying. I get it; it’s important to make sure there’s no crowding in the bathrooms and that no one is fighting. It’s also important to account for all the people that are supposed to be in a pod/wing/ward. What I don’t get is why someone would be denied a vegan meal because they’re not vegan for a religious reason. That just seems so arbitrary and poorly planned that it makes my head spin in several different directions at once.

You think, “They must have a good reason and I’m sure they’ll share it with us.” Then you read the rest of the article and discover that Dave McDonald, the man whose requests were denied, was basically starved because the officers were “following the law.” Not to say that following laws is a bad thing, certainly not in jail, but I’m wondering why no one took a look at the laws governing jails and asked why inmates couldn’t have vegan meals. I also wonder why no one considered that some laws are so outdated that it doesn’t make sense to follow them, especially if not following them doesn’t harm anyone. I wonder how providing a vegan meal could have been harmful to anyone in the jail. They kind of tried to put some stuff together for this guy, but if you’re going so far as to throw the guy a mix of vegetables and bread, why not just give him the vegan meal and be done with it? Why barely feed someone for 99 days (which is how long it took for some tests to be run on alleged controlled substances) and explain your behavior by claiming your hands are tied?

A good result of this debacle is that people are taking notice, and reviewing the laws and policies. Why did it take so long, and why does reading this article make me so sad about the state of social services—jails, especially those that provide programs, classes, and case-management are definitely social services—today?

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