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 I also wonder why no one considered that some laws are so outdated that it doesn’t make sense to follow them, especially if not following them doesn’t harm anyone.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?


Operation Second Chance: Dogs behind bars!   »

Is that not an awesome mental image? Just some rad female pit bulls in a Caged Heat 3000-type movie? No? OK, well here’s something even better!

In Kwame Anthony Appiah’s excellent Washington Post piece, “What will future generations condemn us for?" he said that our children’s children would be ashamed not only of factory farming, but also of our current prison system. We couldn’t agree more, and we’ve got an example of one place that’s putting a Band-Aid on the gash that is our fucked "correctional facilities." Woohoo!

Karmalized Pictures is an eco-friendly, vegetarian film company—awesome in itself, but then their name also makes me think of caramelized onions, which makes me happy! Good job, guys!—that has put out a film called Jail Dogs in 1C about Operation Second Chance. Operation Second Chance is an excellent program created and run by the Society of Humane Friends of Georgia and the Gwinnett County, Ga., Sheriff’s Office. It pairs death-row doggies with carefully selected inmates at the county jail, allowing them to give back to their community while still incarcerated. Dogs helping prisoners helping dogs. So wonderful.

(This is Jake and his trainer Reed; they’re best buddies now!)

The dogs live with the men 24/7 while the inmates are training them. This helps the dogs learn social skills, making them more adoptable, and teaches the men valuable skills and responsibility. It’s also been changing a lot of lives. Some of the men are learning to love someone for the first time and others say that these dogs have really raised their self-esteem and make them feel that they are worth something. You can’t put a price on that!

It’s also delightful to know that Gwinnett County Sherriff Butch Conway not only pushed to institute this Operation Second Chance, but has been a proponent of it for many years. It’s nice to see a sheriff who recognizes the value in rehabilitation, rather than focusing on punishment! Just all-around awesome good times. My only issue with the program is that they don’t seem to involve the female inmates. Is there even a women’s jail in Gwinnett county? Google? What’s THAT? Who’s he? Anyway, I bet since it’s so successful they’ll expand and include rehab for ladies, too.

(That’s Rex! We’re told “he’s one happy dog and everyone loves him!”)

For more information about the program, visit the Society of Humane Friends or Operation Second Chance websites.

[can’t see the video? watch it at!]

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