I am always asked about the food in prison so it I thought I would do a quick write-up.  It seems that television and crime shows always show the baloney sandwich or the mush of some prisons.  Although I only served a short time at the Atlanta Camp, I can affirm that the food there was not too bad.  It definitely lacked the spices and flavors of food from home, but it was decent. The chow hall offered a comfortable environment for eating. In retrospect, it was reminiscent of a school cafeteria.

At Atlanta, the menu followed a five-week cycle (as do most Federal Prisons).  The mornings brought pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, eggs (sometimes hard-boiled), and biscuits and gravy. I usually woke at 5am each morning to get my shower and get ready for the day to begin. I routinely walked to the chow hall around 6:00 and waited in line to get my helping of food. Some would bring their own cereal, oatmeal or other items from the commissary.

For lunch, Atlanta usually served the following types of items once a week: hamburgers, enchilada casserole, fajita, tacos, burritos, tostadas, hot dogs, cold cuts (most disgusting thing on the menu) and a lot of beans.  Dinners are typically the same type of meals.  I ate every meal I could at the chow hall.  There were times when I would go through the line, but only get vegetables or a salad.

Besides the food in the chow hall, however, there are ways to prepare your own meals in the housing unit.  In Atlanta we had access to four microwave ovens in the housing unit.  The commissary sold various items that could be made into decent meals.  Although some camps do, Atlanta did not sell any vegetables or fruits.  They do have some spices that they sell, but they are minimal. The commissary also sold brown rice, tuna, mackerel, salmon, pasta, crackers, peanut butter, and other items that will easily nourish you. Every camp has different commissary.  Some have a lot more than others, but everyone learns how to adapt to what they have available.

There is a lot to worry about in serving a prison term. Eating healthy food, fortunately, is not one of them.

Below is a single 5 week cycle of menus.  They aren’t the best copies, but it will give you idea of what to expect.

Menu - Week 1 Menu - Week 2
Week 1 Week 2
Menu - Week 3 Menu - Week 4 Menu - Week 5
Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
  1. Mike says:

    It was ok. What amazed me is how inmates would. Spend the whole day cooking. For themselves or in small groups. Or for profit. You could still get a half decent pizza. Or homemade dessert. If u could buy a piece with Macks. Cafeteria. Was bland. But I will always remember what those guys could do with a microwave. There should be a cookbook. For the back dorms. Burritos. Pizza. Brownies. Stuff I never knew could be made from scratch in a microwave. As time went in I found myself. Going to cafeteria less for dinner. And partnering or financing a homemade microwave meal

    • Bryan says:

      Agreed! I liked the “Homemade” foods much better than what was in the chow hall. However, if you weren’t able to barter or partner with someone to get some extra food, the chow hall food was tolerable. Bland is definitely a good word. A little salt or hot sauce (from the commissary) made it more edible. At least you could identify (well, sometimes) what the food was and it was a whole lot better than what was served in the DCU (even though it is the same menu).

  2. jeriwho says:

    Biggest thing I noticed was no butter. Always margarine. And I did have this question: in the chow hall, could you go back for seconds? Or did you just get what you got on your tray, and there was no more until the next meal time?

    • Bryan says:

      We were fortunate that we actually did have butter. Although more times than not it wouldn’t get put out on the line. When it did get put on the line, it was horded by inmates for their microwave cooking back in the units.

      As far as second helpings were concerned; we really weren’t given that opportunity. It all depended on who the CO was working the chow hall. Most of the officers didn’t allow anyone to go back for seconds and were very strict on portioning meals out. I worked on the serving line and saw my fair share of write-ups/shots for giving out too much food. If there were leftovers it was just thrown out (sad, but true). Again, it would all depend which officer was working. I’ve read several other blogs where inmates were often allowed seconds at other facilities, but no in Atlanta.

  3. jeriwho says:

    It’s fascinating to read your account, and I think you are writing it “just right.” I hope you find work soon. I do wonder if you would consider writing a book about prison along these same lines: not the “big bad prison life,” but a clear account that tells people what is true and what is not true in popular culture’s “mythology” of federal prison.

    • Bryan says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words. I really do appreciate it. I’m currently working on a couple of things that may at least get me in the “working world”. One of them is working on manuscript/book/guide for probation. We will see how that works out. Not going to hold my breath or quit working towards other opportunities, but I’m definitely going to keep working!!!

  4. Justin Smith says:

    I am facing a few years in federal prison for a conspiracy charge, I have to self surrender in May sometime and was told I’ll be able to bond out with a signature until my court date, who knows how that’s going to go. I have read through all your posts on this site, I still definitely have some concerns as to what to expect… The local prison here in Central Florida is Coleman, my lawyer said I’ll most likely end up there and that they have tons of recreation and programs available, from their handbook on the BOP website it appears they have all kinds of music programs, fitness programs, sports, etc…

    The first question I have is regarding the recreation: If you partake in say, piano lessons, but the lessons are only available during your work hours, how does that work? Do you work the same schedule every day, do you get to leave work early if you are partaking in recreational activities or do those activities have to be fit in/around a schedule you have no control over?

    Another question I have is regarding the work and starting pay. Do you get a better job or earn more hourly if you have a college degree?

    What about violence? If you mind your own business and don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself are you still at risk of physical violence? Do people start fights with random people for absolutely no reason or are most people respectful. I’ve had a couple friends do state time and one was beat up pretty bad three times in under a year, but I heard from another guy that federal prison isn’t so violent, was advised to just mind my own business, “stay in my own lane” (don’t join a gang) and I probably wouldn’t have to worry about violence whatsoever. What’s your take?

    Is it pretty easy to adapt and get in the flow without having any conflict, just do the time and not let the time do you?

    • Bryan says:


      There are a couple of things that you need to be aware of before I answer your questions. First, don’t make an assumption that you will end up at the local facility. Decisions regarding placement are made by the BOP. Judges can make recommendations, but the BOP is not required to follow those suggestions. For example, there is a Minimum Security Facility here in my hometown. I thought for sure they would send me there. However, they decided that I was to be placed in a facility over 3 hour’s away (Atlanta). You will not know until you receive placement from the BOP.

      Coleman is a “Low” facility. Depending on your history you could end up at a low or even a minimum. That means that you could end up in anywhere in Florida from Pensacola to Miami. The BOP guidelines allow them to send an individual anywhere within 300 miles of their support system or home. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule and has been broken many times. Again, do not make any assumption until you physically receive a document identifying where you will be place.

      The second thing you need to think about is that they may or may not release you on a signature (it sounds like most likely they will). Your release is dependent on your judge and the prosecuting attorney. I don’t know the details of your case and do not want to pretend to be an expert, but just keep in mind that you shouldn’t make any assumptions regarding how the BOP will make its decision. I’ve spoken to many individuals who have been fooled or surprised over the judges’ decisions.

      With that being said, yes there are recreational programs you can participate in. Anything that is considered “Recreational” will be done following the work day. There is nothing that will preclude you from working except for medical reasons. The work schedule for the majority of inmates is from 7:30am – 4:00pm. However, your work schedule will depend on the type of work you are assigned. If you are working in the chow hall you may have to work during rec time. But work always takes precedence over all other activities.

      You asked about the type of work you will have. The direct answer to your question is no. Your level of education has no bearing on your job or pay. Levels of pay are dependent on where you are working. The lowest pay level is $.11/hour. If you become a supervisor the pay rate is higher, but don’t expect to be a supervisor or hold a position of management for a long time. Most of these positions are given based on relationships with other inmates and CO’s. For example we had several positions where when an inmate was released, that person would hand select his replacement. The CO’s would have to approve it, but rarely is it denied. Certain positions do require special skills, but a degree will not necessarily get you better position.

      Violence is definitely something to be aware of and yes there is a possibility it can happen. However, if you mind your business and stay out of everyone else’s you will be fine. Yes there are random fights that break out, but they are always for a reason of some sort (stole commissary, smart mouthed another inmate, etc.) and not very frequent. I can’t speak about state time because I didn’t experience it, but I will say that for the most part there is little violence in federal prison. Most of the “fights” I witnessed were only verbal. For the most part all the inmates are just doing their time and trying to get home as soon as possible. They try to avoid violence because they do not want to lose their good time.

      I hope this answers your questions. I apologize if I come across preachy, but I hate hearing the stories of expectations being one thing and the results are completely different. Going through the federal system as an inmate is hard enough; we don’t need ambiguity and uncertainty in preparing to spend time there. Good luck to you and if there are any additional questions please feel free to let me know.

  5. Anonymous says:

    How are the shower and bathroom conditions in there? Does everyone shower together or are there separate stalls like in a gym? I know someone that is going to Coleman soon and was wondering?

    • Life in a Federal Prison Camp says:

      I can’t speak for how things are at Coleman, but Atlanta had shower stalls separated by curtains. There is a protocol for entering and exiting the showers so that you people in the showers can turn as some one goes by.

      You will hear individuals wanting to take a shower cry out, “how many?” Then individuals will call out the number of showers taken. When there is an available shower they will call out, “Coming in/out”. When the others in the shower are ready for the people to pass you’ll hear, “go ahead”. This means they can go by.

      The showers themselves are very clean. Actually in Atlanta everything is very clean. No one wants to get sick (see post on medical treatment). Showers are cleaned/bleached out daily. Not saying you don’t need shower shoes but they are clean.

      Hopefully that answers your questions. Thank you for visiting my page.

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