Charleston County serves up traditional Thanksgiving meal to inmates

Eva Barnett scolded an inmate who had left a mop in the middle of a walkway in her kitchen at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center on Wednesday. “Where’s your hair net?” she asked another inmate. “You’re in my kitchen, you wear one.” She’s small in stature, but carries a powerful confidence while walking through the kitchen, run by Trinity Food Service Company, a vendor that cooks all of the inmates’ meals.

Despite running a tight ship, directing inmates assigned to kitchen duty, Barnett knows the value of the Thanksgiving meal and what it can mean to the inmates.

“Even though they’re locked up, I always say they’re still human beings,” she said.

As in years past, the inmates will be served a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, yams, a spiced cake for desert and iced tea. It’s a tradition the jail has honored.

Barnett has 35 cases of turkeys with 20 pounds of turkey per case for the big day, so there will be plenty of turkey slicing to be done Wednesday and Thursday morning, she said.

As the director, she gets to pick the menu for Thanksgiving. Typically, a Trinity dietician chooses the menu inmates for the rest of the year.

Some favorites include hamburgers, chicken patties and pancakes, Barnett said. The kitchen is in service between 3 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily. Inmates receive two hot meals and one cold meal on weekdays and three hot meals on weekends, according to Barnett, who began working at the jail in May when Trinity was brought on as the jail’s new food service vendor.

In 1990 The Post and Courier highlighted the jail’s Thanksgiving meal and food service for inmates. That year, they also served a traditional Thanksgiving meal including Virginia baked ham, roast turkey, buttered mashed potatoes, corn bread dressing, French-style green beans, hot homemade dinner rolls, chilled cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie and iced tea.

William Jordan,the food service supervisor at the time, said inmates needed to feel happy on Thanksgiving and a good meal helps.

That’s when the jail had 550 inmates. The population has doubled since then. On Tuesday, the jail was housing 1,174 inmates.

In 1990, the jail’s food service was given $1.65 a day per inmate. Today, the jail gets $2.64 per inmate a day, which is almost a dollar more than it was more than 20 years ago, according to Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson.

Charleston County is not alone is serving up a special meal for the holiday. Dorchester County’s jail will serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing and other sides, according to Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Sam Richardson.

Turkey won’t served in Berkeley County at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, but the inmates will still get a large spread with barbecue chicken, macaroni and cheese, yellow rice, green beans, salad, apple crisp, corn bread and tea, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Dan Moon.

In Charleston County, Barnett said she plans to show up on Thanksgiving Day to see the big meal served and make sure everything goes smoothly. She’s been in the food service industry for jails for the last ten years.

She stumbled upon the job after being laid off of her retail job in Georgia. When a friend told her about an opening at a nearby Georgia jail. She was a bit skeptical. “I said ‘the jail?’”

Despite her weariness of such a change, Barnett applied and was hired on the spot. Soon, she was promoted to a managing position. Being surrounded by inmates doesn’t scare her. “They do try to intimidate you sometimes,” she said. “As long as I’m fair and consistent. If you say something, you have to follow through.” In turn, she follows through with tasks she assigns to the inmate staff in her kitchen. She hopes the lessons they learn can be used outside the concrete walls. In Lexington County’s jail, where she taught a culinary class, many of the inmates used those skills when they were released to land jobs in the food service industry.

If the inmates take an interest in the kitchen and set goals, she believes they may have more to be thankful for in the future.

Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.

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