Bread and water vegan : struggling for health and humanity inside prison
Intelligent Allah 1,014 words
Woodbourne Cor. Facility
Woodbourne, N.Y. 12788
BREAD AND WATER VEGAN
Struggling for Health and Humanity inside Prison
By Intelligent Allah
Milk and hamburgers are staples of the state prison diet, not almond milk and soy burgers. Processed canned fruit soaked in high fructose corn syrup is a commissary privilege, but there is no fresh fruit. Suede boots are issued by the New York State Department of Correctional
Services, yet animal—friendly boots are non—eXistent. Absences like these have plagued my life for over 14 years.
As a black man with a familial history of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, I developed a desire for optimal health. This desire prompted my first major dietary change, which led to perpetual alterations in my eating habits. After I stopped eating pork at age 18, I limited my meat consumption to fish at age 19. At 21, I stopped consuming dairy, eggs and “sweets” such as soda, cakes, sugar, and candy. I became a vegan after eliminating honey and animal- derived ingredients like whey from my diet at 32. At 33, I stopped eating potato chips and trans fats.
Becoming a vegan was inextricably linked to my maturing from the reckless 17-year-old teen that entered prison in 1994 into the responsible 34-yerar—old man I am in 2010. I discovered discipline through overcoming my appetite. I began applying this trait to suppress my temper,
Intelligent resolve conflicts and excel in other aspects of my life like education and exercise. Learning of the environmental and moral implications of an animal—free diet helped foster my growing empathy for people I had hurt. I had rarely considered the feelings of people who were not my friends, because I had been desensitized to violence within the 5.5-square miles of the crime- infested streets of East New York, Brooklyn where I was raised. But Veganism helped me develop a worldview that entails my understanding and concern for how my actions—dietary choices and otherwise—effect our environment and other beings in our global community. I became a man determined to reclaim his humanity by embracing all life.
My inability to cease using all non-food items in prison that contain animal byproducts has made a complete vegan lifestyle Virtually impossible for me. The prison system does not provide animal—friendly toiletries, with the exception of Oraline toothpaste, which I appreciate immensely since toothpaste is the only cosmetic I ingest. The supplements sold in commissary—Vitamin C, protein powder and amino acids—contain whey. The boots I am issued are suede. Because evading all animal—derived byproducts in all non-food items is impractical for me while incarcerated, I became a vegan only in diet.
Adhering to healthy vegan diet in prison is a complex task. Mashed potatoes are whipped with milk, cornbread contains diary and eggs, and there are meat alternatives like eggs and cheese, or texturized vegetable protein, often covered in a sauce laced with whey. I supplement my diet with commissary items like canned beans, tomato paste, pasta, and rice. My family and friends sporadically mail me care packages that contain hummus, 8~grain bread, rice or soy milk, and fresh fruit and vegetables. I order soy products when my 8¢—an—hour “job” permits.
Ultimately, the road to a Vegan diet inside of prison is covered with bumps, but I still enjoy the ride.
Having compassion for animals is not a popular characteristic inside of violent institutions saturated with some of the most dangerous men in New York State. I am frequently the brunt of wise—cracks by my testosterone—fueled associates who brand herbivores “weak.” My rebuttals lie in references to vegan bodybuilder Kenneth Williams, the strength of Vegetarian A animals like elephants and apes, plus the fact that I can outlast most men on the _pull—up bar. A few men frequently praise my discipline and diet, noting that they would like to embrace a vegetarian diet, but they could never do so under the rigors of incarceration. I have come to realize that many of the wise—cracks hurled at me are rooted in the envy of muscular men who are physically strong, but void of the mental strength and discipline required to maintain a vegan diet—especially in prison.
Although upholding a vegan diet in prison comes with a cost, literally and figuratively, I am willing to pay the price. I have learned through observation and experience that adversity can build discipline, character and strength. Had I developed these qualities in society, I may have avoided coming to prison. When I think of people like the late H. Jay Dinshah, who founded the
American Vegan Society (AVS) in 1960, I am inspired by imagining what obstacles he overcame during his 40—plus—year mission to enlighten people about veganism. People like Ingra
Newkirk, founder and president of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who fight for the rights of animals worldwide, remind me of the global impact of my dietary and moral choices. When I envision Dr. Neal Bernard, founder and president of the Physicians "
Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), his unyielding advocacy for healthy living through and animal—friendly diet reminds me that I have the resilience to rise above the hurdles in my path.
Though while in prison I cannot abstain from all non—food items containing animal byproducts, I have found other ways to contribute to the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and the wellbeing of animals. I have pledged my support and become a paid member of PETA and AVS.
I have also instructed classes on diet, nutrition and Veganism to a select few prisoners who were interested in broadening their perspectives on those topics. Knowing that there are groups like
PETA and AVS in society, and that inside of prison there are so—called “hardened criminals” interested in my message of health and compassion, I am reminded that my struggle for health and humanity while inside of prison is worthwhile. As a published writer and reader of publications like Vegetarian Times, VegNews, PETA’s Animal Times, and AVS’ American
Vegan, I am inspired to share my personal story through writing. Hopefully, my words will inspire others to live healthy lives for the sake of humanity and the animals we share our planet with. If a bread and water vegan can do it, so could a free person.
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