breaking into jail
A career in corrections can be lucrative while offering
a standard-hour workweek. BY JODY SHEE
hile everyone else is out enjoying productive careers,
family, friends—and life in general, there is the hidden-away
mass of 2. 4 million inmates incarcerated across the country in federal,
state and county correctional facilities. Whether in jails, prisons, penitentiaries or juvenile
detention centers, they eat, too, and someone has to see to it.
Granted, there aren’t many culinary professionals out there developing their dream dishes
in prisons, but plenty are directing foodservice operations, keeping everything in motion.
So for those who like to be involved in planning, supervising, purchasing and training,
corrections can offer a rewarding career.
One of the biggest beasts to contend with, however, is an ever-shrinking budget. It drives everything
that is happening in corrections foodservice. But salaries are safe—and comparable, if not better,
than many other foodservice jobs. That’s because those in corrections are either employed by the
government (with nice salaries, standard workweeks and fringe benefits, including a pension) or
they work for contract management companies with their own benefits packages.
away mass of
2. 4 million
eat, too, and
someone has to
see to it.
But, back to the beast of reduced spending. With the tough economic times, government
cutbacks are taking a toll on corrections foodservice, all the way from what prisoners eat for
dinner to who runs the program. It looms over the head of government-employed workers in
self-run operations, who, while building their pensions, could be out of a job in an instant if
officials decide to outsource foodservice operations. Contract management companies come
out the winners, as they are hired to run the program, instead.
While he has worked for the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) for more than
19 years, for nearly four years, J. Kevin O’Brien, CEC, has served as foodservice director
at MDOC’s Coldwater Prison Complex, and is responsible for feeding more than 3,300
prisoners and 700 staff members daily.
The corrections culture is certainly about monitoring, controlling and securing. In many
cases, inmates are involved in the food preparation. “Knives are usually tethered to the table
when prisoners are working, and signed in and out by staff,” O’Brien says. “We lock and