Checking through my 70 or so saved search terms on eBay is one of the highlights of my day.  It’s a part of my unwinding process after work.  The majority of my searches involve some aspect of vintage food culture,  toys from days gone by, or Disney artifacts, with the occasional “unopened Deal a Meal” thrown in for good measure.  Only rarely does an item pop up that really peaks my interest.  I mean it’s all cool stuff or I wouldn’t be looking at it, it’s just that I’ve seen most of it before.  I know all the Jell-O cookbooks, I know all of the releases in the Over the Top toy line, and if something exists with the words “Crystal Pepsi” printed on it, I’ve seen it.  Ten times over.

However, once in a harvest moon something does emerge that makes me sit up and take notice.  And you can be sure this lunch pack from San Quentin was one of them.  In this case, I found it by linking through to an item that popped up under my very broad “Kool-Aid” search.  Of course I had to inquire about how the seller came into such an unusual item.  He assured me that he had indeed done time at the aforementioned institution, and I left it at that.  I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so in my mind, I’ve imagined it as a Nicholas Cage in Con-Air situation.  Hopefully it’s not a Steve Buscemi in Con-Air situation.  Come to think of it he never actually mentioned being released…

Ok guys, everyone just be cool.

If you don’t know (because I didn’t), San Quentin State Prison is located in California.  It has the largest Death Row of any prison in the United States, is the oldest prison in California, houses a total of 4,000 inmates, and has a “Notable Inmates” section on Wikipedia that reads like a goddamn nightmare.

Now, I’m not going to say I‘m an expert on prison culture per se, but I’ve seen Oz and feel my spoken word poetry skills are more than adequate to keep me from being nailed to the floor.  And I’ve watched Orange is the New Black twice.  So I’m reasonably sure I’d be able to survive on the inside of a prison women’s prison minimum security women’s prison.

I know that in prison food is a big deal.  For example, food from the outside, like a Twinkie, can be bartered for a light maiming.  A sleeve of Oreos can be traded for a brutal murder.  (Just ballparking here.  Not really sure of the various exchange rates.)  I’m not sure what could be had for food that is already on the inside.  Maybe an extra dinner roll could buy you a scathing indictment of the family environment in which an enemy was raised.

I’d imagine a whole lunch pack could get you something fairly decent.  Here’s what we have to work with: a package of peanut butter, a package of jelly, some Kool-Aid-ish instant drink mix packs, and some Pepperidge Farms Dark Chocolate Milanos (I know!).  I was told the coffee packs are not usually included.  They were “gifts.”  Not sure if the eBay seller meant they were a gift to inmates or a gift to me.  Oh god, do I owe this guy a favor now?!

Also, included with this pack was a package of bread.  Sadly, I was out of town when it was delivered, and instead of leaving it in one of the many locked mailboxes my complex has, it was left on my door, because the U.S. Postal Service is really good at what they do.  Anyway, the neighborhood raccoon gnawed his way into the box and absconded with my bread.  So we’re working without.

The instant drink mix came in three flavors: Grape, Lemon, and Punch.  They are pre-sweetened with aspartame and contain 25% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin D.  So that’s good.  All of them taste like second or third tier whatever the lowest tier of instant drink mix is.  Kool-Aid they are not.  Even though they are labeled pre-sweetened, they are not very sweet at all.  If your mom ever forgot to add the sugar when she was brewing up a batch of Kool-Aid (which happened in my house every now and then), that’s the sweetness level we’re talking about.  They’re pretty tart, and even though we don’t get the sweetness of the aspartame, we still get the horrible aftertaste.  Not good.

The jelly pack is Mixed Fruit, the most heinous and generic of all of the jelly flavors.  It’s very thick, very sweet, and very artificial.  It vaguely tastes of fruit, or “fruit.”  It leans a little in the strawberry direction, though not a whole lot.  Not inedible.

The peanut butter is like spackle.  It’s crazy thick.  Crazy thick!  It’s also a bit grainy.  But truth be told it doesn’t taste that bad.  It’s peanut butter, after all, how far off the rails could it possible go?

The instant coffee is unequivocally the worst coffee I’ve ever had.  It smells a little like caramel, a little like coffee, and a lot like burnt wood.  And judging from the taste, it seems to be brewed from the grounds of cardboard and sawdust.  And not fresh sawdust either.  Old, stale, driveway sawdust.  To add insult to injury, it’s not even very strong.  I would think it would be better to not give inmates this coffee.  Why would you remind them of the best beverage in the world by giving them the absolute worst version of that beverage?  Or maybe that’s part of the punishment.  Drinking this swill would put me back on the straight and narrow immediately.

Lastly, and quite unbelievably, we have the Dark Chocolate Milanos.  Now, I could imagine cookies being served in prison, but I would have thought they were those bagged, bottom shelf pucks that absolutely horrible people begrudgingly bring to holiday office gatherings.  You know the ones.  Those are the people that should be locked up!  I would have never imagined anything from Pepperidge Farm.  Who knew?  These Milanos are delightful.  As Milanos always are.  They were fresh, and thanks to the sturdy plastic tray inside the bag, both cookies were still in one piece.  Good form, Pepperidge Farm.  These cookies could easily buy you a night of companionship.  I’d assume.  Just don’t serve them with the coffee.

Hopefully, this is as close as I’ll ever get to having any kind of prison experience.  It was bad enough for me.  I think I’m going to open a window, have a beer, maybe get some sun on my face.  I might even head out to that big hayfield up near Buxton and get busy living.  Because you know what the alternative is.