Vegan in Prison?!

This piece is culled partly from my forthcoming memoir, Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison.

From 2010 through 2012, I served just under two years in Illinois prisons. Aside from a few accidents based on false information, I stayed vegan in County Jail, in Receiving (24-hour lockdown), for my 18 months in the high-minimum-security Jacksonville Correctional Center, and my three months in the medium-security “Disciplinary Prison,” Logan Correctional Center. You may be surprised to find that, overall, it wasn’t at all hard to be vegan, even in Midwestern-U.S. prisons!

Note that I used the caveat overall. Because at the beginning, it was physically outrageous. Dangerous, even. When my mother and I said our tearful goodbyes on the Henry County Jail steps, I was chubbier (on purpose) than I’d been since early puberty. That fine spring day, I weighed 183 pounds.

My two weeks in County Jail were . . . less than nourishing. I ate mostly white bread, peanut butter and jelly, dry cereal, mushy canned vegetables, and plain noodles. I didn’t know if they had any kind of vegan or even vegetarian tray. I didn’t even bother to ask. I was overwhelmed, scared, mentally/emotionally anguished. I just wanted to acclimate to my new environment before making waves. One of the worst things a new guy on the unit can do is show himself to be different. Especially in ways that are interpreted as weak in that environment. Those two weeks were unpleasant, but they were an absolute party (with a buffet!), compared to what followed.

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What came next was probably the worst two weeks of my life. Every prisoner in Illinois has to go through “Receiving”, where they enter your information into the computer system, determine your security level and which prison they’ll ship you to, and where, I believe, they try to break your spirit by keeping everyone, from serial killer to joint-smoker, in conditions only found in a supermax. During my two weeks there, I got out of the cell one time, for a ten-minute shower. There’s a reason the food trays at Stateville Receiving are referred to as “Lunchables.” Consider: I gave my cellmate all my animal products, and he was still hungry. I could barely sleep. Desperate for relief from the gnawing, churning ache of emptiness and hunger. They served lots of potatoes; yet they were undercooked to near inedibility. We couldn’t decide if they were supposed to be boiled potatoes or potato chips. When I mercifully made it, at last, to Jacksonville Correctional Center, I was 164 pounds. From 183 to 164 (19 pounds, evaporated into the ether) in just 27 days. That means I lost two pounds every three days. Madness! Pathologically inhumane!

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I was grateful toward religion/religious people for one of the only times in my life when I finally got to prison. At Jacksonville, I found out they had a designated VEGAN tray list for religious reasons. I claimed Seventh-Day Adventism. Unfortunate, but you’re not allowed to get on the list for ethical or health reasons—only religious ones. Silly, I know, but one of the only things that carries weight in prison is religion. Dig this: it didn’t used to be so easy. Claim a religion, see the chaplain, and BOOM, you have access to three vegan meals a day. No, back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Dietary staff would just laugh if you asked for even a vegetarian meal. But thank Earth for us ethical vegans that there were some ultra-religion people who took their faith—and faithful diet—very seriously. Guys went on hunger strikes. They filed lawsuits for violation of religious freedom. And some upped the ante even further; guys would attack guards and fellow inmates, flood their cells by jamming up the toilet, and even take guards and other prison staff hostage in an attempt to be heard, to be taken seriously. To receive their legit vegan meals. And they won. Because of those handful of inmates who fought, literally and figuratively, for animal-free meals, every one of the 15-plus state prisons in Illinois now has a designated vegan tray.

First off, that’s fucking awesome on their part. Second, that’s fucking pathetic on our part. Physically assaulting guards and inmates, taking prison staff hostage—“just” so they could receive vegan meals. Imagine for a second. Just imagine! What would it be like if everybody took veganism and animal liberation that seriously?! Those guys had so few resources and abilities at their disposal, and yet just a handful of men changed an entire state’s policy. And this ain’t Rhode Island, folks; Illinois has close to 50,000 people in prison, with a higher per-capita rate than California. They literally risked having years added to their sentence, risked months or years of solitary confinement, risked even their very lives.[1] Imagine if even 10 percent of those who say they believe in animal liberation were willing to take those kinds of risks. A powerful lesson—one that should both shame and inspire us—can be taken from the fight for adequate vegan meals in Illinois prisons.

I damn sure benefitted from it. The vegan trays were far, far better than the regular ones. And not just for the obvious reason that they contained no animal products. The food was tastier, with a greater variety. It makes sense. Inmate kitchen workers can make much higher quality food when they’re preparing for just eight or ten people, versus 800-900 people! The latter received trays of the lowest common denominator, and ones with food that was as simple as possible to cook. But we got stuff that was sometimes great. Spicy chili and cornbread. Garlic-butter noodles with soy crumbles. Mixed-vegetable fried rice. Perfectly spiced black-eyed peas and collard greens. Polenta casseroles. Fried cutlets of zucchini, zucchini grown in a garden maintained by the horticulture class. Fresh fruit at least once every single day (guys on the vegan list were the only inmates to receive fresh fruit—ever). Giant, warm biscuits slathered in non-dairy butter. The guy in charge of preparing the vegan trays, Duff, wanted to hook us up. Simple supply/demand allowed him to spend more time on our trays, enabling him to show off his cooking skills. He succeeded. For prison food, especially in the Midwest-U.S., Jacksonville’s vegan trays were comparatively spectacular![2] Because of my disabling chronic nerve pain condition, I only went to chow once a day, for lunch. Breakfast was far earlier than I wanted to wake up, and dinner in the dining hall was served during my afternoon siesta—a required nap, because my pain was most unbearable in the late afternoon and early evening. So I prepared my own dinner every night. Purchased the ingredients through Commissary. I made one of two things for my entire incarceration: either (1) spicy fried rice with noodles, or (2) a delicious meal of spicy refried beans, knockoff Ramen noodles sans the MSG- and chemical-laden seasoning packet, minced onion and garlic, pickled jalepeños, and spicy chili corn chips, which were accidentally (miraculously) vegan. Some other vegan treats they had on Commissary were ridged potato chips, granola bars that were fantastic with peanut butter, off-brand Golden Grahams, Oreos, knockoff Nutty Bars, and Sierra Mist Natural soda.

All in all, and considering the circumstances, I almost never felt like I was suffering for lack of decent food. Of all the challenges I anticipated leading up to prison and faced while incarcerated, staying vegan was definitely one of the easiest. Not every state is like Illinois in this regard—most are worse, but some are actually even better. I hear federal prisons have vegan options far superior to any state prison. But luckily I landed in a place that made it simple and predictable. For this, I’m hugely indebted to those incredible warriors who Took Shit Seriously and battled with almost unimaginable ferocity to receive acceptable vegan meals. I only hope those of us in the free(-ish) world will learn from their example, and be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve our own goals and dreams of animal liberation.[3] Let’s be more like those prisoners; let’s REALLY begin to Take Shit Seriously. Let’s learn from those human prisoners so we can make a real, tangible (not symbolic) difference in the lives of nonhuman prisoners.

[1] I know in Illinois, at least, if a prisoner takes someone hostage, the policy is shoot-to-kill; in fact, staff members have to sign a waiver saying they understand, basically, that if they’re taken hostage they’re most likely fucked.

[2] Ironically, Duff contributed to getting me kicked out of the special Drug Unit, which cost me 4.5 months of good time. He almost made up for that despicable treachery w/ his slick vegan cooking.

[3] BAMN!—By Any Means Necessary!

My Recent Radio Interview

Great interview with me on Go Vegan Radio with Bob Linden this past Sunday! We discussed a whole range of topics, including veganism (natch), animal rights and liberation, the inherent racism of the American “justice” system, my time in prison, the vile Monsanto corporation, and my debut novel ORANGE RAIN, from which I read a short but powerful excerpt. Available for listening here:

http://www.goveganradio.com/2014/09/10/07-september-2014/

Learn more about ORANGE RAIN here:

My Debut Novel Now Available in Paperback!

Click here to purchase in paperback or e-book via Amazon!

 

A legless veteran and his Vietnamese girlfriend embark on a cross-country journey through the dark heart of mid-1980s America to exact revenge on the loathsome Monsanto Corporation, whose Agent Orange decimated both their lives.

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From the illicit pharmaceutical underworld of San Francisco’s Tenderloin to the cocaine-dusted film set of amputee porn in booming Las Vegas; from the urban-industrial hideout of vegan militant black revolutionaries to a botched backyard lynching by Texas frat boys and the liberation of their chained, abused pit bull. . . Orange Rain hurtles from one stunning scene to the next, swaying between the hilarious and the hideous. Its humor is darker than the Marlboro Man’s coffee (and his lung cancer). A wildly twisted novel, but also one with undeniable heart and compassion. It is an ode to humans’ ability to endure in the face of horrific suffering. A celebration of feminine strength and spirit. You’ve likely never read anything quite like it.
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“The eco-warriors next door embark on a lightning round of vigilante justice. Orange Rain is what happens when the Monkey Wrench Gang goes Death Wish and moves from the scrubland to the streets. Literature that incites.” -Peter Young, former ALF prisoner, chief editor at Animal Liberation Frontline

Thanks to my wonderful, egalitarian, vegan-owned, Eco-conscious publisher Trebol Press for taking this on! www.TrebolPress.com

“Orange Rain is not a politically correct novel—which is why it is so appealing . . . [the main] character has a clear revenge mission he never wavers from. Revenge is exacted on more than one oppressor, including two different rapists . . . [It's] the type of book that could never be published by a mainstream publisher, as they would be too afraid to touch the taboo subjects it contains. Jan Smitowicz’s first novel . . . is fast-moving, fun to read, and isn’t the same old tired thing we see coming from traditional publishers.” -Kimberly Steele, author of Forever Fifteen and other novels

“A compelling, fast-paced adventure through some of society’s most intriguing subcultures . . . filled with incisive political commentary. This timely and important novel is a must read for anyone concerned about the state of the planet, or simply looking for a good read.” -Camille Marino, former political prisoner, founder of Negotiation is Over and Eleventh Hour for Animals

“An exciting new author with a new voice to bring to the world of fiction. The literary world is in desperate need of more writers like him.” Veronica Rosas, playwright

“Pynchon in Public” Day–Before

Thursday, May 8 (tomorrow, from my current chrono-location) is the fourth annual Pynchon in Public Day, a world non-event of culture-jamming with anything related to the madman-genius books of iconic postmodernist writer Thomas Pynchon–a recluse who makes J.D. Salinger like a media whore. One of the only known pictures of him is a dorky bucktoothed high school yearbook photo:

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Click the website link above for explanations, ideas, examples. My girlfriend and I will be going by names of characters in his books–Pugnax (dog who can read, and communicate with humans with barks) and Commander Randolph St. Cosmo (head of the hydrogen airship Inconvenience), respectively; our dog will be referred to as Mouffette, French for “skunk”, and a papillon dog (all names from Against the Day).

We will also happen to already that day be staying in San Francisco, location of Oedipa Maas’s day of Tristero-conspiracy findings in The Crying of Lot 49. She sees a symbol drawn all over the city, dozens of times–the muted Post horn, symbol of W.A.S.T.E. (We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire):

lot 49 trumpet

I have a feeling we, too, will be coming across many of these symbols drawn/chalked in various locations (photographic evidence possibly forthcoming). We will also be reading his books “unashamedly on trains”.

Happy (Mute Horn) Posting!

Review: RANT by Chuck Palahniuk

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I enjoyed this book quite a lot more than several of Chuck’s other books. I’ve read seven of them now, and at first I was really into him (partially b/c my then-girlfriend was obsessed with him), but then I grew to dislike him quite a lot. Rant has instilled a shred of faith that some of his other books might be worth my time.

One problem I have with Palahniuk is the very idiosyncrasy that so many people love. To me it comes off as being way too forced, like he’s trying too hard to have a more distinctive voice instead of actually having a unique voice. Most notably when he jumbles syntax: stuff like, “The car, we all piled in.” I don’t like it. Not when he does it. David Foster Wallace pulls it off like a magician . . . Thomas Pynchon, Stephen King . . . it sounds natural when they do it, but forced when Palahniuk does. My biggest problem with his books, though, is that I think he’s not very good at plotting stories. The “back cover”-type material sounds fascinating on every single one of his books, but the actual plots often fail to deliver on the intrigue fostered by their premises.

With Rant, though, I think he overcame those prior deficits. I love how the story’s told in the form of an oral history, composed of “anecdotes” from dozens of extremely varied personalities who were somehow involved in the life of the subject—titular character Buster “Rant” Casey. This storytelling form aids in sort of facilitating Chuck’s syntactical and form-based idiosyncrasies. So instead of detracting from the novel, with this one they actually enhance the desired effect. Overall, the writing is sleek and efficient; the plot unfolds very organically and rather brilliantly, as little clues and details are dropped piece by piece from different character testimony and perspectives. It’s also one of Chuck’s more interesting plots, made even better by the fact that Rant manages to avoid (to a large degree) some of his pitfalls. I did feel the ending was anti-climactic. However, this time I think it was intentional—much in the way that Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest has no real climax, but rather directs and suggests a cohesive ending that the reader has to imagine for herself—and I think, to my surprise, Palahniuk managed to pull it off. A good yarn, fascinating premises and follow-throughs thereon, and taut, compelling prose make it a book worth reading.

Score: 65/100

A Dream Come True

EEEEEEEEEK!! One week ago I officially got OFF PAROLE. I already had my stuff all packed up in my car, so I picked up Batty from her foster a couple miles away and hit the road at 6:30pm. Drove aaaaaaall the way through the night and arrived at my amazing girlfriend Andria‘s work at just after 5am. L.A. to Arcata, CA, Humboldt County, almost 700 miles, in a straight shot through the night.

I’ve been dreaming of living in Humboldt since literally the FIRST DAY I spent here, back in 2007. Little matters of prison and parole and other things got in the way, but I FINALLY MADE IT HAPPEN! Now I’m living literally IN the redwood forest, renting a nice big room on 2 acres of property. Thought I’d have to settle and live in one of the cities first, but NOPE! My darling lady found me this sweet place and I’m absolutely LOVING it up here. This is where I belong, no question. (FFS, get this–they sell delicious vegan cake-things at the COUNTER of even mega-corporate *gas stations* like Chevron!!) Also, I happen to be living about two miles from Headwaters Forest, which was the focal point of the battle to save old-growth redwoods–one of the only UNTOUCHED, virgin old-growth redwood forests left (for the best thing you could possibly read to learn about Headwaters, check out THIS BOOK).

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This place is truly magickal, in countless different ways. No other place like it in the country, and maybe even the planet. And I’m here. I did it. And it’s EVEN BETTER than I’d hoped. The place of my dreams, with the woman of my dreams. I don’t think life in Amerika is ever gonna stop ravaging my soul, but at least now I’m away from the concrete-wasteland nightmare of HelL.A./SoCal. The last 4.5 years have been a seemingly endless series of broken dreams, heartbreaking events and scenarios, and the ceaseless soul-crushing Bad Trip of BureaucraZy’s mad savagery. Dare I hope that it’s FINALLY over? If nothing else, I’m where I belong, with the person I belong (and with whom I’m madly, overwhelmingly in love)–now at least I have a solid foundation to build on.

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I so needed this. I deserve this. I’ve worked so hard and waited so long for this. It’s here, I’M here, and I still can’t believe it. Humboldt, Andria, redwoods . . . THIS. This.

*FREE PROMO!* My Revenge Novel “Orange Rain”, Now Revised and Including Bonus Materials!

Orange Rain has been revamped: now professionally edited, with a new cover and bonus materials at the end!

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To celebrate this, I’m offering the book for FREE DOWNLOAD starting tomorrow, Tuesday, April 1 and ending Saturday, April 5, 2014!! After that, it will be available for the 50% reduced price of $2.99 for another five days!
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Click here to download ORANGE RAIN from Amazon.

 

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Max Wright is homicidally enraged with people who wrecked his life—people he has never met or even seen. The Vietnam War left him poisoned and cancer-ridden from the spraying of Agent Orange, legless, and addicted to heroin, forced to sell drugs to support his habit and suppress his pain. Now he’s kicked heroin, and burns for revenge on the loathsome corporation that manufactured Agent Orange.

With his Vietnamese ex-prostitute girlfriend Mai Linh, Max hitchhikes across mid-1980s America. Destination: Florida, where a university medical clinic is performing cutting-edge prosthetic leg implants. Only when he is able-bodied, Max reasons, can he attempt an attack on the corporation that ravaged his body, and decimated Mai Linh’s life. Hot on Max and Mai’s trail is Victor Wattana, the “Oriental Massage Parlor” owner whose money they stole and penis they snapped in half following a rape attempt.

From the illicit pharmaceutical underworld of San Francisco’s Tenderloin to the cocaine-dusted film set of amputee porn in booming Las Vegas, from the urban-industrial hideout of militant black revolutionaries to a botched backyard lynching by Texas frat boys, Orange Rain hurtles from one stunning scene to the next. It sways between the hilarious and the hideous, exploring myriad dark places in America where the two intersect. It is an ode to humans’ ability to endure in the face of horrific cruelty and suffering. A celebration of feminine strength and spirit.

 

NOTE: If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free Kindle app and read it on your phone or computer!

A Huey helicopter unleashing the “orange rain” on Vietnam.

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT ORANGE RAIN:

Jan Smitowicz is the Hunter S. Thompson for a new generation, and ‘Orange Rain’ is every inch the mind-bending ride you would expect from such an author. I guarantee you’ve never come across a novel like this before. The pace is fast and the the language is both inventive and obscene . . . If you long for a world where despicable behavior has immediate and devastating consequences, Mr. Smitowicz has your order up.”
-A.F.

“I’m always up for a plot in which the little guy fights back against the big guy. And you can’t get bigger than Monsanto. Go, Max!…Rapists getting beaten. Poisoners getting poisoned. Dogs getting liberated. That kind of justice is always so cathartic. I don’t read enough of it.”  -J.C.

Orange Rain is fast-paced and exciting . . . a tale of pure beauty.”
-M.N.

“You must read this, my peeps. You must relish the dark humor, the excitement, predicaments, the shredding of evil entities, the endings that make the world go ’round. I don’t care how the academics describe this book – I’m doing it my way: you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll be singing from rooftops. Oh, yes you will!”
-A.L.

A rollicking adventure in which a search for legs and revenge leads to a cross-country trip jam-packed with thrills, chills, and seat-of-the-pants escapes…Exhilarating, thought-provoking, and relevant, Orange Rain is worth your time!”
-J.

“I loved this book! I literally couldn’t put it down. It explores some really serious topics (veterans and PTSD, chemicals and the environment, fat corporate America) in a fairly dark but wildly funny twisted way that engaged me from the first page.”
-R.S.