In Brubaker, when newly appointed prison warden Henry Brubaker (Robert Redford) tries to get a firsthand idea of the conditions his inmates live in, he discovers untold brutality, a broken system housing broken men. And, terrible, terrible food. In the opening sequence, the disguised warden sits down to a paltry and maggot-ridden dinner. And when he dramatically reveals that his is not a newly interred convict, one of the first changes Brubaker makes is to turn the county farm back into a working farm.
Over the years, Redford has become a symbol for a certain
soft-hearted Hollywood liberalism that focuses on the
marginalized by making movies about their experiences. Whatever you
think about that, there’s some rather prescient ideas in Brubaker,
particularly that of having the prison supply its own food. With
concerns about the industrial food system running high because of
rising prices and continued environmental destruction (pig sewage lagoon,
anyone?), it’s worth noting that prison food is pretty much the only food in the country worse than school lunches.
Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit group that studies the effects
of mass incarceration on prisoners and on society at large, found that
prisoners in Florida are fed for just $2.32 a day,
while those incarcerated in California luxuriate in a $2.45 per person
per day food budget. It’s not easy to feed a person for so little, and
as recently as 2002, the St. Petersburg Times reported on Brubaker-like conditions: Maggots, rotten meat and tiny portions in the Florida prison system.
In Brubaker, tending the vegetable garden is portrayed as the first step toward humanizing a
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