The meat-prison-industrial complex

By Tom Crimmons

A victory! I fought for 3 years to get my veganism accomodated, including a drop of 20 pounds of body weight at one point with some weeks of getting as few as 3 vegan-acceptable trays a week (out of a possible 21 meals per week), the rest refused. In response to my complaint in the US District court, Tuscon, a vegan option is now available here at United States Penitentiary (USP) Tuscon, perhaps only the second Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) facility to make a vegan option available — the first being a facility up in SeaTac. The vegan option is now available for any inmate at USP Tuscon to sign up for, and as the menu develops, it will be a possible model for other BoP facilities.

I hope other federal inmates reading this, who are going through similar trials, will be helped knowing that some change has taken place. They might wonder, as I did, why veganism is (or was) resisted in the BoP. I’ve been vegan since February 1982, with my long-term veganism noted in my pre-sentencing report. I’m vegan because of deeply held beliefs rooted in empathy for animals and concerns for the world, beliefs which I can put in terms of my Taoism. I’d think most people would think such things should be positively reinforced. Why would BoP policy discourage such efforts based on the higher aspirations of inmates?

Here, the refusal to accomodate my veganism even went so far as instructions to the inmate servers to put nonvegan items on my trays, even after nearly three years of me refusing such trays and my complaints about weight loss. These instructions were necessary because the inmate servers normally had the common decency to leave nonvegan items off of trays intended for me. It would have cost the BoP nothing to allow inmate servers to continue doing this. It was hard for me to understand this active hostility to my veganism.

. . .

It’s apparent that much of what happens here is simply the following of old patterns – old traditions – some of which go back thousands of years. Realizing this, I had to concede that the people who are the gatekeepers of the BoP bureaucracy, who ignored my complaint, my rights, my wellbeing and my potential for positive contributions, are generally not conscious of the patterns and their origins. While these patterns didn’t begin with Constantine, they reached a certain stage of violent maturity in his actions.

When Constantine prepared his premeditated cruel murder of the Pythagorean Christians, there must have been a smell to the molten metal, and Constantine’s victims must have felt the radiant heat as it was brought close. There was perhaps one last opportunity to concede to the will of Constantine, who threatened a horrible death for refusing to eat the meat — meat brought into the empire by the slaughter done by Constantine’s armies. Constantine would have known of sources, like Plato’s republic, making the link between the warfaring of empires and the consumption of meat by their people, so he could consider it rebellion to this co-opted Christianity or simple ingratitude when the Pythagorean Christians refused to eat meat, and this he would not tolerate. His victim’s mouth would be pried and held open — no way to agree anymore — and the molten metal would be poured. What was the sound of attempted screams in an instantly-seared throat? Does the next victim still refuse, so core to his or her beliefs was refusing to eat meat?

The essence of that devil Constantine’s actions continues within the United States today. His premeditated cruel murder of the Pythagorean Christians has become the bureaucratized cruelty of the United States Penitentiary system, and an inmate’s passion for life can still get a life-threatening response.

There are at least two basic ways that human-on-animal violence leads to an increase in human-on-human violence:

1. The geo-political pressues, that Constantine might have learned about from Plato’s republic, come from the much larger ecological footprint required for a meat-centered diet, such that concentrated populations on such a diet are unable to live within the means of their region, thus they’re required to war with neighboring populations to obtain control over their neighbors’ agricultural production areas. This principle continues to play out as Americans, generally with one of the most meat-centered diets on the planet, have the largest military spending and reach.

2. There are cognitive processes where the way we treat animals is a training ground for how we treat other people. Becoming more comfortable with the killing of animals can make a person more comfortable with the killing of people. Some cultures have constructs to mitigate against this tendency, so that a pleasure in killing animals doesn’t become a pleasure in killing people, but warfaring cultures tend to exploit it. The “enemy” is dehumanized with racist or other characterizations that equate the “enemy” to animals, making killing mentally easier.

. . .

In the BoP prison system, we’re at a nexus between these principles. An imperialistic society requires subjugation of its people. So if a meat-centered diet requires imperialistic reach around the world, it will also require the willingness to imprison some high percentage of its people. And the high-security status of a prison like USP Tucson requires the guardianship by people who are willing to kill people under the right circumstances, so it’s no surprise to find a high percentage of hunters and ranchers among the corrections officers – and so no surprise there would be responses to veganism ranging from indifference to hostility.

The system is very costly and unsustainable, so change is inevitable – and it has begun. The ghost of Constantinople will continue to fade away.