Unpaid Guards Working During the Shutdown Fume About Serving Inmates Steak to Boost Prisoner ‘Morale’

Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Federal inmates were served steak, several side dishes, and an assortment of holiday pies on New Year’s Day by guards who weren’t even getting a paycheck.

The partial government shutdown took effect on December 21. For “non-essential” public employees, that meant their offices were closed and they would remain furloughed at home without pay until the shutdown ends. For essential employees, that meant that they had to show up to work, anyway.

Included in the list of essential employees are all of the staff and guards at federal prisons across the United States.

Working in a prison is already a tough job, but according to a report by The Washington Post, some federal prison guards got to add “serving prisoners steak without being paid” to their list of complaints.

Joe Rojas works as a prison guard and represents the guards’ union for the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida.

He told the Post that he spent New Year’s Day watching inmates “eating like kings” while mocking the guards for working without pay.

“We’re already stressed. Outside the shutdown, the job is stressful,” Rojas told the Post. “Now you’ve got the shutdown, you’re coming to work, and then you see this.”

This holiday meal is part of federal prisons across the country. While the Florida inmates were eating steak, prisoners in Brooklyn were served Cornish hen, and Minnesota’s inmates had chicken wings.

Rojas wasn’t happy to be watching these inmates enjoying their holiday meal. He told the Post:

“These inmates are not here for singing too loud at a church. These are dangerous felons. We’re working with killers. We’re working with terrorists. All these guys do is think and hatch plans and figure out how to get weapons. It’s like a molotov cocktail waiting to explode.”

These taxpayer-funded meals were part of a preplanned event to “promote morale” of the inmates locked up for breaking the law. According to NBC News, the Bureau of Prisons said the meals were “planned weeks in advance” in an attempt to “promote morale for the inmate population because they are separated from their families.”

Eric Young, the president of prison locals for the American Federation of Government Employees, told NBC News that the meal may be intended to boost the morale of inmates but that it tanks morale for the law-abiding men and women who guard them.

“Imagine doing that at a time when you’ve got staff who can’t put food on the table or put gas in the car [due to the shutdown],” Young said. “You can imagine what that does to the morale.”

Many of the guards feel like they are a “pawn” of the shutdown and hope it ends sooner rather than later. The guards will receive back pay for their time after their department’s appropriation bill is signed, but in the meantime, they still have to pay their bills without steady checks coming in.

Unfortunately for the guards, neither the White House nor Democrats seem willing to cave on their position for funding the wall on the southern border, and it isn’t clear when the shutdown will end.

What do you think?

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Prison is not supposed to be about privileges. If you have 500 inmates, provide food enough for 200. Put the action on pay-per-view. Make the prisons and prisoners defray their own costs.


Ridiculous. It reminds me of when I worked my way through undergrad via 3-4 part time jobs. I stood in line with a bucket of chicken gizzards or hearts (cheapest protein I could find) and watched food stamps used for steaks, soft drinks, snack food and ice cream. Paid for out of every paycheck I received and these were able-bodied people

Kelly Sandberg

If you as a guard don’t like your job there find a new one. no one is making you stay there.

Lizzie Helmer

I feel like the prison guards should be more angry at the fact Congress is still getting their large paychecks while they struggle to compromise to get the government open. Yeah, the inmates are getting a nice meal, but it’s one out of the whole year and at the end of the day they still got to eat it in prison in their jumpsuits and away from their families and society.


While i dislike the idea of them getting an overly nice meal any time, do they behave better overall when they get one or two nice meals a year?

It sucks, but if there are valid reasons for giving a better meal on the holiday then those reasons don’t change just because of the government shutdown.





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