Thanksgiving in the Clark County Jail — dinner for 800

A team of 30 inmates spent four days preparing the special meal

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter



Cooking a Thanksgiving meal for 800:

140 pounds of turkey

24 gallons of potatoes

60 gallons of gravy

180 pounds of vegetables

24 gallons of stuffing

131 pounds of cranberry sauce

24 gallons of pumpkin pudding

800 rolls

Diamond Boedeker is used to preparing food for her family in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

This year, she prepared the holiday meal for a much larger and unexpected family: the inmates at the Clark County Jail Work Center.

"You've got to make the best out of it," she said.

Boedeker, 24, said that since she was booked in jail in August for her fourth driving under the influence charge, she has become close with the other inmates.

"You can share a special day with people you've made relationships with," she said. Although she can't be with her family, Boedeker said, "I still have this family as a support system that I can rely on and cook for."

A team of about 30 inmates at the Jail Work Center spent the four days leading up to Thanksgiving preparing for the special meal: defrosting and cooking the turkeys and turning the skin and drippings from the pan into a base for the gravy. Inmates assembled the homemade stuffing from leftover bread crusts and mixed the ingredients for the pumpkin pudding.

Although the amount of people they're feeding fluctuates slightly, the crew plans on feeding 800 inmates at the main jail, the work center and the juvenile detention center.

In a lot of ways, getting ready for the Thanksgiving meal is the same as any other food preparation work at the jail. Most meals take a few days of preparation and have the same amount of food items. But for Thanksgiving, instead of processed turkey, the jail orders a dozen fresh 9- to 12-pound turkeys — they are boneless so that inmates don't turn the bones into weapons to harm themselves or others.

The cost is only slightly higher than the average jail meal, with Thanksgiving dinner costing $1.81 per inmate, compared with the normal price of $1.66 per inmate.

Cost savings throughout the year, such as turning leftovers into soups, makes it so the meal falls into the normal allotted budget.

Though the fresh turkey requires a little more work, the staff at the jail said it is worth it.

"Holidays are a tough time for inmates," said Joe Loftgren, food services manager at the jail. Although they've made mistakes, Lofgren said, the inmates are "still human beings; we still treat them as people."

Holidays can be especially stressful, he said, especially for inmates, some of whom are away from families for the first time.

"A good meal lowers that tension, lowers that holiday stress," Loftgren said. "We want to do something so they know there are people out there who still care about them."