A few of her friends took things a step further, drawing inspiration from Orange Is The New Black
and converting to a new religion in the search for better food. “They decided to become Muslim because the food they got during Ramadan was amazing, or Judaism, because the Kosher food was fantastic.”
These radical attempts by female prisoners to get their hands on a decent meal suggest an existing interest in quality food and cooking. One organisation has seized that interest as an opportunity. The Clink Charity aims to reduce reoffending simply by teaching prisoners how to cook. It runs four restaurants within the walls of four different prisons; the most recent opening, at women’s prison HMP Styal, has increased the number of prisoners the charity trains to 160 per day.
With an 87.5% success rate
in reducing reoffending, the prisoners prep, cook and serve restaurant-standard meals to the paying public. A far cry from cornflakes and pasta bakes, Styal’s menu features everything from mushroom dust to plum gel and a chicken wing lollypop. The Clink has even had food critic Giles Coren’s stamp of approval, with restaurants now booked up notoriously far in advance.
Christopher Moore, Chief Executive of The Clink believes the kind of skills these prisoners learn is invaluable, particularly for women. “Providing the women prisoners with the skills to cook both benefits their career and personal life,” he says, “It allows them to go back home and bond over a family meal while also learning a trade that is highly sought-after, especially as the hospitality industry is experiencing a major skills shortage.”
It’s without doubt that initiatives such as The Clink are generating positive change. But this year’s food in prisons report highlights that the daily reality is far removed from the free-range beef and handmade ravioli of HMP Styal. Improving prison food, it indicates, has the potential to transform the way prisons function in the UK, not to mention the wellbeing of the women who spend time in those prisons.
For now, the future of prison food is as unclear as the future of our prisons, with Theresa May's new Justice Secretary Liz Truss seemingly backtracking
on plans that were made under David Cameron's leadership to undo Grayling's damaging work and attempt some sort of reform. Yet while the system remains in a state of flux, Sophie and Perri believe there’s no better time to look to our prison kitchens for a solution.
“If [women prisoners] are eating food with no nutritional value whatsoever then of course that replicates what they feel about themselves,” says Perri. “Whereas, if you give the women something that has been carefully planned, carefully created and looks appealing... it can have a dramatically different effect."