Traditional recipes

Japanese Cafeteria Serves Prison Food to the Masses

Japanese Cafeteria Serves Prison Food to the Masses

Ever wonder what prisoners eat? Well, this restaurant at the Abashirishi Prison Museum in Japan can show you

Prison food has always been a source of fascination for the general public (see: Yelp reviews of prison food), so one museum in Japan is capitalizing on the mystery.

Kitschy Japanese news site Rocket News 24 ventures out to Abashiri, Hokkaido, where a cafeteria at the Abashiri Prison Museum serves the same recipes as food served in Japanese prisons.

The "Prison Cafeteria" has two lunch sets at 800 yen ($8) and 700 yen ($7), both served with miso soup that is replaced with a coarse tea in the prisons. Everything else, however, is purportedly the same.

So what did Rocket News 24 have for lunch? Set A included rice boiled with barley, fried fish (mackerel pike), Japanese daikon radishes, a noodle salad, and miso soup. The second set swapped out the radishes for fried vegetables and the noodle salad for Chinese yam. All of which sounds heaps better than a sloppy joe, which we expect in kid cafeterias.

Apparently, Rocket News reporters felt the same; the meal was called a "taste bud explosion." And the second set apparently affected the reporter so much, "our reporter couldn’t contain his emotion any more, softly muttering 'amazing' as he looked down at his tray of prison food," Andrew Miller writes.

Of course, just because these are the recipes the system supposedly serves in the prison, you would never know unless you were truly incarcerated. (If you remember, fourth-grader Zachary Maxwell snuck a camera into his school and found that a "marinated tomato salad" was just lettuce and carrot).

Raising Awareness About Mass Incarceration Over Dinner

Chef Kurt Evans is engaging the Philadelphia community in conversations about race, class, and the criminal justice system.

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It’s about an hour before dinner service, and Kurt Evans is working on an appetizer. This dish doesn’t require mincing, chopping, searing, or slicing—in fact, it has only three ingredients, and most cooks make it without the luxury of a kitchen.

The chef opens two bags of puffy orange cheese doodles to let the air out, then mashes the snacks into a powder in the bag with his hands. Next, he crumbles in spicy shrimp-flavored ramen noodles and seasoning, then a little hot water. Evans massages the bags to combine the ingredients, presses the mixture to the bottom of each bag, and rolls the packages up to let the ingredients hydrate.

Chi chi ingredients before the addition of hot water.

This is chi chi, and it’s typically made in a prison cell by inmates, pooling snack foods that can be bought at the prison commissary or vending machines. Sometimes it’s pressed into a sort of loaf—resembling ground beef, especially if it’s made with electric-red Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—and other times it’s looser, more like noodles in a chunky sauce. It’s an essential supplement to prisoners’ diet of limited, unpalatable-by-design prison food. In addition to the base of ramen and chips or Cheetos, a batch of chi chi may include pieces of other snacks like Slim Jims, beef jerky, string cheese—whatever the cooks can get their hands on to dress up the dish.

Rather than cooking in a prison cell, however, Evans is preparing tonight’s batch of chi chi in a restaurant, where it will be served to guests attending his End Mass Incarceration (EMI) dinner series . Held throughout Philadelphia, the multicourse meals feature an amuse bouche of chi chi followed by a slate of Evans’s cooking, ranging from farm-to-table fare to soul food staples. Also on the menu is a discussion facilitated by a formerly incarcerated Black man, meant to engage diners around issues related to the U.S. criminal justice system, which incarcerates Black people at a rate of about five times higher than whites.

While the first event took place in January at Rx The Farmacy, a brunch spot just off the University of Pennsylvania campus, the dinner Evans is preparing on this Sunday in February is hosted by El Compadre, a torta and taco mecca in South Philly’s Italian Market neighborhood. Between the two series dinners he has hosted so far, Evans has served—and educated—around 50 diners, and he’s raised about $1,000 for two prison-related nonprofits.

The goal for the EMI dinner series is to make the problem of mass incarceration a household conversation, says Evans. “It’s easy for those affected by it, including family and friends of those in the system, to be forgotten. But through discussion, we can keep them in the front of our minds, [and] community members can troubleshoot and devise plans to fix the broken system.”

In the chef’s West Philly community and in his family, incarceration was commonplace. When he was a kid and the uncle he looked up to the most was locked up, “I wanted to go to jail too—that’s what I knew,” says Evans. “He told me that’s not what you want to do.”

Coming Up in the Restaurant Industry

Chef Kurt Evans hopes the dinner series he is organizing will shine a light on the issue of mass incarceration.

Evans, who is Black, started his cooking education early. When he was young, his mother worked for Aramark food services and would take him to work in a hospital cafeteria with her. There, he learned the basics from the guys in the kitchen as long as he stayed out of sight. After that, he worked his way up to fine-dining kitchens in Philadelphia, reading up on recipes and techniques to expand his skill set. (His personal cookbook library totals close to a thousand.)

Evans started his own high-end catering business , Signature Catering, in 2014 and later ran Route 23, a neighborhood restaurant in the city’s Germantown section. Overseeing the restaurant, he found himself hiring kitchen staff who couldn’t get work elsewhere because they’d been incarcerated.

“Being a small business owner, I didn’t have [applicants] do background checks,” says Evans, “but these guys come to you truthfully.” Since he had a similar background and understood their challenging situation, Evans didn’t judge. “[My business partner] at the time would say, ‘If we don’t give them a shot, who will?’”

While Evans was coming into his own as a chef and restaurateur, he got connected to Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller, chef-owners of South Philly Barbacoa (now El Compadre). The couple have used the critical praise they’ve received from local and national food media to raise awareness about the injustice and risk faced by undocumented workers, especially in the service industry. (Martinez has publicly come out as undocumented to draw attention to this issue .)

Evans served as a guest chef for Martinez and Miller’s #Right2Work dinner series, a similar program that uses meals as a way to educate the community he also closed his restaurant during their A Day Without Immigrants protest last year.

With all this in mind, he decided he wanted to do something to help a cause that affected his own community.


The quirky tasting menu will be available Saturday and Sunday at Eastern State, a closed prison that once housed gangster Al Capone. The centuries-old facility was abandoned in 1971 but later reopened to tourists looking for an eerie glimpse of life behind its 30-foot-tall walls.

The weekend’s food samples will be prepared offsite by Freestyle BBQ, a catering company based in Langhorne that happens to be owned by Pennsylvania corrections officer John Freeman.

Freeman, who works at an undisclosed state institution, started his food business on the side last year. When he heard that Eastern State needed a temporary cook, Freeman couldn’t believe the serendipity — and neither could Kelley.

“Who knows prison food better than me?” Freeman said.


A day after this article was published, a Texas prison spokesman -- responding to an earlier request for comment -- said the sack meals meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards.

&ldquoWardens, kitchen supervisors and others are overseeing the process and spot-checking the meals in all locations consistently,&rdquo said spokesman Jeremy Desel, adding that the prison system has been taking extra steps to ensure the quality of food during the prolonged lockdowns. &ldquoWe have received compliments from family groups on the improved quality of those meals.&rdquo

Japan's Amazing School Lunch Program Is About More Than Just Eating

The United States and Japan couldn’t be more different when it comes to school lunch programs. While the U.S. is considering cutting funding to school food programs for underprivileged kids, saying there’s insufficient evidence that feeding kids improves academic results, Japan places a high priority on feeding its schoolchildren healthy, homemade meals on a daily basis.

An article in The Atlantic’s City Lab blog, titled “Japan’s school lunch program puts others to shame,” explores how and why this nation-wide program has been so successful. More than 10 million elementary and secondary school students in 94 percent of the country’s schools are fed through this program, and the food they eat is a far cry from the greasy, reheated cafeteria food that features prominently at American schools.

The Japanese meals are prepared daily from scratch by a team of cooks who work in the school’s kitchen. Often they use vegetables grown on school property that are planted and tended by classes. From an early age, the kids get used to eating healthy, well-balanced meals that would appeal to many adults.

What really sets Japan apart, however, is the fact that it views lunch time as an educational period, not a recreational one. Lunch is a time for teaching kids important skills about serving food, table etiquette, and cleaning up – the polar opposite of the notoriously wild, uncontrolled, and messy lunch hour in U.S. schools that must be every janitor’s nightmare.

The Japanese government takes its responsibility seriously to teach kids good eating habits. Mimi Kirk writes for City Lab:

The following video illustrates shokuiki wonderfully. You see the children taking turns picking up the food cart in the kitchen, chanting a delightful “thank you” to the cooks who prepared it. They wash their hands, don proper serving outfits (smocks, hair nets, and face masks), and dole out the food to hungry, receptive classmates – roasted fish with pear sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetable soup, bread and milk. Nobody appears to complain about the food.

The teacher eats with the students, demonstrating good table manners and leading a discussion about the food’s origins. In the video, he focuses on the mashed potatoes, which come from the school garden. He tells the class, “You will plant these in March and eat them for lunch in July.” At other times, Kirk writes, the discussion may veer into Japanese food history or culture. After all, this is lesson time, too.

All of the students come prepared for lunch with reusable chopsticks, a cloth placemat and napkin, a cup, and a toothbrush. After the meal, they sit and brush their teeth before starting a frenzied 20-minute clean-up period that includes the classroom, hallway, entrance, and bathroom.

The White House administration should not be so quick to dismiss school meals. Such programs, if executed well, can do much more than fuel children for part of the day they can influence the next generation to have healthier eating habits, expanded taste buds, and a better understanding of the value of food. A program like Japan’s can also develop skills, such as working in a kitchen, serving efficiently, and cleaning thoroughly, that will be very helpful later in life.

Japanese Cafeteria Serves Prison Food to the Masses - Recipes

Psssst. don't tell anyone, but I'm about to sneak you into the Condé Nast cafeteria. That's right. This is where Anna Wintour (you know, Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada") goes to eat, alongside the fine people from Gourmet, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and so on. People are fascinated with the place-they're always writing about it on Gawker--and many people wonder (including myself, before last week) what kind of food do fashion models, feisty editors and literary luminaries eat together? Well now I have the answer. My friend Mr. X just started a job there and he invited me to join him for lunch as long as I didn't take flash pictures or reveal his identity. So, get your heels on and "gird your loins"--it's time to do the Condé nasty

The 4th floor of the Condé Nast building has a hallway with two ends: at one end is Gourmet Magazine and at the other is the Cafeteria. We arrived around 1 pm and the cafeteria was bustling. Two things happen before you enter the cafeteria proper: (1) You put cash on your card (sort of like we did in college) so you can pay by swiping it afterwards and (2) You read the specials on the board:

As you can see (despite the blurry picture) the options are pretty unique for a cafeteria: Polish food, fish and chips, grilled beef satay and halibut. I'm not sure--and I just tried to research it, to no avail--but it feels like Gourmet has its hand in the food they serve across the hall. Lots of the food looks like Gourmet Magazine food--colorful, fresh ingredients. Then again, my friend Mr. X said that the cafeteria is run by the same management company that ran our college cafeteria.

I didn't take a picture of the food stations because that would've been too conspicuous. Far more fascinating than the food arrangements, though, were the people lined up for food: there were older men in suits chatting about "fact checking," young fashion model-y types heading straight for the salad station, and there was this blond guy with glasses from The New Yorker who interviewed Rufus Wainwright two years ago at The New Yorker festival. (I know, because I was there!) And yet, despite all these illustrious characters, the room was a bit depressing. Dark and crowded, I still felt like I was in a cafeteria. Which proves the adage: "a cafeteria is still a cafeteria, even at Conde Nast, dumbass."

After we paid, we made our way to a table in this Frank Gehry designed environment:

I should've mentioned that sooner: Frank Gehry designed the Conde Nast cafeteria. As you can see, it has his signature wavy architecture and idiosyncratic shapes. I enjoyed all of that but the overall aesthetic reminded me of EPCOT: a kitschy, retro version of the future.

But who cares about the aesthetic, this is a food blog and you want to know about the food. Let's study my plate, shall we?

Look how it glistens. At 12 o'clock, you can barely make out cauliflower in some kind of chile sauce then, moving clockwise, there's asparagus, bowtie pasta, and--from the Polish table--Kielbasa, Pierogi, and braised red cabbage.

It was all pretty good. I say pretty good because I don't wish to have any of it again. And some of it lacked flavor, though kielbasa and grainy mustard is a classically good combination. All in all, I was disappointed: this is what all the fuss was about? Is this really what Anna Wintour eats?

Before I was ready to dismiss it all, though, Mr. X and I split this cupcake:

I don't know why, but I loved this cupcake. We cut it down the middle and there was cream on the inside too. The cupcake was a green color--was it pistachio? Or lime? It was hard to tell but one thing I know is that it was one of the best cupcakes I've ever eaten. It almost made me wish I was Anne Hathaway tracking down an impossible copy of the newest "Harry Potter" just so I could eat that cupcake everyday.

Otherwise, though, I won't be returning anytime soon (except to hang out with Mr. X, who is fun company). Cafeteria food is institutional food, no matter how you slice it. Prison food, school food and this are all in the same family. And like Meadow Soprano, who went to Columbia and may now go to law school and who dated a hot dentist in the last season, she is--despite all her accomplishments--still a Soprano. This is still a cafeteria. To quote a great woman: "That's all."

Mr. Wada’s mochiko chicken is an ‘Iolani School’s phenomenon

Once a month, the hungry masses at 'Iolani School race to the cafeteria for their own finger-lickin' fried chicken, but theirs is called Mr. Wada's Mochiko Chicken.

Crisp pieces of Mr. Wada’s Mochiko Chicken are ready for serving in the ‘Iolani School cafeteria. It takes four days to prepare the 1,000 portions needed to meet demand.

Kevin Wada is general manager of ‘Iolani School’s food vendor, Sodexo Hawaii.

Once a month, the hungry masses at ‘Iolani School race to the cafeteria for their own finger-lickin’ fried chicken, but theirs is called Mr. Wada’s Mochiko Chicken. Read more

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Once a month, the hungry masses at &lsquoIolani School race to the cafeteria for their own finger-lickin&rsquo fried chicken, but theirs is called Mr. Wada&rsquos Mochiko Chicken.

The food craze has been known to cause stampedes once the bell rings for lunch, and it&rsquos rumored that some students beg their teachers for early release to beat the long lines. The dish was further glorified 10 years ago, when one day a month became Mochiko Chicken Day.

The chicken is named for Kevin Wada, general manager of &lsquoIolani&rsquos food vendor, Sodexo Hawaii, the man who has valiantly fed the students&rsquo bottomless addiction.

Mochiko chicken was already popular before Wada came to &lsquoIolani in 2007, regularly selling out. A year or so later, he was doubling the recipe to 300 pounds of chicken, but it still ran out, causing him a lot of anxiety as no other entree was available.

Each month he added more to the amount until, in 2018, he reached 600 pounds, equivalent to 1,000 servings &mdash and finally, no one was left standing in line unserved. &ldquoIt took me over 10 years to figure it out,&rdquo he said.

Wada said there&rsquos nothing special about the recipe. &ldquoI can&rsquot tell you why it is what it is,&rdquo he said, laughing. It continues to shock him that students are so crazy about it, and he&rsquos never seen any dish come close in popularity in his long years of food service.

Cafeteria worker Carol Punsalan created the original recipe around 1998 she&rsquos semiretired, but still serving breakfast, unfazed by the chicken&rsquos legendary status, he said.

A bowl (three pieces) with rice sells for $5.50, and a plate (six pieces) with rice and vegetables, $7.75.

Wada began labeling the monthly lunchtime event Mochiko Chicken Day around 2010, and it&rsquos always held on a Thursday because it take four days to make the chicken. One day is to cut the chicken into strips to be marinated overnight another two days are to bread the strips in panko crumbs and par-fry them. The chicken is finished in the oven on the day of serving (the fourth day), because there wouldn&rsquot be enough time to fry all 600 pounds in time for lunch, he said.

Wada tries to pick a week during the month that includes a Monday holiday, because on those shortened weeks there&rsquos more room in the refrigerators to hold the chicken. No other dish takes as much time to prepare or as much space.

In May Wada made a home video demonstrating how to make a 3-pound batch of chicken, dedicating it to graduating seniors so they can take the recipe wherever they go.

The video turned the chicken into even more of a phenomenon, drawing more than 11,500 views via &lsquoIolani&rsquos social media platforms by mid-June, said Michelle Hee, public relations director. The school had asked Wada to videotape a few recipes that students could make at home during the pandemic, as part of a series on social and emotional wellness.

Hee, an ardent fan of the chicken since she attended the school over 10 years ago, said she also knew alumni would love having the recipe because they always request the chicken when they return for school events.

A 2005 graduate on the mainland, Mika Kluth, wrote on Facebook that her chicken turned out pretty well, and worth the drive to another county to buy the mochiko flour, Hee said. &ldquoIt tastes amazing, and it&rsquos a symbol of &lsquoIolani and the community we have at school.&rdquo

Dr. Andrew Inaba, a 2007 graduate, agreed: &ldquoIt&rsquos such an Iolani tradition, everybody looked forward to it.&rdquo

He remembers sitting in class, watching the clock and quietly packing his school bag so he&rsquod be ready to bolt straight to the cafeteria once the bell rang. &ldquoIt was so popular that everybody knew you had to get in line early.&rdquo

Inaba&rsquos wife, Kelsie, saw the video on Instagram first and mentioned it. &ldquoI said: We gotta make this now! I was super stoked to hear about that. So we made it together. … She loved it.&rdquo

They cut the chicken into smaller pieces so there would be more crispy edges, his favorite part.

&ldquoIt tastes almost exactly like I remember it. It brought back a simpler time, when you could laugh and joke with your friends in the cafeteria &mdash such a good feeling it brought back.&rdquo


3 to 4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into long strips

Panko crumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs), as needed

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

1/2 cup shoyu (Aloha brand preferred)

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

Whisk marinade ingredients together until smooth. Add chicken and soak overnight.

Remove chicken from marinade and bread in panko.

Heat enough oil in a pot to cover chicken pieces, to 325 to 350 degrees.

Fry chicken in batches, 4 or 5 minutes per batch, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove charred panko crumbs from bottom of pot between batches. Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving (using 3 pounds chicken, 6 servings, 1 cup panko): 700 calories, 35 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 155 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,350 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 13 g sugar, 48 g protein

Taste of a decade: 1940s restaurants

During the war (1941-1945) the creation of 17 million new jobs finally pulls the economy out of the Depression. Millions of married women enter the labor force. The demand for restaurant meals escalates, increasing from a pre-war level of 20 million meals served per day to over 60 million. The combination of increased restaurant patronage with labor shortages, government-ordered price freezes, and rationing of basic foods puts restaurants in a squeeze. With gasoline rationing, many roadside cafes and hamburger stands close.

For a time after the war, rationing continues and wholesale prices stay high but patronage falls off as women leave jobs and return to the kitchen. Trained restaurant personnel are in short supply. Restaurants take advantage of food service methods and materials developed for the armed services. The frozen food industry supplies restaurants with fish, French fries, and baked goods. Boil-in bags of pre-cooked entrees become available. Fast food assembly lines and serving techniques used by the military are transferred to commercial establishments.

1940 Based on how many restaurant tablecloths have numbers scribbled on them, executives of the National Restaurant Association reason that mealtime deals are being made and that business is finally bouncing back from the Great Depression.

1941 When the restaurant in the French pavilion at the New York World’s Fair closes, its head Henri Soulé decides he will not return to a Paris occupied by Germans. He and ten waiters remain in New York and open Le Pavillon. Columnist Lucius Beebe declares its cuisine “absolutely faultless,” with prices “of positively Cartier proportions.” – Chicago cafeteria operator Dario Toffenetti, who also had a successful run at the Fair, decides to open a cafeteria in Times Square.

1942 According an official of the National Restaurant Association, nearly one tenth of the 1,183,073 employees and proprietors in the U.S. restaurant business are in California.

1943 Decreeing that patrons will not need to turn in ration coupons for restaurant meals, Washington makes a fateful decision that will fill restaurants to the bursting point. In Chicago, restaurants in the “Loop” experience nearly a 25% increase over the year before, while in New York City patronage doubles and earlier seatings must be devised.

1943 Food imports cease and Chinese restaurants cannot get bamboo shoots. They substitute snow peas, now grown in California and Florida. Because of restrictions, restaurants of all kinds leave cakes unfrosted and substitute honey and molasses for sugar. Instead of beef, lamb, and pork, vegetable plates, fish, omelets, spaghetti, and salad bowls fill menus.

1944 In Reno, Nevada, the White House offers a menu with many fish, seafood, and poultry selections, including lobster, crab legs, frog legs, oysters, fried prawns, brook trout, guinea hen, squab, pheasant, sweetbreads, turkey, duckling, and chicken a la king.

1946 Like health departments all across the country, NYC begins a crack down on unsanitary conditions in restaurants, a problem that worsened with skeleton crews and extended mealtimes during wartime. An official says that of five inspections he witnessed only a Schrafft’s (shown here: Schrafft’s at Rockefeller Center) could be pronounced “sanitary and clean.”

1947 The Raytheon Corporation, maker of radar systems and components for the military, teams with General Electric to introduce the first microwave oven, the Radarange. Not available for home use initially, it is rented to hotels and restaurants for $5 a day.

1947 After numerous Afro-Americans are refused service in Bullocks department store tea room in Los Angeles, a group sponsored by C.O.R.E. stages a sit-in. Later a supportive white veteran publishes a letter to the editor of a paper declaring that since black soldiers regarded it as their duty to protect him from the “enemy abroad” during wartime, he now feels it is his duty “to protect them from the enemy at home.”

1948 An advice column tells girls to let their date handle all restaurant transactions, including complaints or questions about overcharges. “The girl does not intrude or ask, later, who won the argument,” advises the columnist. – In Chicago, a year-long trade school program in professional cooking enrolls veterans to help relieve the city’s acute chef shortage.

1949 Howard Johnson’s, the country’s largest restaurant chain, reports a record volume of business for the year. HoJos, which has not yet spread farther west than Fort Wayne IN, plans a move into California.

Southern Hospitality and Motown Roots Inspire Missy’s Meals On the Go

Lauren Settles, Owner Missy's Meals on the Go!

By Lynn Jones-Turpin – As the Urban Traveler reaches foodies and travelers around the country, many reports and statistics note that in the last decade, Black women have excelled in creating businesses and becoming entrepreneurs while amassing fortunes to provide for their families. Black women are now on the cutting edge of every bright idea that reaches social media accounts, entertainment blogs, cooking shows and supermarkets brands. In addition, urban food deserts plague inner city neighborhoods. Families are now rushing to prepare creative and healthy meals to satisfy their daily palates. Social media food mavens are now touting their wares and recipes for the masses to impress family dinner tables. One young lady that is on the food network cutting edge is Detroiter Lauren Settles. Settles is the creative director of “Missy Meals on the Go.”

For more eight years, Settles has been employed with a major automobile company, entering the company’s entrance door day in and day out. Each day Settles quietly consumed her lunch in the cafeteria and became pessimistic with the food offered to her and her peers. With a solemn attitude Settles noticed that her 30 minute break either consisted of fast food or she’d bring a light lunch of fruit, salad, tuna and other light delicacies to eat alone or share with her peers. Settles also would cater meals from scratch or create meals from her family’s cookbooks and bring to her friends to chomp through at lunch. Settles remarked, “The reason for starting MMOTG was the lack of food inside the plant. We have a 30 minute lunch and by the time the fast food would be delivered, it would take the whole break and we’d not be able to eat. So when I started bringing prepared meals, my coworkers tasted them and said, hey bring us some too! So now on my shift I’m cooking whatever my peers would request and/or order from my menu- plus my cooking is good,” said Missy with a smile. With two daughters, Missy began to rethink her small business options. The goal of leaving a legacy for her daughters was now a priority. “So I decided to come up with a game plan and really focus on branding my business for my daughters and my fiancé to create generational wealth,” said Missy.

Creating the meals was not a problem. Other problems that plagued Missy consisted of loss of family due to obesity, depression, a custody battle, loss of focus and mental instability. Ultimately Missy developed a serious mindset, “I told myself this is the last year that I would make excuses. I created a vision board and set goals for myself. On that board I put down to lose weight and to focus more on my business and to finally take myself serious!” she said. During her workout process, Missy cut out all sugar, carbohydrates and worked out four times a day with a fitness trainer. In six months, Missy reached her weight loss goals and received a call from a local Detroit celebrity for a large catering order and her business started booming. As of November 2020, ‘Missy Meals on the Go,’ has sold 330 meal preps for weight lost and healthy weight gain and sold over 450 dinners from the support of her peers and the community. Missy’s meals include smoothes, vegan/keto boxes, meal prep and virtual weight loss plans. As a native of Detroit, also known as Motown, Missy, with encouragement from her mother, inspires her customers to listen to some old school music to motivate and arouse their weight loss journey. To compliment her southern roots and her down home meals, MMOTG moniker is “Soul Food Meets Detroit.” For more on ‘Missy Meals on The Go’ visit at

As Japan Ages, Prisons Adapt to Going Gray

ONOMICHI, Japan — In the prison’s brightly lighted workroom here, 47 inmates sat behind long tables and quietly performed their chores.

Grasping some pink checkered fabric, No. 303 unhurriedly started making a pair of knit slippers. Some seats away, No. 335 gently threaded gray envelopes with white string. Up front, No. 229 was gluing together corrugated cardboard pads, and his stack rose steadily, though slowly.

Not the hard prison labor you might expect, but at an average age of 74 — with the oldest at 88 — these were not typical inmates. Work was kept light, and if any felt ill, they could lie down nearby on a tatami mat. Prescription drugs, wheeled walkers and a stretcher were also kept on hand, as well as a box of “discreet, underwearlike” adult diapers.

“In our workshop for the elderly, we definitely receive preferential treatment,” said one 76-year-old, who works six hours a day, or two hours less than younger inmates with more strenuous jobs. “In general, you know, the conditions are much, much more severe.”

With one of the world’s most rapidly aging societies, Japan is confronting a sharp increase in the number of older criminals and prisoners. Japanese 65 and over now make up the fastest-growing group of criminals.

The prison population is aging in the United States, too, but that is a result mostly of long mandatory sentences and restrictive parole practices. In Japan, by contrast, the rise is being driven by crime, mostly nonviolent.

From 2000 to 2006, the number of older criminals soared by 160 percent, to 46,637, from 17,942, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. Shoplifting accounted for 54 percent of the total in 2006 and petty theft for 23 percent.

As a result, penitentiaries are struggling to adapt environments designed with the young in mind to a lawbreaking population that is fragile physically and often mentally.

If work programs, toilets, cafeteria menus and health services are changing, so are smaller things in the prison landscape. Older convicts are exempted from marching in formation in some prisons. On New Year’s Day, rice cakes are cut into tiny pieces so they won’t become stuck in aging throats.

Here in western Japan, Onomichi Prison, a small facility with a special ward for older inmates, who make up 22 percent of the prison’s population, is in the vanguard in dealing with this new problem. But recent visits to two large penitentiaries, one maximum security and the other minimum, underscored the more deep-rooted problems associated with the increase in older prisoners.

A recent Justice Ministry report said that older people were increasingly turning to crime out of poverty and isolation, suggesting a breakdown in traditional family and community ties. With nowhere else to go, more of the older inmates serve out their full sentences, instead of being released on parole like younger prisoners. What is more, recidivism is higher among the older inmates.

“There are some elderly who are afraid of going back into society,” said Takashi Hayashi, vice director of Onomichi Prison. “If they stay in prison, everything’s taken care of. There are examples of elderly who’ve left prison, used up what money they had, then were arrested after shoplifting at a convenience store. They’d made up their minds to go back to prison.”

While the main reason behind the explosion in graying lawbreakers is the rapid aging of Japan’s population, the rates have far outpaced the increase of older people in the general population.

Between 2000 and 2006, while the total population of Japanese 60 and over rose by 17 percent, inmates of the same age group swelled by 87 percent. In the country’s 74 prisons, the proportion of older inmates rose to 12.3 percent in 2006 from 9.3 percent in 2000, while the share of those in their 20s declined and in other age groups remained flat.

Japan’s rates are much higher than those in the West. America’s prisons — where those 55 years and over are categorized as elderly — are also graying. But such prisoners accounted for only 4.6 percent of the total prison population in the United States in 2005, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

It is not clear how much the graying of the population has added to the costs of running Japan’s prisons. But officials said health care costs presented a particular burden.

In Fuchu Prison in suburban Tokyo, a maximum-security facility and the country’s largest and oldest prison, four nurses look after older inmates with ailments like high blood pressure and diabetes, and with psychological problems. An increasing number with more serious illnesses are hospitalized outside the prison, requiring guards, said Kenji Sawada, an official at Fuchu, where 17 percent of the inmates are 60 and over.

Here in Onomichi, the ward for older inmates was built in the mid-1980s, long before the boom in the older population. Since then, officials have tried to handle the flood of older prisoners through “trial and error,” Mr. Hayashi, the vice director, said.

In the workroom, adjustable chairs were brought in two years ago. In the locker room, names were added below inmates’ identification numbers, which they tended to forget. On a recent visit, dietary restrictions had been posted on a signboard: 5 inmates required bite-size meals 12 were on low-sodium diets, which meant they could have no dumplings and soy sauce only if it was low-sodium.

A handrail ran through the middle of the corridor in the residential wing. On either side were small private cells, each with a tatami floor, a futon, a television, a toilet, a sink and a large suitcase for personal possessions. “Hard of hearing,” read a sign on one door. On another, leading to the cell of an inmate with dementia, a sign instructed prison workers to give him medication before every meal “even if he did not request it.”

“The elderly tend to be stubborn and don’t get along with others,” Mr. Hayashi said. “So to avoid problems, we give them priority in assigning private rooms.”

A 71-year-old inmate, a first-time offender serving four years for mugging an old woman to feed a gambling habit, said he had found prison life “much better than expected.” In his one year here, he said, he had witnessed only two quarrels, both over food.

“It sounds strange, but we’re all old folks in here,” he said. “I’m old, too, and we’re all pretty quiet.”

The 76-year-old, who said the older inmates received “preferential treatment” in working, was serving six years for larceny, his fourth time in prison. In his five years here, he said, he had seen some inmates come back two or three times.

“‘You’re back?’ I’d ask, and they’d say, ‘Just let me rest here for a while,’” he said. “I guess most of them were having a hard time finding their next meal, so they got caught shoplifting or ran off without paying for a meal.”

Mr. Hayashi described a “vicious circle” that often sends older people back to prison: Once outside, they cannot find work without work or a guarantor, they cannot rent an apartment.

“This is not a society that lets them stand on their own two feet,” he said.

Compounding their difficulties is Japan’s traditionally unforgiving attitude toward ex-convicts, said Hideo Nemoto, an official at Shizuoka Prison west of Tokyo, for first-time offenders. Relatives usually sever ties, so many inmates never receive visitors. In addition, welfare benefits are difficult to obtain nursing homes are scarce and not a viable option for ex-convicts.

Against that backdrop, prison life — which, in Japan, means spotless surroundings largely free of the violence in American prisons — may seem the lesser of evils. “There are worries that prisons could become a sort of social welfare facility for the elderly,” Mr. Nemoto said.

Still, inmates interviewed said that stress accompanied aging in prison.

In Shizuoka, a 72-year-old first-timer was serving four years for killing his terminally ill wife. Unlike the older inmates in Onomichi Prison, those in Shizuoka are placed in cells with inmates of various ages. He was strong enough to work eight hours a day coating auto parts with oil. But other older people were having a rough time, he said.

In Fuchu, a white-haired, hard-of-hearing 77-year-old lifelong pickpocket was serving four years, his 17th time in prison since 1945. Though he had spent more than half his adult life behind bars, he said he found this term particularly hard.

There were little things. The prison’s centrally controlled television channel showed mostly youth-oriented music programs. He and his cellmates longed to watch samurai dramas and baseball games.

The occupants of his 14-man cell were all frail. Unable to navigate the stairs to the workroom below, they sat on the tatami floor in their room before low tables and made plastic hangers. At night, they put away the tables and spread futons on the floor.

“We’re all in bad shape,” he said, adding that only 3 of the 14 received visitors.

Inside the room, the men avoided talking about the future. They talked instead about their greatest fear, of dying inside, the way one cellmate had a couple of years earlier and the way nearly 20 men do every year inside this prison. Death outside would perhaps redeem life inside.

“I’ve already seen several die, you know, inside here,” the 77-year-old pickpocket said. “Everyone says he doesn’t want to die in here. No way. I don’t want to die in prison.”