Why Inmates Resort to Stealing Trays Amidst Notorious Prison Food?

Prison life is a world unto itself, with its own unique set of rules, norms, and behaviors. One such behavior that often puzzles outsiders is the act of inmates stealing food trays from their fellow prisoners. This act, while seemingly counterintuitive given the notorious reputation of prison food, is actually a complex issue that speaks to the broader realities of life behind bars. To fully understand why inmates resort to stealing trays, it’s important to delve into the underlying factors that drive this behavior.

The Quality of Prison Food

Prison food has a notorious reputation for being bland, unappetizing, and nutritionally deficient. However, the quality of food can vary greatly from one institution to another. Some prisons may serve meals that are barely edible, while others may provide food that, while not gourmet, is at least palatable. Despite the variability, the general consensus is that prison food leaves much to be desired.

Food as a Commodity

In the prison environment, food often becomes a form of currency. Inmates may trade food items for other goods or services, such as protection, favors, or contraband items. Therefore, stealing a tray of food is not just about getting an extra meal; it’s about acquiring a valuable commodity that can be used for bartering.

Hunger and Nutritional Needs

Despite the poor quality of prison food, hunger is a real issue for many inmates. The caloric intake provided by prison meals often falls short of meeting the nutritional needs of inmates, particularly those who are physically active or have specific dietary requirements. Stealing trays can be a way for inmates to supplement their diet and stave off hunger.

Power and Dominance

Stealing trays can also be a display of power and dominance. In the hierarchical world of prison, taking another inmate’s food can be a way to assert one’s status and intimidate others. It’s a form of bullying that reinforces the power dynamics within the prison population.


While the act of stealing trays in prison may seem puzzling to outsiders, it is a behavior that is deeply rooted in the realities of prison life. Whether driven by hunger, the need for commodities, or the desire to assert dominance, it’s a practice that reflects the harsh and complex nature of life behind bars. Understanding these behaviors can provide valuable insights into the challenges faced by inmates and the need for reforms in the prison system.