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Dining, working and learning at Theo Lacy Facility jail in Orange

June 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Mealtime at Orange County's largest jail is no small order. Officials have instituted a "blind meal service" to keep the peace while keeping everyone fed.

Dinnertime at the Theo Lacy Facility maximum security jail complex is cafeteria-style. Nine-thousand meals are served up every day without missing a beat.

"We serve two hot meals and one cold meal," said Rodney Debolt, Orange County Sheriff's food services manager.

But it's not your ordinary food service. It's how the jail feeds more than 3,000 inmates every day.

Food trays are served to inmates on the other side through a slot so the kitchen help never sees who's getting the food.

The so-called "blind meal service" is meant to prevent fights, since those serving the food are also fellow inmates.

"Given the number of gangs and so forth that are housed in this facility they could attempt to use food as a retaliation," said Debolt. "Giving someone more than they should have, giving someone else less than they should have."

In module "K" officials estimate 90 percent of inmates are either gang members or affiliates. To maintain security, meals are delivered to those cells. Cutlery is plastic and inmates are given 15 minutes to eat before it's time to clean up.

Inmates on kitchen duty are carefully watched by institutional cooks.

"You've got to be firm and just do your job. Once you show them respect they show you respect," said Jennifer Moutra, a senior institutional cook.

Gary Nordeen is serving time for petty larceny. He admits he's not sure if he'll use his kitchen prep skills on the outside. But he considers it worthwhile for the credit he's earning.

"This kind of work they shave up to half your time off, and assuming that you behave yourself, then you get to go out in a lot less time," said Nordeen.

That makes room for the next set of inmate workers who will help keep the kitchen going at the largest jail in Orange County.

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