Gizzardology: The Harsh Realities Of Prison Food

By , Contributing Writer

Prison Writer Whitney SmithWhen I was a kid my parents didn’t have any trouble getting me to eat my vegetables. Or any of my food, really. Of course, like every other kid, there were a few exceptions. It was a lost cause putting lima beans on my plate. And any type of stroganoff dish required a little coaxing before I would even taste it. Although lima beans and stroganoff were served on an at least semi-regular basis, another dish that wasn’t served regularly which would have certainly been on lima bean status was gizzards. I mean, does any family actually sit down to a meal of gizzards in the 21st century? In the days of the neighborhood butcher this may have been standard fare. But surely in our era of Tyson and Stouffer’s lasagna, gizzards are a thing of the past on American dinner tables.

“You know what that is, don’t you?” a guard named Hoffman asked me last night as he was passing out the dinner meal, indicating the tray he’d just handed me.

Opening the lid and beholding a pile of dubious breaded meat pellets, I informed Hoffman that I did not.

“Chicken gizzards,” he told me. “Real chicken gizzards.”

I was a little unsure of how to react to this unsolicited information. These same supposed gizzards had just been served the week before and, although I wasn’t happy about it, I ate the mystery meat.

It then occurred to me that I didn’t even know precisely what a gizzard is. A gizzard doesn’t sound like something exceptionally appetizing, but we’ve all been warned about judging a book by its cover.

giz·zard \ˈgi-zərd\, n. : The muscular second stomach of a bird.

Perhaps I’m being closed-minded. Perhaps I’m being childish in my tastes. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to my meat consumption habits, I tend to draw the line at anything involved in the digestive or reproductive processes. On “Whitney Smith’s Inedibility Scale,” gizzards rank somewhere just below tripe yet still quite a bit above Rocky Mountain oysters. Escargot is somewhere right around there too. By the way, can anyone tell me if there’s any difference between escargot and snails other than a language barrier?

Sitting down in my usual dining space (the toilet seat), I quietly lamented what I had unknowingly ingested the week before when I had assumed the mystery meat was only some sort of chunked chicken-fried steak. Overcome with grief and a barely controllable urge to vomit, I once again held my tray out to Brad, offering him my gizzards. His own having already been scarfed down.

The poor kid’s mom must have whipped him with an extension cord anytime he tried to give food away as a child, because once again I was fixed with that deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Just take them,” I said.

“But you ate them last week and they didn’t hurt you,” he almost pleaded.

In an attempt to convey to him my absolute disgust for this particular dish, I posed to him a hypothetical situation in which Hoffman returns to our door and confesses that as a joke he used his genitals to stir the mashed potatoes Brad had been spooning happily into his mouth. The first few bites he had taken obviously weren’t awful tasting, but would he bother finishing the meal after such a revelation?

This seemed to satisfy Brad, because he grabbed the proffered chicken stomach and munched away.

He never finished his mashed potatoes, though.

Don’t miss Whitney Smith’s first featured article: Welcome To Club Fed: Prison Gangs, Politics, & A Lack Of Basic Necessities

whitney-smithAbout the Author: In late 2008 twenty-four year old Cincinnati native Whitney Smith begins writing a blog he titles “Super Friends” from his solitary confinement cell at USP Terre Haute, where he is half-way through a 6 ½ year sentence for unarmed bank robbery. With no computer access, he mails handwritten entries to his father for posting. Before long he has hundreds, then thousands of readers from around the world. Writing about his past and present, Whit’s insightful account is scrubbed clean of self-pity and gives off an energetic ruefulness combined with a keen sense of humor. The blog entries reproduced here are interleaved for the first time with letters Whit and his father wrote to each other. This moving self-portrait provokes serious questions about the dysfunctional apparatus that is our federal prison system. As one early reviewer writes, “I am blown away by Whit’s writing; his voice is clear, so funny, yet heartbreaking – and I can’t stop reading.” Check out his book on Amazon!


2020-10-28T15:44:18-04:00Daily Survival|


  1. Craig Waterhouse December 29, 2017 at 2:39 am - Reply

    Very funny and well written narrative… And rip.

  2. Monica Vartolomei October 16, 2016 at 5:42 am - Reply

    There is nothing wrong with gizzards. I actually liked that in my soup when I was a child. In some cultures, gizzards are a great delicacy. I can see how you may feel differently when instead of being a sort of extra like in the soup or cooked in some fancy way, it’s just transformed into your prison’s “mystery meat”, although if it was breaded, maybe it wasn’t even that bad.

    I’m not saying that the prison had some really fancy cuisine, but it could be that it is mostly your own idea that this is bad food that makes it taste so terrible. In a different context, such as in a restaurant, maybe you would have liked it.

  3. Cheryl September 28, 2016 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Oh man, I’m so very sorry Jeff. What a great talent. I really enjoy his writing and his humor. I’m sorry for your loss. I think it’s great that you are keeping his memory alive. I will have to check out your book. I can only imagine the stories he shared with you. God Bless.

    • Jeff Smith September 28, 2016 at 1:02 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Cheryl. I hope you find the book rewarding.

  4. Cheryl September 19, 2016 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I just went to his Blog and the most current post is from June 2016 and it says he committed suicide?

    • Jeff Smith September 20, 2016 at 9:12 am - Reply

      Yes, Cheryl. I’m Whit’s father, and I’ve been maintaining his blog. Since he had no computer access in solitary, I was posting his blog entries for him.

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