Maybe that’s what it is with honey buns. They’re sweet, when nothing else is.
Honey buns are new inmate currency, even in the Keys
Posted – Wednesday, January 12, 2011 12:11 PM EST
The honey buns enter lockup the same way anyone else does: Bound, escorted through halls and sally ports, and secluded in small boxes solely opened from the outside. From there, the honey buns languish for days, maybe longer, until they’re gone.
They are a lowly, sturdy food designed for desperate cravings and vending machine convenience. They can endure weeks of neglect and even a mild mashing in a coat pocket or backpack.
And they are especially beloved by a similarly hardy but disrespected population: Florida’s prison inmates.
Inmates in the Florida prison system buy 270,000 honey buns a month. Across the state, they sell more than tobacco, envelopes and cans of Coke. They’re popular among Tampa Bay’s county jails. In Pasco’s Land O’Lakes Detention Center, they’re outsold only by freeze-dried coffee and ramen noodles.
These honey buns — so puffy — have taken on lives of their own among the criminal class — as currency for trades, as bribes for favors, as relievers for stress and substitutes for addiction. They’ve become birthday cakes, hooch wines, last meals, even ingredients in a massive tax fraud.
Where was that fraud? In the Florida Keys.
At the Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island, scheming inmates offered overnight arrestees in the jail’s drunk tank an irresistible deal: Their Social Security numbers for a honey bun. Using the numbers, they filled out tax forms with phony information — a scam that cost the IRS more than $1 million in fraudulent refunds.
As retired Monroe County Sheriff Rick Roth said, “They were eating a lot of honey buns on the taxpayer.”
So what is it about these little golden glazed snacks? Is it that they’re cheap, which is big, since the prisoners rely on cash from friends and family? That their sugary denseness could stop a speeding bullet? What gives?
Maybe considering the honey bun can help us understand life behind bars.
Honey buns are ‘a revolution’
Jailhouse cuisine is a closely calculated science.
A day’s meals inside the mess hall must be hearty enough to meet the 2,750-calorie count, healthy enough to limit fat and sodium, easy enough for prison cooks to prepare and cheap enough to meet the state’s average grocery bill about $1.76 per inmate per day.
With all criteria met, meals behind bars achieve an impressive level of mediocrity. The portions are reasonable, the nutritional content adequate, the taste ordinary, the presentation dull, the blandness as inescapable as the facilities themselves. The meals are made to guarantee very little except survival.
Problem inmates don’t have it any easier. Their punishment: “Special management meals” of Nutraloaf, a tasteless lump of carrots, spinach and grits that resembles a sad fruitcake.
Compared to that, honey buns are a revolution. Honey buns are fried dough in a bag. Honey buns meet next to none of the human body’s needs and are impressively unhealthy.
The 6 ounces of a Mrs. Freshley’s Grand Honey Bun, the favored pastry of Florida’s prisons, serve up 680 calories, 51 grams of sugar and 30 grams of fat. The icing is sticky and frost white, like Elmer’s Glue. The taste bears all the subtlety of a freshly licked sugar cube.
But consider this:
# Inmates at the Robeson County Jail in Lumberton, N.C., mixed in honey buns to sweeten a wine they fermented from orange juice.
# Prisoners on death row have turned to the sweets for their last meals. Charles Roache, lethally injected in North Carolina in 2004, chose a sirloin steak, popcorn shrimp and a honey bun.
# George Alec Robinson, an unemployed sanitation worker and father of three, paid his public defenders in honey buns after they saved him from Virginia’s electric chair.
“He said, ‘This is all in the world I can give you guys,’ ” attorney James C. Clark said. “They were good, too.”
Honey buns are worth fighting for
In September, the day after the New Orleans Saints beat the San Francisco 49ers in a Monday Night Football game, a fight broke out in the Alpha Pod of the Hernando County Jail.
Inmate Ricardo Sellers, 21, had punched Brandon Markey, 23, in the face, sending Markey to a Brooksville hospital, according to Hernando deputies. Sellers was angry that Markey hadn’t paid up after losing a bet over football.
His debt? Four honey buns.
For all their sweetness, honey buns have a history of involvement in prison violence. In 2006, at the Kent County Jail in Michigan, inmate Benny Rochelle dragged his cell mate off the top bunk, killing the man, when he could not find his honey bun.
And last year, at the Lake Correctional Institution west of Orlando, two men were sentenced to life in prison for stabbing with crude shivs the man they thought had stolen shaving cream, cigarettes and a honey bun from their footlockers.
Yes, murder over honey buns. Was it their decadence, or their status as jailhouse currency?
In Naples, a bail bondsman was accused of giving an inmate hundreds of dollars’ worth of honey buns over 13 years as rewards for referring him business. And at the Graceville Work Camp, in the Panhandle, a Jacksonville trucker known for sharing his faith called it one of his great joys to sneak honey buns under inmates’ pillows.
In prison, as in life, thrift wins.
In 2009, when Florida upped its canteen prices, 60 families called and wrote letters to complain. Most of the anger centered on the price of honey buns, raised from 66 cents to 99 cents. (To, now, $1.08.)
But something funny happens, says convicted murderer Michael Caruso, a canteen operator at the Zephyrhills state prison. On Fridays, inmates will buy up honey buns for the weekend, when they gather in the dayroom to watch football. The prisoners share. Seems to happen all the time.