San Quentin recently hosted a first-of-its-kind “General Population Food Sale Event” with food trucks on the Lower Yard.
The event raised almost $27,000, some of which goes to charity, while providing residents with a sense of normalcy commensurate with the administration’s vision of transforming SQ to a rehabilitation center.
“This is the first time it’s ever been done,” said Community Resource Manager Lt. R. Gardea. He, Chief Deputy Warden L. Bravo, Warden Ron Broomfield and Acting Warden Oak Smith teamed to coordinate the event.
“I wanted to bring a new experience to the prison where guys can get some good quality hot food to enjoy. Plus, it’s all for a worthy cause. So, it’s a win-win,” said Gardea.
The charitable cause supported was Project Avery — a program that looks out for kids and families of incarcerated loved ones.
Sergeant Nelson said that he could not wait to try one of the pulled pork sandwiches. “Besides the food looking good, it’s for a good cause and it’s always good to give back,” he said. San Quentin residents agreed with Nelson’s sentiments.
“It’s exciting,” said Dane Lewis, who purchased a burrito and a chicken-strip sandwich. “It’s expensive, but to eat normal food for the first time in two years was worth it. Especially to give back to Project Avery — [it’s] for the kids.”
Three large food trucks from Drewski’s franchise parked on the Lower Yard.
They served as kitchens on wheels to make big burritos, fried-chicken strips and fries, pulled pork and shredded beef sandwiches, cheesy macaroni, chocolate-covered brownies and cinnamon-sugar-covered churros that residents said were, “mmm, mmm, good.”
“My main complaint, if I had one, is that the quantity is not enough for me — the bang for the buck,” said CJ Carter. “The burritos are small, but the churros were worth it. Plus, the experience of eating something that I haven’t had in a long time was worth it.”
One aspect of the experience that promoted a feeling of “normalcy” was to have food prepared in response to an order on the spot and to hear your name called when your order was ready.
“Getting fresh food cooked on the spot, I enjoyed that,” said resident Reuben Hernandez.
“The prices were comparable to the streets,” said resident John Levin, who hears about inflation in the outside world from his family. He appreciated just having the experience. “It’s nice to see the food trucks on the yard.”
Andrew Blaskovich owns Drewski’s, the business that brought its trucks to the Lower Yard.
“This is a great opportunity for us to reach out to other communities and make sure that everybody is taken care of,” Blaskovich said. “And for the most part, everybody was stoked about it. It’s all about having happy people.”
Drewski’s is familiar with San Quentin through its service to staff. “Drewski’s partner with us a lot,” said Gardea. “They’ve been here over the years serving the staff. So we wanted to make it normal as much as possible. We wanted to give you guys the opportunity to experience what we experience.”
Smith confirmed that the objective of the food sale event was to further the governor’s vision of the prison as a rehabilitative model. To see staff and residents working together in the prison like neighbors instead of at odds with each other is the ideal and the goal.
“One day you could be my neighbor,” said Smith. He and the other staff at the event credited one another for making the food sale happen.
In the last food sale prior to this event, Broomfield helped pass out food to the residents. This time he described working smarter instead of harder.
“After the last food sale I went home dead on my feet,” he said with a smile as he remembered the pizza food sale. “The idea was; how do we get fresher food, hot food to you guys and not have to work so hard?”
The long-term vision is for the prison to have more food-truck sales for the residents. On balance, Gardea and many of the 360-plus residents who purchased the food rated the event a success.