Selling Prisoners Cheetos, Not Chomsky

When she visited, Ms. White, a media buyer living in Brooklyn, would bring him fresh fruit, hermetically sealed according to prison regulations, and shrimp that was fully cooked, prepackaged and tightly sealed, but not frozen. What she quickly observed is that inmates without friends and family on the outside taking caring of them — “doing a bid,” in the parlance of the system — were dependent on getting the extras that make prison life marginally less stultifying from companies that delivered T-shirts, sneakers, crackers, Funyuns, Doritos, Listerine and so on solely to convicts.

And their prices are high: The 10-ounce bag of miniature 3 Musketeers that costs $3.33 if they are bought online from Target costs just under $5 if you are sending them, for instance, from Walkenhorst’s, a 25-year-old supplier of prison care packages, to the Cape Vincent Correctional Facility in Jefferson County. At EFordcommissary, which bills itself as “New York State’s No. 1 Source for Inmate Commissary!” the category of “Healthy/Nutritious” snacks features three products, all of them Fiber One bars, in the flavors of Streusel, Chocolate, Cinnamon Coffee Cake and a few others, none of them embracing the ethos of the grain bowl. The fruit is all presliced in plastic cups.

“Can you imagine not having a peach for 20 years?” Ms. White asked.

These restrictions would not be quite so upsetting if prison food itself weren’t a punch line, if the education of inmates wasn’t underfunded and inadequate, and if the libraries in the facilities themselves even remotely reflected the means by which knowledge in the 21st century is acquired. Inmates don’t have internet access, and in New York, unlike in California, they have not been permitted $60 e-readers made for people in prison, which come with hundreds of titles including “The Souls of Black Folk,” “Ulysses” and “Emma.” Although corrections officials maintain that technological upgrading is…

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