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The Incredible Honey Bun Behind Bars

by David M. Reutter

Things that are seemingly inconsequential to people outside of prison can quickly become something of great importance when made available to prisoners. The honey bun is one such item, which has taken on its own lore and become a beloved sticky-sweet staple among prisoners.

Why are honey buns so coveted by those behind bars? The institutional cuisine is one obvious reason. For example, the low-fat, low-sodium 2,750-calorie diet fed to Florida prisoners costs only about $1.76 per prisoner per day.

Although nutritional needs are met, prison meals “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,” wrote the St. Petersburg Times in a January 2011 article on the honey bun phenomenon. “The meals are made to guarantee very little except survival.”

By contrast, honey buns are a sugary mass of fried dough. “They’re sooo good!” said prisoner Thomas Lamb, who said he eats at least one honey bun a day. What honey buns are is extremely unhealthy. “Actually, honey buns are a heart attack in a bag,” observed prisoner Larry Roberson.

The Florida prison system sells a 6-ounce Mrs. Freshley’s Grand Honey Bun for $1.08. It contains 680 calories, 51 grams of sugar and 30 grams of fat, and is covered with a sticky white frosting that provides a pervasive taste of sugar.

“As you can imagine,” said Janice Anderson, a spokeswoman for Flowers Foods, which owns the Mrs. Freshley’s brand, “this product is for those folks that feel like having something very decadent.” With 270,000 honey buns sold each month to Florida’s 101,000 state prisoners, self-indulgence seems to be a prison pastime.

Often, honey buns are used as a base ingredient for something else. Lamb said he makes birthday cakes with honey buns. The typical recipe involves squeezing a peanut butter packet over the icing, topping that with crushed cookies, then applying a finishing touch of crushed peanut M&Ms or a melted chocolate bar.

Honey buns also serve as prison currency, and violence can ensue when they are stolen or not forthcoming to pay a debt – the darker side of this sweet confection. When Kent County, Michigan jail prisoner Benny Rochelle thought his cellmate stole a honey bun from him in 2006, he dragged him off the top bunk and killed him. Two prisoners from Florida’s Lake Correctional Institution received life sentences after stabbing another prisoner who stole items, including honey buns, from their footlockers.

Hernando County, Florida jail prisoner Brandon Markey lost a bet on a football game in September 2010 and tried to pay his debt with bear claws. However, he failed to provide four honey buns that were also owed, and as a result was punched in the face by fellow prisoner Ricardo C. Sellers. [See: PLN, Oct. 2010, p.50].

Virginia prisoner George Alec Robinson paid his public defenders in honey buns after they spared him from a death sentence. He said, “This is all in the world I can give you guys,” attorney James C. Clark told the Washington Post. “They were good, too,” Clark noted. North Carolina death row prisoner Charles Roache requested a honey bun for dessert as part of his last meal before his 2004 execution.

Sometimes, a honey bun fills other cravings. “Many people in jail are addicts or abusers of substances,” said Major Mike Page, an administrator at Florida’s Hernando County Jail. “Alcohol is based in sugars generally, and the human body will receive some satisfaction of cravings from the honey bun as a substitute for the sugar.”

Most times, though, a honey bun is just what it’s meant to be – a sweet snack that provides a quick sugar fix while filling a hungry void. “I enjoy a honey bun because it’s a hefty meal that sticks with me,” said prisoner Robert Prevast. “As I eat it, I savor its sticky, sweet gooeyness. It’s the best thing going, and I forget all about that rotgut I ate in the [prison] chow hall.”

Source: St. Petersburg Times

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