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Benner state prison bustling with Christmas preparation

Benner state inmates cook up some holiday cheer

Food service manager 2 Wally Dittsworth speaks about how the prison prepares for the holiday meal Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 at Benner state prison.
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Food service manager 2 Wally Dittsworth speaks about how the prison prepares for the holiday meal Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 at Benner state prison.

There aren’t many special meals in prison, but on Monday, the inmates at Benner state prison will sit down for a Christmas feast of roast beef, mashed potatoes, all the trimmings and apple pie.

“The more effort we put into it, the happier they are,” said Jimmy, one of the inmate cooks.

It takes days to prepare Christmas meals for the more than 2,000 inmates and about 600 staffers, said Wally Dittsworth, a food service manager 2 at Benner.

Several staffers and 50 to 60 inmates are involved in the meal production, Dittsworth said.

They’ll prepare 1,000 pounds of beef, 1,500 pounds of potatoes, 60 large apple pies (each enough for 48 “rations”), 560 pounds of green beans, 80 gallons of fresh gravy and more.

Jimmy, who’s worked in various kitchens for 34 years and has a “knack” for cooking having grown up in the country, said the roast beef will have a light au jus and will cook for about an hour on Monday — it’ll be tender enough to eat with a spoon.

“As a rule, we do an exceptional job,” he said.

When William started working in the bake shop three years ago, he said he couldn’t have baked a boxed cake. On Friday, he worked on the crusts for the huge apple pies.

And knowing how to bake is “something I can take home with me,” William said.

Some of the guys have been cooking at Benner since it opened in April 2013, Dittsworth said. Others have cooked in the state Department of Corrections system for more than 20 years.

The inmates take a lot of pride in what they do, and they do a good job, he said. He’s not worried about how the meal will go off.

“It’s a relaxed atmosphere,” Jimmy said. “It’s a lot of teamwork, very little controversy. Staff shows a great deal of professionalism toward us. In a negative environment such as prison, it’s just a calm, relaxing atmosphere.”

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz

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