Having the opportunity to eat a cheeseburger is a small but significant treat for those doing time in a correctional facility. It’s a vast improvement from the jail dining hall’s bologna sandwiches and soggy pizza.
Hence, it was a memorable occasion when, last month, workers at Oregon’s biggest and most remote jail handed Burger King “Whoppers” to 1,061 inmates. Inmates who maintain a spotless record behind bars are rewarded with outside-supplied meals by the Oregon Department of Corrections.
Michael Vokral, a lead recreational expert at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, who helped plan the most recent of these unique activities, said the facility aims to hold them four times a year—a new version was released in March after 11 days of beta testing.
Inmates had to chip in $12.38 each for the Burger King dinners, which, like other special meals, were paid for by the inmates themselves, according to Vokral. According to Department of Prisons spokesman Amber Campbell, meals like the ones provided at Snake River last month make inmates feel more at home behind bars. She emphasized that the vast majority would be freed in due time.
“Some of these men hadn’t had a Whopper for years, and the things we might just take for granted in our day-to-day lives are things that people don’t have in prison,” she said. “We want to make good neighbors of the folks who are incarcerated.”
Former inmate Luke Wirkkala claimed that special meals were a welcome change from the standard fare at the medium-security facility. Yet, he cautioned that there was a high price for many people. They used their meager wages from prison employment to pay for the food, which might cost as much as $20 every meal unless they had family or friends who could provide financial help.
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“If you don’t have someone on the outside sending you money, you won’t be going to many of these,” he said. Wirkkala claimed to have attended as many formal dinners as possible. Inmates were also treated to movies on occasion.
After his mu*der conviction in Deschutes County in 2014, Longview, Washington resident Wirkkala moved to Snake River. He remained there until 2018. Wirkkala was retried and found not guilty in his second trial. His first conviction was reversed on appeal.
“Just having food that is closer to normal makes you feel, even for just a short while, like you are not in prison,” he said. “You never totally forget where you’re at, but it’s just a little lessening of the pressure for an hour or two.”
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2 thoughts on “Burger King Whoppers Helped Normalize a Prison in Oregon”
Jail is SUPPOSED TO SUCK! By giving inmates comforts, they tend not to learn their lesson.
Happy that you get some out side food once in a while!!!