One chilly dark recent evening at a public transit station in Asbury Park, N.J., I bump into a pleasant-enough middle-aged fellow who shares his particular tale of woe, the way strangers sometimes will when they travel.

Rather than driving directly to his destination himself, he was taking a bus, which involved a maddeningly circuitous route and various transfers, culminating in several extra hours spent going to and from work each day. He was forced to do this since he had been temporarily deprived of his driver’s license in a bizarre sequence of events that resulted in him – unjustly, he says – serving 46 days behind bars. Since he’s vegetarian, he found prison fare ruinous non-nutrition, besides being cruel food, and he says no attempt was made to facilitate his dietary needs.

After he left the bus at Lakewood, I couldn’t get his nauseating description of jail food out of my mind: Think greasy gray slabs of ersatz mystery meat afloat in a thick, clotted gravy comprised of befouled dishwater runoff, and you’re halfway there.

I was reminded of his plight – being a vegetarian condemned to endure a meat-mandated situation – when I read People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson Bruce Friedrich’s truly insightful correspondence with the administrator of the jail near Tyler, Texas, where an accused cannibal is incarcerated for allegedly murdering his 21-year-old girlfriend and then cooking and consuming parts of her body.

Fittingly for his position as PETA’s vice president for International Grass-Roots Campaigns, Bruce Friedrich has chosen as his e-mail signature the apt Elie Wiesel quote: “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And so, he’s not silent. His first letter to the sheriff is truly memorable:

On behalf of PETA and our more than 1.8 million members and supporters, I am writing to ask that you prevent Christopher Lee McCuin from being involved in any senseless killing while in your prison by providing him with exclusively vegetarian meals.

As you know, McCuin allegedly killed his girlfriend, cut up and boiled parts of her body, and may have consumed parts of her corpse. Tragically, every day in homes and restaurants across the U.S., humans cut up, cook and devour the corpses of chickens, pigs, fish and cows. Only in a culture where people routinely kill and eat living, feeling beings would anyone even think to kill and eat a human loved one.

Like humans, animals are made of flesh, blood and bone. They have the same five senses we do, and they have the same capacity to experience suffering and fear. And all animals share the desire to live their lives free of pain and to avoid a violent death. It is up to you to prevent McCuin from contributing to any more suffering and death by placing him on a healthy, humane vegetarian diet.

Please visit the website to see video footage that depicts the cruelty of factory farming and to obtain vegetarian recipes. Vegetarian meals are healthy, cost-efficient and easy to prepare. They also promote nonviolence, which is something every prison needs. We also would be happy to help you design meatless meal plans for McCuin – or even the entire prison. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

This especially horrific and heartbreaking crime against a lovely young woman in the prime of her life defies rational explanation. They say “cruelty begins at home” – as does kindness – so if we can at least be kinder to animals, with PETA’s help and encouragement, hopefully that will filter upward to human beings.

Moreover, since America’s prison population reached 2.2 million in 2006, Friedrich’s innovative nutrition proposal makes real sense. Here’s the actual statistic, from Wikipedia, and if it doesn’t give pause, I’m not sure what will:

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000. It has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.

That’s right, the USA leads the world in documented incarcerations, which should obliterate the myth, once and for all, we’re a free country.

To be continued …


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