Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook isn't your average cookbook. It won't make you a better cook, and you probably won't want to serve the recipes to friends and family.
What it will do: teach you how to make sweet potato pie with butter packets and a microwave, cut vegetables using the sharp side of can lids, and, most importantly, open your eyes to the horrible living conditions in our nation's prisons.
Johnson served a three-year prison term after getting arrested for gun possession in 2006. He was born with sickle cell anemia and had to stay vigilant about eating healthy in prison.
"I couldn't afford to get sick in prison," he wrote, NPR reported. "My sickle cell is no joke, so I couldn't eat poorly or not exercise."
Some prison meals are so terrible, prisoners had to lick maple syrup packets or resort to eating toothpaste to consume enough calories.
But maintaining his health was far from easy. Prison food is notoriously terrible. Some prisons aren't required by law to serve three meals a day, and some meals cost as low as 58 cents a meal, according to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that reports on the American criminal justice system. Some prison meals are so terrible, prisoners lick maple syrup packets or resort to eating toothpaste to consume enough calories, the Marshall Project noted.
The hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black shows bland, nutrient-poor meals, and this fictionalized account of prison isn't far from reality. A mash of food known as the "Nutraloaf" used to be given to prisoners as punishment, yet New York state prisons didn't do away with the unsavory block of calories until 2015, the New York Times reported.
Green beans were the only vegetable Johnson received on his prison tray, he told NPR, explaining he supplemented his cafeteria food by cooking with a microwave and toaster oven in the communal "day room," a common area where roughly 30 to 40 inmates shared the kitchen gadgets. Inmates did not have access to fridges.
Johnson wanted to cook to maintain his health, but he also noted that cooking was somewhat therapeutic, and helped some inmates bond. Mental health professionals sometimes use cooking classes to boost self-esteem and treat mental illness and addiction, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"It's just relaxing and you almost forget where you're at for an hour or two," Johnson told NPR, explaining how cooking made him feel more human despite the environment which treated him and other inmates like animals.
Want to taste what Johnson was cooking? Here's a recipe from Commissary Kitchen:
P's Don't Try This At Home Prison Surprise
• Ramen noodles
Open the can of Jack Mack, and rinse the fish off gently. Take a bowl of water and microwave it for a minute. Throw in ramen noodles and stir it. Grab the chips and crush them up until they're a fine powder and mix them in with cooked ramen noodles. It'll make a cheese-like sauce. Throw in the Jack Mack, and then eat it. Good luck, yo.