Sean Kelley, senior vice president at the Eastern State Penitentiary, displays a plate of "food loaf," a punishment food currently served in Pennsylvania prisons. Over the weekend, the historic penitentiary, now a museum, served visitors sample meals from the 1800s, 1900s and today.
Credit Matt Rourke / AP
Our fascination with prison food is usually limited to death row prisoners' elaborate last meal requests and urban legends about disturbingly low-grade meat. But nowadays, the walls between the prison cafeteria and the outside world are coming down, at least metaphorically.
Prison is a tough place, but Congress made an exception nearly 30 years ago, giving terminally ill inmates and prisoners with extraordinary family circumstances an early way out. It's called compassionate release.
But a recent investigation found that many federal inmates actually die while their requests drift through the system.
Etta Mae Lopez needed help. She wanted to quit smoking. She decided she needed to go someplace where she could not go buy cigarettes. And the place that came to mind was jail. Ms. Lopez says this is the reason she went to a jail, walked up to a Sacramento sheriff's deputy and slapped him in the face. The deputy took her inside the jail, where she slapped him again. After pleading no contest to a misdemeanor, she faces 63 smoke-free days.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, center, exits the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in Las Animas, Colo., on Wednesday after touring the facility. Hickenlooper has proposed closing the facility due to budget concerns.