Serving up holiday meals and cheer at Anamosa State Penitentiary

ANAMOSA — The Anamosa State Penitentiary might not be at the top of the list of Christmas Day destinations, but Warden Bill Sperfslage was nothing but cheer Monday as he greeted staff and offenders alike with holiday wishes.

In the kitchen, a traditional meal was prepared, including turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls with butter, pumpkin pie with topping, relishes and milk.

Sperfslage said serving a special meal on the holidays has a long history in the more than 100-year-old prison.

“To me, it’s really important they recognize the holidays,” he said. “There’s some normalcy here ... as much as we can, in 15 acres with stone walls around it, we try to create that normalcy.”

Kelly Fitzpatrick, food service coordinator, was helping prepare food trays in the kitchen. Workers slid trays through a slot into the dining hall, where a lone paper Christmas tree adorned the wall, with holiday greetings written in multiple languages, including English, Vietnamese and Arabic.

“This is actually a fun day to work. Everyone is in a good mood,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Iowa Department of Corrections has a master menu with a five-week rotation of meals served at all nine institutions, said Lisa Oswald, associate warden of administration at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

“We’re allowed to do something a little special for offenders at the holidays,” Oswald said.


Special meals often are provided on Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July.

“It doesn’t have to be really fancy, but something special out of the regular five-week schedule,” she said.

Once a year, the prison surveys inmates to get input on the menu. Favorite items include hamburgers, french fries, pizza, fried chicken and pancakes. Meals that were abandoned after scoring poorly with offenders were beef stew and beans and weenies, Oswald said.

The average cost per meal at Anamosa is $2.27. The facility has about 950 medium- and maximum-security offenders and about 320 staff, according to the Corrections Department website.

Sperfslage said he sometimes hears criticism about providing a special holiday meal to people serving time. He said it’s a small gesture — one he’s happy to provide.

“I think people often forget the one thing they don’t have is their freedom. That’s a really big loss.

“All the stuff we do is nice, but at the end of the day I’ll always argue the biggest thing you can have is your freedom.

“Those guys don’t have it,” Sperfslage said.

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