Stinging for their Suppers

Stinging for Their Suppers: How Women in Prison Nourish Their Bodies & Souls

OG-StingersStinging For Their Suppers is a collection of stories and recipes by women who have lived in California prisons. While living at Crossroads, a transitional facility, these women wrote about cooking in their cells using an immersion heater, also known as a “stinger.” These stories demonstrate the women’s creativity, ingenuity, and resilience as they find ways to cook for each other, and in the process, create a feeling of home that they can share with other women.

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The History of the Stinger

by Maureen

When I first came to prison in 1984, there wasn’t really any way to cook food. We had 20 gallon tanks under sinks to heat hot water. Once the 20 gallons had been used, you had to wait until the water heated up again. Just to get a cup of coffee or have a glass of hot chocolate took a long me. You would go out into the hallway to the TV room, and the sink would already have 6 or 7 Tupperware glasses lined up on the counter. This was a long drawn out process. On a unit of 120 women, you could end up waiting 30 minutes or more for your morning cup of coffee. This is part of the reason that the illegal stingers came into existence. At least with a stinger, you could heat up your water in your cell. The only problem was finding an available appliance that you could cut the cord off of to make your stinger. Blow dryers, fans – any appliance that wasn’t nailed down would lose a cord. None were safe. And the silverware was always disappearing from the kitchen. Spoons were the most popular, but forks were also used. In the mid-90s, the institution finally invested in putting stingers in the Canteen Store and allowing them in the institution. Most of us thought the reason was that they had to replace silverware too often in V.C. (Village Cafeteria), but I’m sure they got tired of people blowing out the sockets. You see, a handmade stinger that wasn’t well-constructed could blow out the power in every room, sometimes blowing up other TVs, which the institution would have to replace if owner processed a 602 (appeal complaint) and won.


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“O.G.” (Original) Stingers

by Sharelle

The original stingers were made from two stolen pieces of silverware from the chow hall, aka Village Cafeteria. The stinger consisted of metal utensils (spoons, forks, or knives) attached to an electrical cord that had been cut off of any appliance. The cord was stripped about two inches from the end, so that the wires could be wrapped around each utensil and covered with electrical tape, sometimes with the cap of a Bic pen taped to the side for the purpose of hanging the stinger on the edge of the cup or bowl. Any woman who worked in the maintenance department or inside day labor crew was able to get the tape for you. The utensils were taped together with a clothespin in the center, for a very good reason: the clothespin kept the spoons and wires separated so the positive and negative would not touch. You think Emeril has the corner on BAM? — just let the utensils touch.


Beyond Bars: Prison Recipes

Beyond Bars: Prison Recipes

Original Airdate July 2, 2014; Updated September 3, 2014, KCET

stinging_for_their_suppersCrossroads is a rehabilitation house in Claremont that provides recently incarcerated women the chance to rebuild their lives. The six month program equips women with new skills and a support system to help make a smooth transition into everyday life.

Jackie White is a former inmate who has been in and out of prisons for 17 years. In this episode of “SoCal Connected,” she shares her famous potato soup recipe: A combination of potato chips, creamer, pepperoni, and a bag of Hot Cheetos.

With little to no resources to cook their meals, inmates are forced to come up with creative ways to heat up their food. White used a stinger tool made out of old electrical chords and spoons. To get even more creative, White used the lids of canned food to substitute as a knife for cutting vegetables and meat.

“In prison, I really felt lost at times. I was recovering from my addiction in prison and needed something to bring me back,” White told reporter Jennifer Sabih. “Cooking for myself and preparing something made me feel worthy and good. That brought back a taste of home and kept me sane.”

White is now the program director for Crossroads.

The women of Crossroads also teamed up with Scripps College Writing Program director Kim Drake to combine more recipes and inspirational stories in a published book, “Stinging for their Suppers.”

Find out how to make potato soup and other recipes with just the help of a stinger and a few simple ingredients in this episode of “SoCal Connected.”


A Garden of Freedom for the Women of Crossroads


Crossroads six-month transition program for newly released California inmates is not your typical halfway house.

The women of Crossroads have spent significant time behind bars — for some, nearly half a lifetime. In prison, they endured long lines at the chow hall, strict dining schedules, and severely limited food options. The only glimpse of home-style cooking came from crafty yet dangerous handmade utensils known as “stingers,” to make hot food in their cells.

Now they’re on the outside, and have access to countless fruits, vegetables, and herbs in Crossroads’ very own backyard garden.

A bird bath and stone walkway decorate the Crossroads pool garden.

A bird bath and stone walkway decorate the Crossroads pool garden.

Tucked away behind two seemingly ordinary homes in Claremont are elaborate gardens — including a converted pool — full of organic strawberries, melons, herbs, and even chickens, all tended by the Crossroads program residents. Professor Nancy Neiman Auerbach teaches politics at Scripps College, and developed the Crossroads gardening and culinary program over four years ago. She wanted to give her students a sense of community, and simultaneously equip the Crossroads women with new skills, independence, dignity, and a support system.

The women of Crossroads find peace and purpose in the necessary tasks like hand watering, pulling weeds, and planting seeds. “Even if it’s 100 degrees, we’re happy to do it because, really, this is all to take care of us. It also teaches us how to garden and how important it is to have pure things,” says Mary Farrar, a Crossroads resident who recently discovered her green thumb. She’s learned to choose fresh versions of the vegetables that would usually come frozen or in a can. “We always have fresh green salad every night of the week,” she says.

A not-so-scary scarecrow watches over the Harvard House garden beside the chicken coop.

A not-so-scary scarecrow watches over the Harvard House garden beside the chicken coop.

Many of the Crossroads women work during the day as they get acclimated back into society, so a majority of the gardening happens on the weekend. Each Saturday morning, Crossroads opens its doors to volunteers for community gardening sessions. Monday evenings are busy as well. During the spring and fall semesters, interns from Scripps College and Cal Poly Pomona work with the women to create Meatless Monday dishes made from donated produce and ingredients from the backyard.

To get even more use out of their garden greenery, the women make a variety of jams, marmalades, and herb mixes. Professor Auerbach recognized the popularity of these goods and helped launch Crossroads’ successful social enterprise, Fallen Fruit From Rising Women. Now the fruit of their labor funds other Crossroads programs including field trips and workshops for the residents. Shoppers can find their seasonal goodies at the Claremont Farmers Market, Cheese Cave, Good Eggs, and the gift shops at Huntington Library and Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden.