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All photos by Kiwi Illafonte.

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Four Californian men are assembling their signature dishes in a special cook-off. Harrison Seuga, 45, is warming up instant ramen in a water-filled plastic trash bag and mixing in mayonnaise, mustard, rice and canned chicken.

The whole concoction is to be eaten in spoonfuls on top of saltine crackers. Eddy Zheng, 46, is making a three-foot-long ramen casserole with crushed Fritos, rehydrated chicharrones and Doritos.

Haro Agakian, 67, is making ramen with tuna and jalapenos. Pete Thao, Recent meat behind bars, seems to be making the most easily-recognizable dish: This is not a typical cooking competition: The recipes were perfected by these Asian American and Pacific Islander ex-inmates while in prison. To eat in prison means either braving the standard chow hall fare — often expired foods and unrecognizable mystery meat, as the ex-prisoners tell me — or making your own food in your cell, improvising to create cultural or ethnic flare.

Prisoners are limited to packaged foods they buy from a canteen — the prison store — or from boxes sent by outsiders four times a year of up to Recent meat behind bars pounds of pre-packed foods. Instant rice is also common, as are chips, canned tuna and chicken.

Recently, California prisons have also added vacuum-sealed Chinese sausages to their canteens. Cooking them involves creative use of limited resources. I was an early volunteer with the group about 10 years ago.

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I saw people preparing foods and trying to capture certain tastes that they remember from home. Cooking food in cells is an exercise in inventiveness. To says she would adapt what she found on the weekly chow hall menu and sneak it back to her cell to make a decent dish.

My rice turned into porridge at times. Prison food has long been a source of fascination. My Infamous Prison Cookbook ; the topic of VICE Munchies videos ; a conversation piece for Orange is the New Black fans; and the inspiration behind many YouTube tutorials and news stories about how ramen has Recent meat behind bars cigarettes as the main currency in prison.

Some prisons have been sued for causing food poisoning or Recent meat behind bars giving inmates undefinable food, otherwise known as "cruel and unusual punishment.

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For minorities in prison, eating mystery meat and bland food means, to some, taking away a part of their culture. Once upon a time, family members of inmates could bring fresh cooked food inside to loved ones during overnight family visits.

This was due to the fact that people could hide contraband Recent meat behind bars — knives, drugs or alcohol, for example — inside the food. In lieu of that, visitors now buy items from vending machines like burritos, candy bars and chips.

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Seuga was born in American Samoa, grew up in Recent meat behind bars and later moved to L. He slipped into trouble there as a teenager, got involved in gang life and was incarcerated.

At 17, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to 17 years to life for second-degree murder. He served 21 years and left prison in In prison, Seuga worked in the kitchen for many years. Pans are not allowed in prison cells. Prisoners shared their personal stashes bought from the canteen or stuff that people sent them.

People snuck fresh vegetables from the chow hall to add to the mix or picked from secretly planted herbs in the yard since inmates were not allowed to plant things outside of sanctioned gardens taking food from the chow Recent meat behind bars back to prison cells was also not allowed.

People collect goose poop so they can fertilize their grounds.

The spreads usually consisted of the same ingredients: To top it off, packaged condiments like mayo, mustard, relish and even sriracha would add to the flavor of the dishes. These spreads were a way for inmates to meet each other, eat, share their bounty and have some fun.

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For Seuga, who helped organize semi-monthly spreads and invited Asian and Pacific Islander prisoners to join and eat, it was a way to create a sense of solidarity among API Recent meat behind bars. New prisoners would be invited to meet with the lifers and longtime prisoners. In prison, one conflict or out-of-control person could end up locking down an entire section. The spreads generated excitement, including people who wanted to show off their best prison recipe.

But it would eventually lead to a bond between the API prisoners. People who paroled and left prison would sometimes send care packages to inmates to contribute to the spreads.

As a small population, Recent meat behind bars are sometimes picked on. Agakian says one of his former cellmates, a Korean American, never ate in the mess hall. The mess hall is where fights can break out and people can get in trouble. Overall, more than 60 percent of U. API prisoners could even be changing the food culture in prisons.

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In some prisons, ethnicities do get mixed together, whether in Recent meat behind bars cells, on the yard, in the canteen or in programs. Zheng says he introduced some black inmates to canned dace. The inmates started asking their family and friends to go to Chinese markets and send it to them in their quarterly boxes. As more and more prisoners return to the outside world, food has become an avenue for healing and skills development.

Beth Waitkus founded the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin in Recent meat behind bars, co-designing the first flower and herb garden in a California prison with some of the inmates. A year later, they started planting vegetables.

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Now the program is in three California prisons and expanding to other states. She found that inmates participating in her curriculum, which includes environmental education, nutrition and mindfulness, had a change in values.

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Some who get out are hired by Planting Justice, an organization that helps people start their own backyard gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area. The only rule is that inmates are not allowed to eat anything they plant. Collectively, they have decided to donate their fruits and vegetables to various nonprofits. Some are given to men re-entering society and to their Recent meat behind bars. In recent years, there are more programs training the formerly incarcerated to food industry jobs.