|Food Service Captain Garland Spivey serves up good food from a clean kitchen at the Byrd Unit in Huntsville.
Photo by David Nunnelee
Byrd Unit kitchen captain knows not
only food,but first-aid
On days fried chicken is on the menu at the Byrd Unit in Huntsville, Food Service Captain Garland Spivey makes sure he has a full security team standing guard in his kitchen. Otherwise, some of his kitchen workers and diners might be tempted to sneak an extra drumstick or two.
“The closet thieves will come out,” Spivey said about the offenders at Byrd. “They’ll try to take an extra piece of chicken, and that’s right here in the kitchen.”
Offenders and employees alike can’t seem to get enough of Spivey’s fried chicken. Or his meatloaf, for that matter. Or his turkey cutlets. Or his double-battered chicken fried steak. Or his appetizing apple dumplings.
“We make the best apple dumplings,” he said matter-of-factly.
The Byrd Unit has long had a reputation for being one of the best places to go for prison food that pleases the palate. And for the past several years, Spivey has been a big reason people come from near and far to eat there, if not always voluntarily. On his desk is a stack of handwritten notes from offenders raving about the cuisine.
“We have the best food in the system,” said Byrd Senior Warden Diana Kukua without a hint of bias. “I’ve been on several facilities, and it’s the best food I’ve eaten.”
“He’s got one of the best kitchens in the system,” added Byrd Assistant Warden Grover Goodwell. “With his food, he takes a little more time and makes the offenders that do the cooking cook it right.”
In late October, Spivey may have saved the life of an off-unit patron when he performed the Heimlich maneuver on a woman who was so busy enjoying her pork tips that she failed to chew them enough and choked.
“She was kind of panting and got up and went to the washroom,” Spivey recalled. “When she came back, I noticed that her face was red and then she started pointing toward her throat. I don’t think anybody else noticed that she was choking, so I jumped up and got behind her and did the Heimlich maneuver.”
Spivey’s quick action dislodged the food, earning him the heartfelt gratitude of the woman and a certificate of appreciation from the warden. Fifteen years earlier, Spivey had performed the same maneuver to save the life of his then 2-year-old son who choked on a piece of pizza.
“Not only does he know food, but he knows first-aid,” said Goodwell.
Spivey hasn’t spent a day outside of the kitchen at Byrd since he started work there as a correctional officer in July 1987. He was one of six new recruits who were temporarily assigned kitchen duty while a cellblock was being completed. But while the others were later reassigned, Spivey never was.
“I never did get to work out in the building,” he said.
After two years in security, Spivey was promoted to Food Service manager. He has supervised a staff of 13 as the unit’s Food Service captain since April 1997.
Spivey said his two predecessors at Byrd taught him to set and maintain high standards for the kitchen. Both offenders and staff receive hands-on training in not only food preparation, but also food presentation. Dishes, he insists, should look as good as they taste.
“The staff monitors the quality of food daily,” Spivey said. “And they know that I’m not going to put just anything out there. We have a high standard, and we’re going to keep it like that. Our dishes must have good appeal, good taste, and be recognizable. We want you to recognize what you’re eating.”
Spivey keeps hundreds of recipes on file, some of which have been built on over the years. Laundry and Food Service recently formed a working group to standardize recipes throughout the prison system while incorporating personal touches from staff that have proved popular.
“We’re a kitchen where we get out of the box,” said Spivey, a member of the working group. “We will try a dish to see how it works out and to see if we can do it. It’s just a challenge to add to what we serve.”
Despite the popularity of his fried chicken, Spivey says Byrd has no signature dish. Spivey does make good use of fresh produce harvested from a 1.9-acre garden planted outside the unit.
“We feel like most of the dishes are signature dishes,” he said. “We make a good meat loaf. We even make a good Frito pie dish.”
For a man known for his cuisine, Spivey, married 20 years and the father of two children, admits that he doesn’t much like to cook. He says he cooks at home “only when I want to be romantic.”
“What I love is managing,” he said. “I’m a good people person, and I can manage and train people. I don’t like to give a man a fish. I like to teach him how to fish.”
Tony D’Cunha, assistant director for Laundry, Food Service and Supply, agrees with Spivey’s philosophy.
“Teamwork and training is where it’s at,” he said. “Often you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You figure out what makes one operation successful and try to replicate it.”
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