Prisoners at a NSW jail have starred in a new cooking TV show just in time for Gravy Day, where they share their resourceful takes on iconic Christmas recipes.
Gravy Day is an informal holiday celebrated in Australia on December 21 in honour of Paul Kelly’s iconic 1996 song How to Make Gravy. The song is written from the perspective of an incarcerated man, Joe, who shares his recipe for gravy with his brother while he prepares to spend Christmas Day behind bars.
The TV show was recorded by inmates at the Macquarie Correctional Centre in their very own purpose-built studio and features prisoners using “prison groceries” to create their favourite Christmas dishes.
They recipes range from a prison roast beef with gravy cooked on a sandwich press, a Christmas trifle with jelly, custard and cake, and gingerbread men.
The videos show the prisoners – with their faces blurred to conceal their identities – walking viewers through their cooking process.
Inmate Isaac – whose name has been changed – said participating in the show created a feeling of “levity” among inmates at a as they struggle with being away from loved ones.
“It’s not pleasant for any inmate to be in custody at this time of the year, so we keep busy with writing letters to family and participating in programs” he said.
“I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to participate in programs like this while in custody, to further rehabilitate and use my time productively.”
The recipes have been tried and tested by inmate chefs inside the maximum-security prison at Wellington, in the Central West, before being uploaded to the inmate tablet system statewide.
Governor Brett Lees said the show allows inmates to learn valuable skills in filming and production and also brings people together at a time when they’re most vulnerable.
“As Paul Kelly captured in his iconic song, Christmas is a particularly difficult time for people in custody and being absent from family gatherings really takes a toll on their mental health and wellbeing,” he said.
“This cooking show not only encourages inmates to participate in the festive season, but the skills learned through the process provide them with greater employment options and an opportunity to make real ‘gravy’ upon their release and support their families.”
Previous episodes of the show have included protein balls made from nuts roasted on a sandwich press, a stir-fry fashioned from two cans of tuna and noodles cooked with a kettle, and a custard slice baked in a prison-issued foil dinner tray.
Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie Martin said the cooking show is part of Corrections NSW’s mission to rehabilitate prisoners.
“We’re focused on providing people with education, skills and employment opportunities in custody because they’re key factors to helping turn peoples’ lives around,” she said.
“Our ultimate goal is to rehabilitate as many people as possible, so they’re not isolated from their loved ones at Christmas – or anytime.”
Only inmates who show good behaviour are invited to participate in the cooking and film program, with involvement treated as a “privilege”.