How many inmates were at Warren County Jail last Monday for lunch?
There were 359.
Lounette Judkins knows because she’s in charge of feeding every one of them.
“We’re overcrowded right now, way overcrowded,” said Judkins, food service director at the jail. “It makes for a lot of food.”
Judkins is updated daily on the number of jail inmates. That way she knows how many meals to prepare.
Does working around criminals bother her? Judkins says it doesn’t, but she’s still careful to pick the right ones. She works with nine trustees who have earned the right to have extra jail privileges and help in the kitchen. The trustees are the ones who do the actual cooking, while Judkins is in charge of supervision.
“We make sure to screen them,” said Judkins. “We have some mean people here and we have some nice ones. I look for people who aren’t in here for violent crimes. We use a lot of people who are in here for not paying child support. They are usually pretty good.”
But even the good ones can get in trouble. That’s why there are no knives in the kitchen and Judkins keeps an eye on utensils such as metal ladles, which could be used as a weapon.
“I count them every day,” she said. “We don’t even let them carry ice out of here. They got to where they’d throw ice at one another and it became a problem so now I watch the ice too. I had one inmate tell me I watch them closer than Santa Claus.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Judkins is she continues to work full time despite being well into her 80s. She says retirement is not for her and she enjoys having extra cash for shopping trips.
“I love to shop,” she said. “This gives me some extra money to do that. And I don’t feel my age.”
Working around jail inmates is certainly a unique way to get spending money. Judkins has been at it for 23 years. She worked for a few months under former Sheriff Mason Black and has worked for Sheriff Jackie Matheny for his entire tenure.
Judkins says she won’t tolerate mouthy inmates. If they get smart, she will find someone else to help in the kitchen.
“They like this because the only other thing they have to do is lie around,” said Judkins. “They’re not going to bother me. I have no fear at all.”
So what’s the most popular lunch? Judkins says it’s peanut butter and jelly.
The most popular dinner? Judkins says beans, cornbread, mashed potatoes and turnip greens are always a hit.
“I think they like it because it fills them up so much,” she said. “They always get plenty to eat while they’re in here. They like to complain they don’t get enough to eat, but then they won’t fit in their clothes when it’s time to leave.”
Breakfast comes early and is served daily at 3:30 a.m. Breakfast consists of two sausage patties, oatmeal, and 8 ounces of milk.
Lunch is a sandwich and is served at 11 a.m. The sandwich can be pimento cheese, bologna, roast beef, or peanut butter to name a few examples.
Dinner is served at 3 p.m. In between meals, inmates can buy snacks at the commissary if they have money.
“We’re only required to give them two hot meals a day,” said Judkins. “But Jackie worries about them and wants to make sure they have enough to eat so that’s why we give them a sandwich for lunch. That’s not required.”
Judkins is a dietician and jail meals are required to meet nutritional guidelines. She sends her weekly menu to a state office in Cookeville for approval.
The jail serves two special meals a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Thanksgiving meal is traditional and includes turkey, dressing, green beans and other fixings. The Christmas meal consists of fried country ham and gravy.
Judkins says she is not considering retirement and plans to work the remainder of Sheriff Matheny’s sixth term, which expires in August 2018. She has five children: Patsy Black, Gary Judkins, Larry Judkins, Margaret Judkins, and Mary Beth Judkins. She’s a grandmother and great-grandmother.