-- Visitors to the historic site can sample three variations of the prison comfort food prepared by formerly incarcerated people and vote on their favorite --
May 2, 2023
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site kicks off its 2023 season of Night Tours: Summer Twilight with a chi chi cookoff on the evening of Thursday, May 25, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Three museum staffers with lived experience of incarceration will prepare their personal chi chi recipes to share with visitors that evening. Museum visitors can sample all three variations and vote for their favorite. The winner will receive a $500 cash prize.
Chi chi, also known as spread, is a staple prison comfort food made by incarcerated people using ingredients purchased from the commissary. Chi chi recipes vary, but commonly include ramen noodles, chips or cheese curls, meat, and sweeteners, all mixed together and heated with improvised tools.
Dayshawn “Reno” Tillman
This self-proclaimed “chi chi master chef” from New Jersey is excited to show people that amazing food can be made with limited access to ingredients and cookware. While incarcerated, Reno, who had no access to a stove or microwave, engineered a stinger a out of a wash bucket, plastic bag, extension cord, and nail clippers, thus allowing him to boil water in his cell. His chi chi recipe requires 30 ingredients, including animal proteins (salmon, mackerel, tuna, chicken breast, turkey log, summer sausage), vegetables (green peppers, banana peppers, onion, broccoli, dill pickles), two types of ramen noodles, and several types of cheese and seasonings. Dayshawn says that cooking in prison provided “joy and a sense of acceptance in an environment that can mostly force a sense of hostility and anger.” He goes on to say, “For a brief moment while others are eating my cooking, they are taken away from the stresses of being in prison and missing a home cooked meal. When you eat a good meal, it makes you feel good. And who doesn't want to be happy?”
Tyrone “Bones Bizzy” Tate
While incarcerated, Tyrone, also known as Tee, T.Y., Ty, or Bones Bizzy, discovered cooking as a way to relieve stress and clear his mind. He prepared food for a group of fellow prisoners every other week, creating community and honing his cooking skills. “Cooking gives me peace of mind,” Tyrone says, “and helps me to understand that I have more to give and am a better individual when I am allowed to express and share more of me, as I'm doing now.” His chi chi recipe is unique in that it features a variety of fresh produce (onions, green peppers, garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cilantro) in addition to more traditional ingredients (rice, noodles, cheese, sausage, fish, seasonings and sweeteners).
For Maurice, chi chi brings back memories of being on lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he and his cellmate often prepared and ate chi chi together. “During lockdown,” Maurice says, “everything was brought to us, and we never left our cell unless we had to use the bathroom, so it was a lot of working together. Teamwork is what we had to have under those circumstances.” His recipe requires two dozen ingredients, including rice, a variety of snack foods (cheese curls, nacho chips, Doritos), three types of cheese (squeeze cheese, shredded cheese, mozzarella), soups, chicken, seafood, and seasonings.
The chi chi cookoff event kicks off the penitentiary’s 2023 season of Night Tours: Summer Twilight, which offers exclusive evening access to the historic cellblocks, The Fair Chance Beer Garden, and a rotating selection of interactive programming.
Chi chi samples available while supplies last. Included with admission to Night Tours: Summer Twilight on May 25, 2023 only. Tickets are available online at www.EasternState.org, or at the door, subject to availability.
About Night Tours: Summer Twilight:
Night Tours: Summer Twilight includes everything that Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site offers by day—“The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, Al Capone’s Cell, exhibits about prisons today, artist installations—plus more. Visitors can explore the historic cellblocks as the sun sets, grab a drink and relax in The Fair Chance Beer Garden, and reflect on Eastern State’s history and legacy of criminal justice reform through various interactive programs and activities.
The Fair Chance Beer Garden is presented by Eastern State Penitentiary and Triple Bottom Brewing Company. Located outdoors on the penitentiary’s baseball field, The Fair Chance Beer Garden offers Triple Bottom beer and soft drinks for purchase, plus a rotating selection of guide-led tours, pop-up talks, and maker space activities. At the beer garden, visitors can also hear the sounds of Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio, created by incarcerated media producers to amplify the diverse voices, stories, and creations of those living and working inside the walls. The Fair Chance Beer Garden creates meaningful, living-wage jobs for people who may otherwise be excluded from the mainstream economy, including people who have experienced homelessness or incarceration.
With the support of community partners, Night Tours offers visitors the opportunity to explore a new theme and take part in new events, tours, and activities each month. Themes and activities can be found at www.EasternState.org/NightTours.
Night Tours: Summer Twilight takes place Thursday through Sunday evenings from May 25 through September 3, plus Memorial Day (Monday, May 29, 2023) and Labor Day (Monday, September 4, 2023). Ticket prices vary; admission is free for Eastern State members. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.EasternState.org, or at the door, subject to availability.
About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 85,000 people during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is open for tours year-round. Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; award-winning exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.
In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The LEAD Fellowship, formerly called The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums.
For more information, visit www.EasternState.org.