At sixty-three years old, I am the poster boy for the detrimental effects of a soy-based diet. I hope by telling my story I will open the public’s eyes—I want to make a difference before I go quietly into the night.
I am a convicted felon housed in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). In January of 1994, I was found guilty of two counts of armed robbery (a crime I did not commit). I received a forty-five-year sentence on one count, and a twenty-year sentence on the second count, to run consecutively for a term of thirty-two years and six months. This makes me the perfect state lab rat to show the detrimental effects of a soy-based diet on the male body.
When I entered the IDOC in March of 1994, they still served real food: chicken, turkey, eggs, beef, pork, pizza, shrimp, fish. I believe there were organ meats mixed into the ground beef. At the prison where I was housed, an African American woman named Fanny Mae ran the kitchen. Her menu and food were great! On this diet, I was healthy and maintained my physique as an amateur and professional boxer.
ARRIVAL OF THE SOY DIET
All that changed in 2003 when Rod Blagojevich became governor in Illinois.1 Slick Rod owed a political debt to the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM) located in Decatur, Illinois. He sold us out to ADM, a major producer of soybean oil. All the soy sludge left over after processing the bean replaced the real meat in our diets.
Governor Blagojevich removed the real meat. He fired the dietary manager in Springfield and brought in a dietary manager trained by the soy industry, who brought the soy diet to the prisons, including the Menard Correctional Center, where I was housed in January of 2003.
The first was a box of dust labeled “100% soy chili.” It was thrown into a steam kettle with hot water and poof! The dust swelled up into a nasty-smelling chili.
Governor Rod Blagojevich has a brother who owns some poultry farms in Tennessee. Slick Rod gave him the contract to supply the Illinois Correctional Industries (ICI). The ICI plants went to work mixing the soy sludge with the poultry scraps to create the hot dogs, meat patties and fake hamburger for the IDOC prisoner population.
I was a “food cart man” for the serving lines at Menard. I would load the steel inserts onto my cart and haul them to the heaters. I would then fill the steam tables and set up the lines with hot food. So, I handled the food daily for the breakfast and lunch meals. I lived with the men who consumed the food each day.
WEAK AND SICK
How much soy is too much for a man
Soon, the men started getting sick, myself included. At first it was explosive diarrhea with very bad intestinal gas. A month after the reserves of real food were gone, the daily soy meals began causing chronic constipation in the men.
The men could not digest the high amounts of soy. By 2006, several men had been taken to an outside hospital to have sections of their intestines removed. The soy food had set up in their bowels like concrete. I was starting to suffer bad constipation myself. It would be five to seven days before I could move my bowels. When I did, it was like trying to move a concrete block through a garden hose.
I started to develop a skin rash on my shoulders, neck and the back of my head. The skin on my face cracked and bled. My body grew lethargic. The high amount of goitrogens in the soy was affecting my thyroid gland.
From 2003 to 2005, the soy had me really weak and sick. I lost my job in the kitchen. The Menard prison went on extended lockdowns, so I could not buy commissary food to sustain my health nor could I eat real food scoured from the kitchen. The soy was slowly killing me. I went to the health care unit and demanded a thyroid blood test but was denied. All the doctor did was tell me not to eat the soy if it made me sick. But if I stopped eating soy, I would starve.
The ADM experiment on the male prisoner body had gone really bad by January of 2006. The men could not eat the food without suffering detrimental effects. But the IDOC was not going to admit this or change the soy diet. It was making too much money for ADM.
In 2005, the women in the IDOC were so sick that for three days they refused to go to the chow hall. The IDOC doctors examined them and found that the high levels of estrogen in the soy foods had messed up their reproductive cycles; their periods stopped. So, the IDOC quit feeding soy to the women but kept on feeding it to the men. Estrogen is not a hormone that men want to be ingesting daily. So, why would they keep feeding it to the men?
ADM had hoped its prison soy diet experiment would give a real media boost for selling its soy products to the public. But that is not the way it turned out. By 2006, ADM had given up on its campaign to convince regular men they could prosper on a soy-based diet, so they only fed it to the incarcerated, people in state nursing homes and children at poor school districts as a budget-cutting measure.
Soy and hypothyroidism
Soy is a thyroid suppressant and endocrine disruptor. By the start of 2006, I was suffering numerous signs of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disease. I did not know exactly what was wrong, but I knew the food was killing me, for I only got sick when I ate the soy. The high level of estrogen in my body was battling my testosterone for control. Soy was attacking my thyroid and testicles. I was suffering muscle structure loss, with no energy and sleeping twelve to fourteen hours a day. My bowels could not digest the food. I felt like I was dying.
Being on lockdown only allowed you out of the cell for one ten-minute shower each week. I could not get my hands on any real meat from the commissary.
One day on my way to the shower, I passed out cold due to a low heartbeat—a side effect of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. They took me to the Chester Memorial Hospital, where they found that my thyroid TSH was at 10.8 (normal is 0.4 to 4.0). The hospital gave me my first colon cleanse—a bottle of clear liquid that looked like Seven Up. Once the soy was out of my bowels, my heart rate went back to normal and my TSH started to go down. Then I was sent back to the prison.
In late May of 2006, I awoke and could not breathe. My body was gray, and I was sweating badly. I tried to get up, but the pain in my chest knocked me down. I arrived at the Chester Hospital again where they gave me another colon rinse. After a week of cleaning my bowels out, I was released from the Chester Hospital and sent to the cardiac clinic in Belleville, Illinois. This was the first of June 2006. The clinic put a pacemaker in my chest set at sixty beats per minute.
The surgeon told me I had a thyroid disease. When he put in the pacemaker, my thyroid TSH level was at 6.9. He told me to get it checked out when I got back to the prison. Most importantly, he issued a statement for a medical no-soy diet. The surgeon told me that soy suppressed my thyroid function, exacerbating a pre-existing thyroid weakness that ran in the family. For the first time in my life, I learned about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disease.
When I returned to the prison, I saw the prison doctor, Dr. Fienerman, who told me I would not get any thyroid treatment and that the soy food was not making me sick. He denied my medical no-soy diet. He stated I had no proof the surgeon was right. So, I started gathering the evidence.
I contacted my daughter, Amanda Carrasco, and a friend, Judith Trustone. They put my symptoms in an Internet search engine and found the Weston A. Price Foundation as a good source of information on the dangers of soy. From June 2006 to January 2007, I gathered my evidence on the detrimental effects of soy on the thyroid and the male body in general. The science was clear: the estrogenic compounds in soy have adverse effects on the male reproductive system and the thyroid gland. It was ugly stuff. I made copies and gave them to all the prison chiefs. Then I got another appointment with Dr. Feinerman.
I gave Dr. Fienerman copies of studies from the Cincinnati Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic and those posted at westonaprice.org, which the Weston A. Price Foundation staff had sent to me. He went to the warden. This was damning evidence the warden did not want the prison population to have—so the warden had me shipped to the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling.
Once I arrived there, I immediately asked for a thyroid test to prove the thyroid disease. It was now February 2007. I was down to about one hundred fifty pounds and looking really bad. I had to fight for medical care all over again. Once my grievance requirements were met, I filed a civil suit stating the Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to my medical needs.
SOY GOES TO COURT
This bold move brought the soy diet issue in front of Federal Court Judge Harold Baker, U.S. Central District Court in Springfield, Illinois. Harris v. Brown, et al., 2007 was in the works.2 The soy diet lawsuit picked up some press across the nation. Prison Legal News reported on it,3 as did the Weston A. Price Foundation.4
A benefactor took mercy on my wrecked body and sent money monthly to buy food from the commissary. With real meat, I started to rebuild my health.
I did the lawsuit pro se, which means I acted as my own attorney. A wise lawyer once said, “only a desperate man acts as his own attorney.” He was right, but no lawyer in Illinois wanted to take on the ADM power behind the scenes in the state.
In 2008, the Weston A. Price Foundation supplied me with a lawyer, and we added other plaintiffs to the case. Soon, their doctors were allowed in the prison to examine us. By now, the IDOC medical staff and powers-that-be were taking notice of my fight. It was no longer a hidden secret but a lawsuit filed by a prisoner nobody cared about.
The WAPF doctors determined that my body was under-nourished. I was very low on many vitamins and minerals. They also documented the skin rashes and infections—I was the state lab rat that had all the symptoms.
ADM and the IDOC moved quickly to silence and correct my actions. On December 3, 2008, they issued me a medical no-soy diet. This was a brilliant move on their part. Because I was now getting the proper medical treatment, their attorney went into court and argued that I no longer had a case. They had corrected the situation by issuing the medical no-soy diet and were no longer deliberately indifferent to my medical needs.
Judge Harold Baker stated that it was a sad fact that a prisoner had to raise the soy diet issue, but since Plaintiff Harris was now getting a medical no-soy diet, he had no Eighth Amendment claim. He issued summary judgment to the defendants. We lost the case because they silenced me with the medical care required. The other plaintiffs took the small buy-out offered.
BACK TO SOY
From December 2008 until April 2016, I received the medical no-soy diet—which often consisted of one boiled egg or a plate of beans for a meal—but at least I was getting real food. This was a move to get the Weston A. Price Foundation out of ADM’s business.
Then I was transferred to the Danville Correctional Center where the health care administrator promptly canceled my medical no-soy diet. She stated I could eat the soy and get sick, and then she would treat me when I got sick. Following in my footsteps, too many prisoners were going to the health care unit, requesting thyroid tests and demanding the same medical care and diet I was receiving.
Since I was being given soy meals again, I moved through the grievance process to be allowed to shop once a week—normally it is every two weeks—and won. This quickly caused me to make enemies among the IDOC staff. They gave me a ticket and placed me in segregation for having my family and friends expose what was going on in the social media outlets.
The ticket was dismissed in January 2017. But I had been in segregation since October 2016 without the ability to buy commissary food. I had to eat the soy diet again to sustain my weight and strength.
It hit me hard this time. By October 2017, I was bleeding from my bowels. I was at the Shawnee Correctional Center at the time and went to see the doctor, Alfonso David. I told him I was getting sick when I was forced to eat soy for any length of time. He ordered a colon cancer test, but I was never able to get the results. In the meantime, the prisoner body protested and was able to get commissary shopping weekly. Once I could get real meat and cheese again, the bleeding would lighten up or go away completely at times.
I requested a second colon test during the fall of 2018. The bleeding had started again, and I was having pain in my digestive tract. I was sent to the clinic to be given a colon cleanse drink again, but since that did not stop the bleeding, I was issued a colon test box for colon cancer. I followed the instructions and sent it back in. When I tried to get the result, the nurse practitioner told me it did not exist.
I got another appointment with Dr. David. He told me point-blank, “You have a sixty-five year sentence. You are a walking dead man. I will not spend any money on you.” This was the last time I was seen by the medical staff at the Shawnee Correctional Center. I filed a grievance, and their solution was to transfer me once again, this time to the East Moline Correctional Center.
GRIEVANCES AND TRANSFERS
I arrived at East Moline Correctional Center in late March 2019 and immediately put in to see the doctor. This time, they issued me a hernia belt but denied my request for a cancer test. I was told I would have to file a grievance all over again. I started the action and of course told my family about it.
At East Moline, we could only shop twice a month—with a one-hundred-dollar limit. This forced me to eat soy again rather than starve, and of course the damage to my intestinal walls got worse. I was bleeding all the time now. Every morning I passed a pool of dark purple waste. The pain and burning started when I was again placed in segregation in September.
My daughter, who was running my blog site and Facebook page, posted about my medical situation and other problems at the East Moline facility. For this, I was again written a false ticket and given a disciplinary transfer into harsher confinement conditions at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center, transferring there on November 6-7, 2019, where I was retained in segregation status until November 13. The Illinois Administrative Review Board in Springfield expunged the ticket.
My daughter did not stand for this and complained to various authorities, and when I was placed back out into the general prison population, she contacted the governor’s office. They contacted the IDOC director, who called my daughter and asked her where I wanted to be housed. She told them the Illinois River Correctional Center. I was shipped from the Pinckneyville prison to the Illinois River Correctional Center on February 5, 2020. At that point, I was still really sick and bleeding daily.
CIVIL SUIT WIN AND MORE RUNAROUND
A few months earlier, on September 30, 2019, I won a civil suit. The federal court ruled that the Danville Correctional Center staff (who had canceled my medical no-soy diet) had punished me illegally. The court told the IDOC staff they could no longer place me in segregation and could no longer transfer me to worse conditions of confinement, nor could they punish me for exposing the soy diet damage, my lack of medical care or the corruption and malfeasance going on in the IDOC.
It took a few months for the lawsuit win to trickle down the chain of command. But now I was safe. My daughter started posting a record of my medical crisis.
I was called to the health care unit in February 2020 and was told I would be sent out to see a specialist, but in March 2020, prisons in Illinois were placed on Covid pandemic lockdown. I never received any treatment, and my commissary access was severely restricted. Finally in February 2021, my family and friends had seen enough. They took action.
My daughter sure does love me. She went to the governor’s constituent affairs office. She called her senators and representatives. The heat rolled downhill fast. Doctor K. Osmundson, the prison doctor, was called up on the carpet. The director wanted to know why I was being denied treatment. The doctor’s answer in defense was golden. Dr. Osmondson stated, “I pulled up Mr. Harris’s commissary purchase items. He buys some spicy foods, so I determined that was the problem.”
Dr. Osmondson relented and scheduled double hernia surgery. I was seen by a surgeon, Dr. Erin Bailey, at the Graham Medical Unit in Canton, Illinois. She ordered my blood drawn and explained the double hernia surgery I needed. But the blood test came back bad. I was anemic, with no iron in my red blood cells. I was too weak to operate on, so the hernia operation was put on the back burner.
CANCER RISKS OF LONG-TERM SOY DIET
When I went back out to see surgeon Bailey, she ordered an immediate colonoscopy, for my blood showed that I had cancer. On June 21, 2021, I awoke from the colonoscopy, and there was Dr. Bailey with the bad news: stage three colon cancer, almost stage four. I had an eight-and-one-half-inch tumor in my colon. The prison medical staff had refused to address the cancer from October 2019 to June 2021, during which time the soy consumption had almost pushed the cancer to stage four.
On August 3, I was placed in the infirmary to do another two-day colon cleanse—two days of not eating, while drinking the most foul liquid to clear my bowels. On August 5, Dr. Bailey operated, removing the tumor and stitching my bowels back together. I awoke without a colon bag—that was a great blessing. I owe Dr. Bailey for my life from that day forward, for I did not have much left before she fixed me.
But all was not well because the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in my small intestine. The medical nightmare was not over yet. “Chemo” was the new word. I was introduced to Dr. Fiskin, the chemo specialist in Canton, who explained how bad a situation I was in. He said it would require a heavy level of chemo, but first, Dr. Fiskin explained, I had to get my iron level right.
On September 28, I was moved into an isolation cell in the infirmary. They said my immune system was too weak to have me around other prisoners and staff who might infect me with something. On September 29, I went out to the chemo treatment center. My day started with a three-hour drip of iron into my bloodstream through a port that Dr. Bailey had surgically placed in my chest. After that, I received another three-hour drip of the chemo cocktail. Then they placed a chemo pack in a sling around my neck in order to shoot chemo into my bloodstream for the next three days.
The schedule was twelve sessions every other week. I would go to the cancer treatment center and receive the three-hour drip. Then the pack went around my neck until Friday evening. I would return to the hospital on Friday night to have the line into the port removed and flushed, and a plastic seal placed over the port so I could shower. On March 26, 2022, I had the neck pack removed for the last time.
For most of the chemo treatment, I was allowed to shop weekly to sustain my health and weight. But on December 2, 2021, Warden Clark terminated my doctor’s order for a weekly shop. I was once again faced with the decision at each meal: to eat the IDOC mystery meat and feed the cancer or slowly starve. I was not going to feed the cancer again, so I often went hungry.
A TEN-YEAR SENTENCE?
A lot of the guys who have served long sentences with me are getting cancer, too. It seems like it takes about ten years. If you eat soy-based meals for ten years, some type of cancer will appear.
Before I go quietly into the night, I want the public to know just what this soy diet experiment has done to the men incarcerated in the state of Illinois. Remember, we live in a sterile environment—no tobacco, no alcohol, no illegal drugs.
Soy and the human digestive tract just do not work together. This is why the FDA states, “Do not consume more than twenty-five grams of soy protein a day.”5 This is a warning to cover their backside, for they know from their Illinois prison experiment the detrimental effects that soy has on the human body.
On June 15, the prison gave me another CT scan. The results showed that the colon cancer was gone, but they found some spots on my liver. In June, I got great news—a liver biopsy showed that the two spots on my liver had shrunk to half the original size. So, the doctor stopped the biopsy and did not stick the needle into my liver.
A new early-release program in Illinois gives me hope for release from prison by the end of 2022. If I can manage to avoid all soy until then, I have a chance to walk away from this nightmare a healthy man.
LARRY’S LEGAL BATTLES
Larry Harris is a prison lawyer who has won several important lawsuits. In Harris v. Butler (U.S. District Court, Southern District of Illinois, East St. Louis), he won a small compensation for being transferred to more restrictive prisons as punishment for his taking legal actions.
In Harris v. Calloway et al., 2:17-cv-02075-MMM, he won the right to describe his conditions of confinement on social media—this case now allows all prisoners to communicate with the public via Internet postings. That case is in the damages trial stage. A jury will be picked to determine the amount of money Larry will receive in punitive damages.
A similar case (Harris v. C. Brannon, et al., 4:19-cv-04235-JES) involves the East Moline Correctional Center and is currently in the summary judgment stage.
FROM A PRISONER IN INDIANA
I am incarcerated at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana. After reading a 2012 Wise Traditions article pertaining to soy diets in prison,6 I felt that it is only right to share the soy food situation here.
The state has contracted with Aramark as the food provider for all or most of its facilities. In the Aramark menus, all of the main dishes are made of soy. Typical soy-based main dishes include sloppy joes, country patties, tamale pie, goulash, shepherd’s pie, meatloaf and Salisbury steak. Even a slice of cake or a cookie will contain soy on both the lunch and dinner trays.
For breakfast, biscuits and gravy, powdered eggs and pancakes are all served regularly. Biscuits and gravy as well as egg mix both contain soy chunks.
Lunch and dinner trays are always served with powdered drink mixes that contain aspartame, which causes a host of health problems itself. Breakfast trays are served with a milk substitute that contains aspartame and causes everyone terrible gas.
A small portion of vegetables is served with lunch and dinner, but fruit is not served on any tray for the general population; fruit is served to individuals who are on special diets because of health issues or religious preference. The small amount of veggies and lack of fruit does not and cannot combat or outweigh the amount of soy being served to us.
Many, many prisoners are suffering with different health issues: vitamin D and B deficiencies, gallbladder issues, thyroid surgeries, abdominal cancers and surgeries, bloating, constipation and a crystal, gritty-like feeling in the joints. I myself, forced to eat “state trays,” suffer from constant abdominal bloating and unbelievable gas.
I believe the medical staff here knows the cause of these health issues but just keeps the door revolving while the state saves money by feeding us non-sustaining, low-grade food; ergo, Aramark makes a lot of money providing the service of poisoning and killing us slowly.
Even though we are prisoners, we are still citizens of this country and not cattle. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and court cases have stipulated that prisoners are to receive a sustaining diet. We need a voice to bring light to what’s happening in the Indiana prisons.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2022🖨️ Print post