How to cook in a prison cell? US inmate shares his tips on TikTok

Screenshots of videos posted by Jeron Combs on his TikTok account.
Screenshots of videos posted by Jeron Combs on his TikTok account. © TikTok/@blockboyjmoney

Over the past few months, Jeron Combs has gone viral sharing recipes and tips for how to whip up meals from his prison cell in California. At the outset of the pandemic, 31-year-old Combs, who is serving a 70-year sentence after being charged with first-degree murder at 18, started sharing videos of his daily life and the meals he makes in prison.

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To cook in his cell, which doesn’t have burners or an oven, Jeron Combs had to get creative. He took apart a small hot pot to isolate its circular heating element. He then plugged that into the wall and used it to heat up his metal bed frame, turning it into a cooking surface.    

Since then, he has used his bed-turned-stovetop to cook up tacos, grill sandwiches and make scrambled eggs. 

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'I want them to see that we have agency, and can do creative things in here'

Jeron Combs posted his first video on TikTok in May 2020. Since then, he’s garnered millions of views and 300,000 followers. He spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team about how he does it. 

We started making our TikTok channel two months into Covid, that is all that they talked about and we were watching things about the virus on TV every day here, so we decided that we should start making videos so that people can see what we’re doing in here. The main thing [Covid-19] changed is our visits, people couldn’t come and see us and we weren’t able to go out like we used to every day. 

We couldn’t eat the food in the canteen anymore so we decided to get creative and make some alternatives from our cell.

We make videos about how we cook on a bunk, and it went absolutely crazy. A lot of people are not in jail and they want to know what’s going on in here. I have become the voice of the prison, and that's pretty rare, though I did get a lot of backlash from some people. 

I don’t want everybody to look down on us. I want them to see that we have agency, and can do creative things in here. Most people think we are all violent people, but that’s not true. So through my channel, I wanted to show people a little of what it is like behind these walls, in an authentic way.

'I’ve been wanting to share a lot more videos, but I can’t because the guards will come into my cell'

The job that I have, porter, is to sweep the floor, keep the area clean. I also play basketball, scrabble or chess, write letters, read books, study my case. I’ve got to be in here for a while longer, so why not enjoy myself as much as that’s possible.

Basically TikTok is about getting my story out there. I am putting the name out there, I know what I am doing and I know what the risks are. Smartphones are illegal in here, but everyone has them, everyone has social media. I want to post more videos, but I can’t because the guards will come into my cell, we’re not supposed to have phones.

Within the American prison system, cellphones are considered contraband but they are circulated widely amongst prisoners, who get them from corrupt guards, from visitors or even from drone deliveries. In the state of Oklahoma alone, 9,766 devices were seized in 2016, representing one telephone for every 2.8 prisoners.

Jeron Combs isn’t the only prisoner who has obtained a following on social media with his recipes. A French inmate from the Fleury-Mérogis prison has achieved some fame on Twitter sharing photos and videos of his culinary creations, which include a strawberry cake, couscous and pizza.