Inmate Life Part 2

I regret it has taken me so long to post this.  I know many of you and hopefully others who view the blog on the website are intrigued and interested in these posts.  I am going to attempt to post more regularly,  at least weekly, even if the posts are much shorter.  It took me a while to start drafting this because frankly, I did not know where to start back on inmate life.  All the communication on our computers is monitored, and same with the telephones.  As such, I am reluctant to go into too much detail because frankly, a lot of stuff that goes on in prison is technically against the rules, yet overlooked by the staff.  That said, I am reluctant to go into too much detail because the staff here may feel threatened or crack down on things, thus making our life more difficult.  

Currency

For example, money in prison.  There is an entire currency system in the prison system, and it operates as if it was its own country to a large extent.  Currency is traded within the prison utilizing US Postal Stamps.  Individual US Postal Stamps are worth the equivalent of 25 cents and the 20 stamp flat books of stamps is worth $7.  What is ironic is the flat books of stamps had been selling on commissary for $11.60 and just raised to $12 but they sell within the prison units on the “black market” for $7, and that is their value.  Stamps are the standard currency in the federal prison system although their value changes from prison to prison.  For example at my previous Federal Prison, 30 minutes down the road at Seagoville, the value of the flat books of stamps was worth $8 to $9.  30 individual stamps is the equivalent of a 20 stamp flat book in value.  The flat books are purchased by inmates from other inmates within the unit,  most typically through the inmate who is purchasing the flat books, sort of like finding a way to send the person who is selling the flat books cash via a bank transfer, cash app, Zelle, etc.  It’s rare — but it is possible — to purchase them from someone in exchange for buying them commissary on the next store day.  Once you have the flat books of stamps and say you want to sell them, they are easily sold as they are in high demand and someone will purchase them as described above.  For example a 12 pack of Sprite sells for a little over $8 at the prison commissary store but a can of sprite will sell for 4 stamps as described by the store men below.

Economy

The prison itself has its own functioning economy as many inmates have to “hustle” or work through unsanctioned jobs within the unit to get by and be able to afford commissary and other “luxuries” within the unit.  For example, there are several inmates that have their own store within the unit.  If you are reading this you are likely asking to yourself what a store is. So the prison itself has a commissary store which has a wide range of items on it.  There are inmates within the individual unit that operate their own store out of their dorm room.  They stock up on a variety of items from the commissary in large supply and they charge typically anywhere from 30-50% over the commissary list price for the items.  Inmates that know how to do this the right way can have a very lucrative business inside of prison.  Store men will sell their items they stock either for stamps or they will put you on credit if they deem you’re credit worthy;  and then, before the next time the unit gets to go to the prison commissary, the store men will give a list of items they want the inmate who is on credit to purchase for them at the list price from the prison commissary on the next store day.  You may be asking why not just take stamps.  The store men giving credit allows the store people to stock up their inventory on high demand items.  For example an individual inmate is limited to purchase only two 12 packs of sodas every time the inmate goes to store.  A successful store man is going to typically run through several 12 packs of sodas between every prison commissary day; and selling other inmates items on credit for future prison commissary purchases allows the store men to build up inventory on these “limit” items.  Other limit items, for example, are coffee creamer (limited to 4), various rotating Little Debbie items most recently Star Crunch (limited to 4), cappuccino (limit 3), generic Oreo style cookies limit 4), etc.  Prior to COVID, my understanding is the unit would be permitted to go to the prison commissary store once per week, but at least here it is every two weeks or twice a month.  In addition to only being able to go twice a month, inmates are only permitted to spend $180 dollars every two weeks at the store ($360/month).  The two weeks in between store days, the dollar spending limits, and the quantity limits described above, make the demand for products and good store men in the unit a necessity to doing your time in prison.

Other hustles in prison include inmates doing laundry and washing clothes for other inmates, selling one of items, cooking for other inmates, inmates who work in the kitchen bringing back items from the kitchen (meat, cheeses, breads, etc) and selling them on the unit for stamps, cleaning rooms, waxing floors, making improvements to the store rooms such as installing shelf systems, running poker tables, making and selling alcohol/wine (aka hooch), designing and selling greeting cards, doing drawings, etc.  One real world example of this is inmates hand washing clothes for other inmates on the unit; and in other instances, the inmates who work in laundry can be compensated for doing your laundry individually in the washer/dryer by itself, as opposed to be thrown in mass with 300 other laundry bags.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I will make a concerted effort to give more frequent updates.

Brad

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