Life In Prison

Prison: Life Hacks and Econ 101

IMG_3532Food in jail is notoriously bad! In county jails  it’s almost inedible, getting any nutrition is certainly a challenge. When I was at a detention center in Nevada waiting to be sent back to Utah they served us hot dogs on the 4th of July. I was excited and asked if they were real hot dogs? The inmate handing out the trays said, “You’re so cute, of course they aren’t real! They never give out real meat in jail.” So I learned that all meat in jail was made out of soy and doesn’t sit well in your stomach. Vegetables are in high demand in here, you have to buy them on the black market and the black market consists of vegetables and other goods stolen by kitchen workers and sold to inmates in the unit. I have been unwilling to support the theft, which leaves me with the tuna fish on commissary as my main source of nutrition. The tuna costs $2.75 per pack so it can get very expensive:) Today I made a suggestion to one of the officers in the kitchen. I said, “We would so appreciate having some cut up vegetables like carrots for sale on commissary, any chance that could happen?” The officer said, “Any fresh food we sell you guys ends up being used to make hooch.” The inmate standing next to me said, “Just what I was looking forward to this weekend, a nice glass of carrot hooch.” We both laughed, you can’t make hooch out of carrots?

However, I have found inmates to be very creative. For every rule in here there is a creative way to get around it. In the county jail we didn’t have scissors so I learned how to cut my own hair with toe nail clippers, I have cut my own hair for many years but using toe nail clippers was extra challenging. Women make cosmetics out of baby powder and colored pencils.  Jolly Ranchers mixed with water make a super sticky hairspray:) In a detention center an officer showed me how to use butter as lotion for dried skin and chapped lips and I found it to be quite effective. We use pads for just about everything in jail, from cleaning to insoles for our shoes. Many of the women can crochet full wardrobes out of yarn, and you can get your laundry done by another inmate, including ironing for a few dollars a week. There are women who do deep tissue massages for less than $10.00 an hour and from what I hear they are pretty amazing. The established currency is commissary, we only shop once a week so the night before we shop inmates are hurrying back and forth with lists of products they need from the inmates who owe them. You have to be careful not to get in debt in prison, I have seen the new girls come in desperate for some coffee and they purchase it from another inmate promising to return double. It’s a bad idea, that rarely ends well because collections are not always pretty.

The cooking in prison is something else! Our unit makes 2 microwaves available that are used constantly. Women cook gourmet meals made from the leftovers they smuggle from the chow hall and a few simple items from commissary. I could probably write a recipe book called 101 meals made in jail with a microwave:) I don’t buy anything I have to cook because I won’t wait in line to use the microwave. I buy ramen and Tai noodles because you can make them with hot water, although I don’t eat them much. That’s another book I could write 101 recipes made with ramen noodles, I had no idea ramen noodles could be prepared so many different ways? I would guess once you leave prison, ramen noodles are off the menu for life:) Sometimes I am amazed that so many women, from so many different backgrounds and cultures can live together in relative harmony. It certainly gives me the opportunity to grow, I’m learning to respect the diversity and find the best in others.

So many simple things that you wouldn’t realize become valuable in prison. For example tape and glue are hot items, earrings or a wedding ring goes for big bucks in here. You can bring a simple ring and earrings with you when you come to jail, many of the inmates bring jewelry to sell because it is so much more valuable in prison. Eye glasses are extremely valuable and I have been told a recently smuggled in pack of cigarettes was broken down and sold for almost $250.00. That’s crazy! Colored yarn is another big seller, inmates can only choose from 3 different colors of yarn at a time and it’s expensive! I have found most products available  from commissary to be very low quality and extremely overpriced. After I was forced into a guilty plea and let out of jail, I looked into how commissary works.  I wanted to know why inmates were being charged so much for basic necessities? I found out there are large companies that have virtually no competition in their market providing the commissary, they are awarded contracts with the BOP and that it’s a very closed knit group of companies that make billions off incarceration and lobby for longer prison sentences. (And they call us the criminals:) There are  companies that make big money on incarceration and most of them have government contracts which include kickbacks to the powers that be. Incarceration is a big business! It’s estimated that incarceration is a bigger part of the American economy than the entire auto industry and these long prison sentences fuel the machine. Every day I meet Spanish inmates that are serving 10 plus year sentences costing the tax payer in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year.  They will be deported at the end of their sentence which doesn’t make sense? I guess that’s government economics 101.

I have become known in prison as the girl that gives away Book of Mormons, both Spanish and English. Thank you for sending them in, I have already gone through most of them. If anyone out there wants a family home evening project, the blue Book of Mormons can be sent to me 5 at a time in an envelope and the Women here are so grateful to have them. I could also use some 5×7 pictures of the Salt Lake temple and other Gospel art. Before I left Utah I put together a package of nice pictures and other gospel manuals for Chad to send to me and I’ve given most of it away.  A simple picture here means a lot to a fellow sister inmate.

Again I thank you all for your love and kindness, it is a great blessing and comfort to me to share my experiences and know my family is in the loving arms of our community.

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