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You can buy anything in prison if you have the money.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The hustle for money in my prison is always strong. Everyone seeks it, but very few end up with enough to be self-sustaining. 

The monetary influx into prison varies. Money comes from pen pals, extortion, gambling, prison jobs, family, friends — and hustles. The greatest portion of money comes from drug sales.

Although most money a prisoner gets goes to support their family on the outside, it can also be used for good and bad on the inside. In more than 35 years of incarceration with the Arizona Department of Corrections, I have seen any number of services and products exchanged for money: murders and assaults, silence and sexual favors, extortion and bounties, and cellphones, ammunition and weapons. 

You can acquire almost anything in prison if you pay for it. 

On the flip side, I have also seen acts of enormous generosity in prison, including people helping others pay for soap, toilet paper, toothpaste and stamps to write to their families. These particular prisoners go out of their way to see that those who share their living area (often those of their own race) receive the bare necessities. Some will even include coffee in what prisoners call a “care package.” 

But is it genuine altruism? Nothing in prison is free, not even the time of day. 

During Christmastime, prison administration allows the population to purchase specialty items through the commissary. These are items prisoners do not have access to year-round. They include expensive and quality body washes, soaps, coffee, specialty sweets like Hershey’s Kisses, holiday cookies, spices, meat products and blended condiments like spicy mustards and mayos, along with chocolate-dipped peanuts and yogurt-covered pretzels. 

People keep these special indulgences for their own select group of followers, especially those who support or work for them on a daily basis. If you are not part of the groups that fund the spread for that holiday meal, you will not receive so much as a scrap of trash from the table. 

The amount prisoners can spend on items is also increased by $20 or more during Christmastime, depending on one’s privilege level. Still, not everyone in prison can afford specialty products, and those who cannot usually do without. Some simply go inside their cells so they do not have to see what they can’t participate in.

It is cruel in some aspects, and beneficial in others. People who wish to have these things will push themselves to go out and work for what they desire, so they are no longer part of the have-not crowd. Desire is a mighty spur, but envy will force one into action.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Timothy Monk is a writer incarcerated in Arizona.