The Federal Prison Hustle

It’s November 26th, a Wednesday. I underestimated the cost of living in prison. I self-surrendered to Taft on April 28th with $400 and expected those funds to cover my expenses for 2 months. I wasn’t even close. After two weeks I phoned my parents for more money.

I spend an average of $400 a month. The breakdown is as follows: $290 towards commissary shopping, $65 on postage (2 books per week) and $30 to purchase phone minutes ($.10 a minute x 300 minutes). I feel fortunate and am very grateful that my family enables me to live so well.

Many prisoners are not as lucky. The only alternative for the less fortunate is the “prison hustle”. Like everyone else in prison, indigent prisoners have needs that cannot be met through their minuscule prison earnings. Bureau of Prisons policy prohibits an inmate who lacks a high school diploma or GED from earning more than grade 4 (which is $20.00 per month). In spite of this, the inmate is required to buy commissary items if he needs them. Since prison rules make it difficult for the indigent inmate to survive, many who lack access to funds embark on the prison hustle.

There are several opportunities for an inmate to support himself in prison. He may perform services such as cleaning inmate cubes, tailoring, performing laundry services and ironing clothes.

The Federal Prison hustle is just part of the experience. Hustlers are part of any prison. I see uneducated inmates without a GED or high school diploma living better than men with doctorate or professional degrees. There is a rigid dichotomy between real life and prison, due in part to the prison hustler.

Justin Paperny

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