Money in the Prison System – Living with Stamps

Money. In order to make it in the world today, you need a little bit of money. You earn money by working, by selling items, or even receiving money as a gift. It seems like in today’s world, nothing is free. A person needs money in order to survive….to get food and shelter and to pay bills. For some, money is very hard to come by and it seems that no matter how much you work you can never get ahead of the game. For others, it seems like money grows on trees.

Growing up my family always had enough money for food to eat, clothes on our backs, and a home to live in. We were blessed to take some family vacations and for the kids to participate in sports leagues and attend summer camps. My parents always tithed their money, too. We weren’t wealthy by any means, but my parents knew the best ways to use the money they made wisely.

I learned how to budget my money also and I usually only bought what I really needed, although there were times I splurged and bought some things that I considered “wants”. I learned from an early age to save money, and when I grew up and lived on my own I never had any problems paying my bills and making payments.

Believe it or not, in prison it takes money to survive, too. Every inmate is required to have a job. Jobs pay anywhere between $2 a month (yes, you heard that right!) and $40 a month. As the head librarian on this compound I bring in a whopping $20 a month. I also officiate sand volleyball matches and that gives me an additional $10 a month during the season. Actually, we don’t really receive the money as cash; money is not allowed on the compound. It all goes into my personal account to be used for phone calls and/or commissary items……extra food, hygiene items, snacks, clothes.

But imagine living on $30 a month – that’s roughly $7.50 a week. Could you do it? I know I couldn’t outside of prison. Where would I live and eat for $1 a day? Even in here it’s tough to live on $30 a month since phone calls cost $.90 for a fifteen-minute local call and up to $3.15 for a long distance call. I have to stop and think each time I make a call if I can afford to make the call. Commissary items are not cheap either, as each item is a 30% mark up of store cost.  Sometimes it takes inmates months, even years, to save 100% of their paychecks to buy a new pair of shoes. (We are given a few items when we arrive but anything we want to replace or add to have to be paid by the individual.) Unless an inmate gets money sent in from family and friends, it’s definitely about survival. In order to get the items you need like soap and shampoo and toothpaste or to make phone calls to family and friends since they cannot call in sometimes people in prison create “hustles”.

Hustles are made up jobs that an inmate creates to earn some extra money. Examples of hustles: doing another person’s laundry, cleaning rooms, running a poker table, selling sodas, chips and candy bars, making arts and crafts items to sell, or stealing items from other inmates and reselling them. That happened to me with a new pair of shorts that I just bought and had drying in the dryer. There are other hustles, but these are a few main ones.

14-flagforallseasons2Now you may be wondering how a person gets paid from another inmate if actual cash is not allowed on the compound. There are two ways: l) The hustler gives the payer a list of items to purchase for him at the commissary store equal to what they owe that person. 2) Stamps. Since we are not allowed cash, but are allowed stamps, we turn stamps into our cash.

We have three different types of stamps: compound stamps, forever stamps, and flat books. A compound stamp is an old beat up stamp that has been in circulation for years, and can no longer be used for mailing purposes.  A compound stamp’s value is between $.25 to $.30. A forever stamp is an actual mailing stamp. It is usually an older stamp but is in good condition, and can still be used to mail letters. The value is between $.32 to $.37. A flat book is an actual book of stamps that you would purchase at the post office. It is 20 stamps, connected together all in one piece. If one stamp is removed from the flat book it is no longer a flat book but are individual forever stamps. The value is worth between $8 -$10. The value of each stamp is determined by the hustler, usually depending if the payer is your friend or not. And if the hustler says one compound book or one forever book that means 20 stamps of the appropriate type of stamp. A compound book has value from $5-$6. A forever book’s value ranges from $6.50-$7.50, again depending on the hustler. Does this make sense?

Just an FYI. Below is a list of a few items and hustles, and their costs.

Seagoville Prison Price List (Subject to Change)

  • Cold Soda – 2 compound stamps or 2 forever stamps
  • Room Clean – 10 compound stamps
  • Large Prison Pizza – 3 compound books or 2 forever books
  • Small bag of milk (we do have bags of milk!) – 1 compound stamp or 1 forever stamp
  • Painting of room – 2 flatbooks
  • Locker Shelves – 6 forever stamps
  • Haircut – 8 compound stamps
  • Candybar – 3 forever stamps

When I first arrived in prison I had no clue how this worked. But after a while I got used to it and it became normal to my way of thinking. It’s a different world inside these walls and nothing at all like the monetary system you know. In case you are wondering – No, I do not have a “hustle”. And yes, I usually get my mailing stamps for around $6.50 a book. It sure does beat the $9.40 you can spend at the post office these days. If you need any mailing stamps, just let me know. I can cut you a great deal. Hmmmm…..did I just create a hustle?!?!?!? HA!

I just wanted to share a little bit of life in these walls. It works for me while I’m here. But I do look forward to coming home and handling my finances the way I was taught so long ago!

Let the Games Begin!

0935ecebd29faaed200acfb39c213233

1.6k Swim, 4k Bike, and 10k Run. These are the distances of an Olympic size triathlon race. And these are the kind of triathlons I did when I was living in Hawaii. I absolutely loved competing in three sports in one competition. And living in Hawaii, where the temperatures were practically near perfect year round, made the sport ideal for some good times. Now I was really not that great at any of three legs of the race. I feel swimming and running were my strongest since I swam and played water polo in high school, and ran cross country in college. My biking time consisted of recreational activities…..mountain biking in Colorado for two summers and road biking here and there.

Before taking on the races, I would do a little bit of training, but not as much as I should sdtriathlon-rotor-5.jpghave. I did it more for the pure enjoyment of the sport and a sense of accomplishment that never gets old. In each triathlon I participated in, the one mile swim was an open water ocean swim. There were waves that each swimmer would go up and over. It was strenuous work, but I always did somewhat decent in the swim, finishing in the top quarter.

During the two transitions from swim to bike and bike to run, I usually took my time getting ready. Like I mentioned, I was participating for the pure enjoyment of the sport. So the speedy transitioners had their way with me and always passed me with ease. During the first part of the 40k bike, I felt like I was going in slow motion, as some of the other competitors would literally fly by me. Biking wasn’t my strong suit, but after I got in a groove, I would hold my own.

By the time I made it to the 10k run, I was all gassed out, with my goal being to finish. So I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, keeping a nice steady pace to finish the race. The race was not super long compared to an iron man triathlon that is, but it still took me over an hour and half to complete. I was definitely exhausted at the end of the competition, and my legs felt it the most as I used them to the limit in all three areas. But the thrill of competing and finishing brought me back time and time again.

A committed triathlon competitor, like an Olympian athlete, always makes sure that he or she puts an equal amount of time and practice into each of the three sports. They make sure they are at their peak performance before competing. They eat properly, train properly, and make sure their body is in tip-top shape. They do it because they want to win. A Bible verse that comes to my minds is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Winning a race requires purpose and discipline. A Christian’s life also takes hard work, self-denial and grueling preparation. As Christians we should be running towards our heavenly reward. The essential disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and worship equip us to run with vigor and stamina. Don’t merely observe from the sidelines; don’t just jog a couple of laps a day. Train diligently – your spiritual purpose depends upon it.

olympic-winners-podium-007In case any of you are wondering, no I never got to stand on a podium in any of my triathlon races, let alone even finish in the top 100. I never trained like a hard core athlete and prepared my body like I should have. But today, I can honestly say I’m preparing my mind, body, and heart the way God wants me to be; to be that witness, and to get ready someday for my future home with Him. That’s the podium I’ll be standing on!