We break the rules, not to be assholes that just want to get in trouble, but out of a need to be as comfortable as possible in such a lonely, cold, dark and very oppressive and restricted environment.
There is a rule for ‘trading and trafficking’ which is selling, trading, sharing, giving, letting each other borrow, use, see, hear and have anything we have, make, get. etc. In the hole we are limited to only certain personal property items. In most holes you cannot have a TV or radio, so reading is a big pastime that helps. Some prisons do not have libraries and the ones that do have a system that is a catch 22, more trouble and risk to use than not, so many guys find other ways to acquire reading materials. There are some non-profit organizations that will send free books if your particular prison allows it. Some prisoners are blessed and fortunate to have family or friends in the free world whom care and send them reading materials or money to purchase such items, but a lot of prisoners don’t have that. We will share reading materials with each other, but this is against the rules. We do it anyway.
Food is nasty in prison, and in IDOC we don’t eat any red meat or pork. We are fed a lot of turkey by-products and soy stuff that is not appetizing! So, again, in the hole – where, for some reason, the portions of horrible food is smaller – grown men get hungry, so they trade food items. I might not eat something that someone else does, and visa versa, so we trade, which is against the rules. Those of us who are blessed and fortunate to have money sent to us, are able to buy food items off the commissary to make meals with. We are not all heartless bastards, as many think, and we share and give some commissary food items to buddies or guys whom do not have money to buy these things. We have all been there, and a little generosity goes a long way. Sometimes, a lot of us will pitch in commissary food items and make a big meal together. We love making foot long burritos and cakes. But, again, these things are against the rules, and it can land us in the hole from 30 days to six months, but we do it anyway, because it’s a petty rule and not done with malicious intent, but rather part of trying to be as comfortable as possible.
Local churches, restaurants, organizations, etc., will sometimes donate food intended ‘for the prisoners’. They may have excess, day old, or expired items which are real food items, generally the kind of things not seen or served in prison – things like pork, steaks, pastries, vegetables (not normally served), ice cream, drinks, etc. But 99% of this food is not served to us. It is fed to the officers for their enjoyment, and even given away to them. Leftovers that are not deemed enough to serve to the entire prison population will be, literally, thrown away – even though some good people were generous enough to donate it for the purpose of feeding the prisoners.
IDOC is not only corrupt, lazy and deceitful, but it is also wasteful. Millions of tax dollars are wasted and thrown away by the system on a daily basis. A lot of prisoners in the general population will steal food from the kitchen and sell it to other prisoners. Some of the officers and staff actually allow certain prisoners to take the excess food or make their own meals since they work in the kitchen, and they will even use the prisoners to make them a good meal. So prisoners will prepare great meals like steak with fries, real beef hamburgers with cheese and actual fresh tomato, lettuce, onions, jalapenos, and bell peppers (items we never get), fried chicken with seasonings, chicken quesadillas with onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot sauce, several types of cheeses, fried broccoli and cauliflower with ranch dressing, and even a real salad with lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, cheese, mushrooms, yummy! (Something we never get). So guys will break the rules to wheel and deal, paying $3.00 to $5.00 for a special meal made that is against the rules – but, oh so, so worth it!!!
When I was in general population, guys liked my style of art and would commission art projects and they loved my cards which were in high demand, so much so that I was a bit overwhelmed and had to maintain lists and even then would only do business with certain guys. I bartered my artwork for real food with a bunch of kitchen workers, too. My last cellmate didn’t have any outside support, nor did he go to commissary, so I made sure he got to eat with me. This is against the rules, but it’s what we do to be as comfortable as possible, in a place where the officers get to enjoy the food donated to the prisoners. It’s not right, so we do what is necessary for us to do to feel human in this oppressive, restrictive and dehumanizing prison system.
I mentioned how I’m good at making some creative cards that prisoners like. Guys think about their kids and family, wives and loved ones all the time, and they want to send something nice to them. They are willing to pay, trade, barter and hustle for it. There are many, many talented artists of all kinds in prison and many others who are creative in other ways. Guys make all kinds of beautiful artwork, paintings, drawings, cards, roses, models, paper jewelry boxes, bracelets, rings, necklaces, pillows and other cool items, sometimes, literally, out of nothing. But other guys do not have such talents, and they will obtain art from other prisoners to send to their loved ones. Again, this is against the rules and it can land us in the hole anywhere from 30 days to a year, all for something petty, nonviolent, not malicious and done with only good intentions.
THIS STORY CONTINUES…. STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE……