This week’s blog posts are all about prisoners and money. Specifically, it’s about why inmates in prisons need money at all. After all, they got what was offered to them, right?
We get a lot of questions on this topic here Prison Insights. I’ve written it myself in the past, but it’s been almost ten years since I was in jail and more than five years since I got out.
So instead of trying to recall random anecdotes from my time in prison, I decided to contact a current prison inmate and ask her to answer this question.
For this post, our guest blogger is Mistie Vance. She is currently serving a 20-year sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri, for manslaughter and armed crimes. She has been in prison for more than a decade and is not expected to be released on parole until 2025.
Misty and I became good friends when we served together at the Eastern Women’s Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri. She was my personal trainer and aerobics instructor, and we often spent time together during smoke time or in the prison yard.
She is an amazing lady and I am sure our readers will be delighted to hear from her, especially since she has more up-to-date insider information. To that end, Misty answers today’s question: Why do prisoners need money?
In this blog post, Mistie will cover the following topics:
- Prisoners need money to improve quality of life
- What items are given to prisoners by the prison?
- Why do prisoners buy clothes?
- The Importance of Tennis Shoes
- avoid the luxury of dining halls
- What items can inmates purchase in the cafeteria?
- How do prisoners survive if they don’t send money to them?
Prisoners need money to improve quality of life
Prisoners may not need money to survive in prison. But in order to live a better quality of life, it definitely helps. Where the state provides things like khaki uniforms and three meals a day, other things considered necessary in the free world are not.
Warm clothes for hiking commutes and meals in winter, cool clothes for summer when it’s scorching heat… late night snacks for bedtime when you’re so hungry because dinner’s over and nine hours until breakfast. These are in prison Some of the things that money can provide.
What items are given to prisoners by the prison?
When you arrive at the Correctional Facility, you will receive several items. This is the list I got when I got to WERDCC and then when I moved to CCC.
- Five pairs of khaki shirts
- five pairs of khaki pants
- Five pairs of granny pants
- Five Itchy Bras Made for Breast Shapes That Don’t Exist
- two itchy towels
- two small towels
- two firm sheets
- two thin blankets
- a set of pajamas
- The most uncomfortable pair of boots you’ll ever try
You’ll also be given a small toothbrush, toothpaste that makes your mouth feel dirtier than it was before you brushed, a comb, a bar of harsh soap, some shampoo that makes your hair feel like a straw, and a refreshing deodorant that adds body odor Agents. These are the luxuries we get in prison.
Why do prisoners buy clothes?
Some people may ask, why buy clothes in prison when they are given clothes to wear? Imagine wearing a tent everywhere you go 24/7 and you’ll start to understand. Add that to the seasonal temperature differences and we’ll feel quite different levels of discomfort.
Take the extreme cold of winter, for example. To go about your day-to-day life in a prison like the one I’m in, you have to spend a fair amount of time outside walking to and from different locations – work, medical lines, meals and entertainment are just some of the things.
The only warm clothes we were issued were state coats, and trust me, they weren’t very warm! Air is blown up from your sleeves and the bottom of your coat, and if it snows, it will flow down your neck easily.
If you have to stand for long periods of time or work outdoors, soon your whole body will turn into a human popsicle and start shaking like a leaf in the wind! Just imagine those poor dogs in the ASPCA commercials and you’ll see what I’m talking about!
Along with the state coat, we were issued a stocking cap, but no gloves, and unless they had the funds to buy their own, the hands would be painfully exposed.
Of course, the canteen also offers warm fleece jackets that can be worn on their own or under a state coat, keeping you warm and warm at a reasonable price. Other items available for purchase include cotton pants and shorts (perfect for hot summer days and working out), sweatpants and shirts, long and short sleeve T-shirts, boxer briefs, light jackets and fleece suits.
Being able to afford these luxuries not only makes prisoners feel comfortable in such an uncomfortable place, but also reminds us that we are still human and that our lives matter.
The Importance of Tennis Shoes
One of the most important items a prisoner can purchase is a pair of tennis shoes. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to slip into a pair of national release boots, you’ll know what I mean!
Picture the most uncomfortable pair of shoes you’ve ever worn, multiply that by a hundred, and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like to walk around in a pair of state boots.
Even the cheapest pair of tennis shoes known to man (which is basically an option we can buy) is like walking on clouds in comparison!
Since most of our lives are spent on our feet, having a pair of shoes that is not painful and detrimental to proper foot care can really make a huge difference in our quality of life.
avoid the luxury of dining halls
Another reason inmates like to have money in prison is to go to the cafeteria to buy food. Besides being rather frugal and unpalatable, prison meals lacked some of the things we enjoy in the free world – chips, chocolate, ice cream, soda.
An important part of the human experience is the opportunity to savor every little thing. Food is one of the few freedoms we still enjoy in prison, so it’s very important. Even items like coffee, creamer, and sugar have to be purchased outside the cafeteria, so it’s not a luxury that anyone can afford.
It’s also important to consider that there are only three specific mealtimes per day. So if you’re not hungry when food is offered, but hungry when it’s not available, you’ll stay hungry until your next chance, unless you have food in your locker that you bought at the cafeteria.
What items can inmates purchase in the cafeteria?
Besides food and clothing, other items that can be purchased in the cafeteria include legal items, stamps and envelopes to write letters to loved ones. You can also shop for hygiene products, cosmetics and electronics.
There are hair dryers available for purchase too, so your hair won’t freeze in winter if you have to leave the house after a shower. A lamp is also provided so you can stay up late studying for an exam or writing an important letter.
If you’re really lucky, you can buy your own personal TV, unwind after a stressful day, and live and work with thousands of other women.
These things may not be necessary for survival, but they are certainly things that make the ups and downs of life seem more bearable.
How do prisoners survive if no one sends money to them?
For many prisoners, “three hot water bottles and a crib” is as good as it gets here. The state pays us eight dollars and fifty cents a month unless you’re in arrears. If that’s the case, you get five dollars a month, and the rest offsets what you owe.
A phone call or two, a stamp or two, and maybe some shampoo and conditioner will suffice so your hair doesn’t get too tangled. One month, you can buy some hair ties, and maybe the next, you can put some petroleum jelly on your feet.
Some criminals were able to find jobs that paid ten or twenty dollars a month, but jobs were few and far between. These jobs are not an option if you are in education or have a medical condition.
For some, family and friends helped them throughout their incarceration, while others used “tricks” – female inmates would call men and pretend to be in relationships with them for money. It’s kind of like a prison version of catfish.
I chose to be grateful and not violate my personal code of ethics in this way. Maybe I’m making that decision now because my pre-prison life wasn’t always honorable.
No matter what we did to get here, no matter what wrong decisions we made, we are not a product of past mistakes. We are mother and daughter, wife and friend. We are human beings, and as such, deserve the opportunity to live here the best way we can.
In order to live your best life, having at least a little money in prison is essential. I hope this helps you understand why inmates need money in prison and inspires compassion for those who have the opportunity to help those in prison they care about.
Remember, investing in people is an investment that pays off.
Would you like to write to Mistie Vance or donate to her canteen fund? If you want to deposit money into her account, you can do it at JPAY.com. Select Missouri — Chillicothe Correctional Center — Inmate #1231904 Mistie Vance.
You can also write to her:
Mistie Vance #1231904
3151 Lytton Road
Chillicothe, Missouri 64601
Sources: Personal Experience Essay by inmate Mistie Vance at CCC in Chillicothe, MO