131.25% by Justin A. (OH)


Inflation is serious business in prison. What costs free world citizens costs us incarcerated (and our families) magnitudes more. How so? I’ll explain.

Everything sold in prison commissaries are sold far above the retail prices you find at your local supermarket. This is partly the result of correctional policies allowing institution commissaries to raise prices in order to sustain a “general fund,” allowing institutions to fill gaps in funding in other departments. While

there’s more to this, just understand that this is how it works in real life behind these walls. Factor in the rising cost of inflation, and mark ups by vendors with exclusive correctional contracts, and prices we incarcerated pay for food items are often 100-200% above retail.

We incarcerated earn a monthly pay for the jobs we labor at. This is called “state pay” here in Ohio, with 99% of Ohio’s incarcerated earning less than $24.00 per month. Think about it. $24 to live off of. If you don’t have financial support from family or friends, prison life becomes a stressful existence of worry and struggle.

To solve this, we incarcerated ‘hustle’ to fill financial gaps in wants and needs. From these efforts life behind bars becomes manageable and we are able to focus on more productive things than a hungry stomach.



First of all, thank you for reading. This post may not be accurate for some of the individuals who are incarcerated, because they either do not have the opportunity or the skill to provide a specialized service such as mine.

I am going to base my calculations on two things: the “hustle” and the most basic of items present in prison commissaries — Ramen Noodle soups.

The “hustle”. The hustle is what we do to “earn a buck”. This may or may not correlate to our assigned/chosen institutional job. Mine does, fortunately. These hustles are NOT allowed, per se. They are condoned by some, abhorred by others, and something that I am vulnerable to punishment for by admission. So, don’t tell anyone please. I may have to deny it.

Hustles vary, due to skill sets and humility. A humble person will do nearly anything to assure their survival or to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Humility or humbleness is not meant to infer meekness or lowliness, only the lack of arrogance or conceit. A humble person will trudge through another’s filth to see it be clean. These are the people who get paid twice: once for completing the job, and once for “getting the job done”. The second is paid by pride and self-respect. They clean cell/bunk areas, wash dishes, do laundry etc.

I am a tailor. By definition, I am breaking rules to do a hustle. Serious ones? That’s on me to decide. I choose not to do things that could get me or another into serious trouble. To be candid, I don’t make things, bras, secret pockets, or anything that could be easily observed as contraband. I am good at what I do. My largest and most common request is side pockets for shorts, sweat pants, or state issued pants.

A package of Folger’s Traditional Roast Instant coffee costs (at the time of this writing) $4.12. Ergo, a pair of pockets costs $4.12. That’s up from $3.93 last week. Pockets, as well as most everything I do, are a luxury item.

I don’t know why people need pockets; however, even I feel more accustomed to having them. I digress.

I used to charge $2-$3 for a pair. That nets very little once you subtract the cost of materials. Pockets obviously aren’t just holes in the side of our clothes. I decided (due to inflation) to set an item per task (as payment) instead of a number. Whosoever cannot go to the store to pick up the specific item(s) will just get me a comparable substitute aka fish and/or soups. Ah, soups. The staple of our prison culture.

Why soups? There’s a reason LAZY and EASY are so similar and almost synonymous. I’ll get back to that.

State pay is much appreciated. I make $24 per month for my institutional job, and work 34-36 hours per week. I’m omitting child support payments of 25%, as not everyone has such an expenditure. I can spend $0.80 per day without being over my means.

Those without a job are classified as “Porter 5”. Their job duties are to keep their area clean. Inmate to job ratio is deficient. Insert: “The Hustle.” “Porter 5” earns $12 per month.

My hustle is very specialized. Not everyone can effectively and efficaciously wash dishes or clean areas. I know I am quite adept at sewing and making alterations. My skill is much less needed, I eat well. Back to eating, because what else do we have as a basic necessity in here? Here where we are guaranteed the “3 hots and a cot”. I have a roof over my head, electricity, water, and (not very good) food provided. I use my State Pay for hygiene and my hustle for extras.

While in the Reception Center, I was introduced to an idea of a hustle. An individual, who had been incarcerated “a few” times before, sold “shots” of coffee. One soup for a spoonful. He said, “All I need to do is make one soup per day.”

What does one soup per day equal?

At the time I got to prison in 2016, Ramen Soups were $0.16 (if memory serves). Now they are $.37. That is a 131.25% increase.

Justin A.

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