Inmate Subcultures: Entrepreneurs

The second inmate subculture at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp is the Entrepreneur. It may be a surprise, but it takes money to live in prison, and the free market is alive here. The Bureau of Prisons provides limited clothes and toiletries, but inmates are otherwise on their own. To get by, they can purchase items from the commissary. The profits for its operation supposedly go to fund inmate services like the email system that sometimes works.

Most inmates exercise regularly, so clothes and shoes for that must be purchased. Toiletries, over-the-counter medications, and shower shoes are necessities and must also be purchased. While optional, many inmates try to supplement Chow Hall food with snacks and full meals after our 3:00 pm dinner. Some creatively cook at night without a cook top, stove or microwave by using a plastic garbage bag, a mop bucket, and a clothes iron (I’m not making this up) with items purchased in the commissary. A hungry inmate who isn’t creative might buy the ingredients and other items for the cook.

It came as a surprise to me that an inmate in my wing runs a “store” from his locker. Should I want a Dr. Pepper but can’t afford or can’t store a 12 pack in my locker, I can “buy” one from him. The cost? One Strawberry Yogurt Bar at $.65 purchased during my next commissary visit to help restock his store. As we are only allowed to go to the commissary once each week, a nearby locker can be a true convenience store without the long line of lottery ticket purchasers.

My Entrepreneur buddy who was the heroic “Good Samaritan” of the preceding post about the Biblicists does laundry. The cost of a week of laundry is a Mackerel ($1.25) purchased for him at the commissary. He also irons and weaves corn rows.

There is even a currency exchange that works like a secondary market for postage stamps. The price of a Forever Stamp ebbs and flows as guided by the unseen hand of the market. I’m not sure why it’s not always 49 cents and probably don’t want to know.

While I’m still learning the ins and outs of the free market here, the Entrepreneurs have definitely been my friends and certainly provide needed services.