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The Economy Incarcerated

The Economy Incarcerated: A Survey of the Prison Economy through Research and Rhetoric
Louis Schiavone
Research and Exposition: The Prison Economy
Every day behind bars in prisons across the United States, prisoners, guards, visitors, and administrators partake in an economic system implementing complex and diverse structures of currency and trade. Throughout the information purveyed here, one will find that the economic systems inside prisons draw surprising parallels to the capitalist and individualist economic arrangement that grounds the economy of the United States. Of course, it all starts with the inmates, the citizens who necessitate the building of prisons. Without a standard means of living, prisoners need to find a method to survive on more than just the three hots and a cot prisons provide. The prison economy is rooted in all types of prisons, from supermax to minimum security, because inherent American capitalist ideology permeates into the minds of all its citizens, free or jailed. Prisoners in the United States acquire and trade goods within the dynamic economic system present behind bars nationwide. The writings of prisoners reveal the prison economy, using its concepts to enhance the writers rhetoric through narrations and first-hand experience. This piece will begin by exploring various details of the prison economy, and then will reference specific prison writing how that writing frames the prison economy in rhetoric. This is not an essay about the economic implications of prisons for those on the outside or the prison industrial complex, even though the media publicizes those topics more frequently. Rather, this piece focuses on the systems of trade, barter, purchase, and acquisition of the many types of economic capital in the United States penitentiary system. This is an essay about the economic world maintained behind bars, a system the audience will find intricate, interesting, and dynamic. Evidence from media sources, news outlets, and blogs presents much of the specific information about the prison economy; however, the prison writers who have experienced the prison economy firsthand have much to share. The accounts from stories, letters, and essays by prison writers offer much insight into how the prison economy reflects the outside economy. As mentioned earlier, inmates need to survive and make some sort of a living while incarcerated, to avoid the evil and dark depths many inmates experience. The economy behind bars, documented as far back as the days of Jack London, is a main means by which this occurs. For the intents and purposes used here, the definition of the prison economy will be as follows: the system of acquisition, currency, sale, and exchange between all members of the prison system (inmates, guards, visitors, and administrators) for goods and services available in prison. Most often, the economy inside a prison survives on the selling and trading of tangible goods. Gleason (1978) notes that loans sometimes do occur, however the process and mess (violence) that can result regarding debt keeps the instances of loans low. Prisoners acquire and access capital for the prison economy in various ways. According to Gleason (1978), prisoners acquire income through gifts sent by family, work done while in prison, and government trust account transfers. Paynter (2011) writes, family members can load up prison commissary accounts, which usually max out at about $300 a month, which is a solid source of income 1

The Economy Incarcerated prisoners can use (only at the prison commissary) to purchase goods to consume or to re-sell on the black market (CorrectionsOne.com, n.d.) of the inside. Many prisoners are not fortunate enough to have a family on the outside willing to send them funds to enrich their quality of life while inside. This problem is mostly due to the sociological dynamic in which many relatives of inmates selectively forget about the incarcerated; a trope recurring throughout prison writing and the rhetoric used by those separated from their loved ones. Those who cannot depend on outside funds must resort to either prison work which pays minimally (less than $30 per month in 1978 according to Gleason), or some type of limited aid given by the government. Prisoners acquire goods in many ways, both legally and illegally. First, a brief look at how correctional institutions allow prisoners to acquire tangible capital that makes up the lifeblood of the prison economy. The canteen or commissary is effectively the heart of how prisoners can purchase market capital openly and securely via their trust accounts. As the CorrectionsOne.com video describes (n.d.), store day is when prisoners are allotted time to visit the prison store, and is a highlight for the inmates. Canteen visits are one of the few things prisoners can look forward to while incarcerated, like Christmas to them. Where they go to restock. Since Money in a commissary account cant be traded and only goods sold at the commissary can be, the prison canteen is the essential fixture that keeps prison markets going nationwide. The commissary can function like a national bank in the prison economy sense, but with physical goods instead of monetary assets (Paynter, 2011). Prisoners can also use catalogues to acquire big-ticket type items and specific low-cost goods as well. Rose (2011) describes the catalogue systems as such:
What inmates can get differs prison to prison and unit to unit. The Access Catalog has the big-ticket items, like TVs and radios...a 13-inch RCA flatscreen for $216Walkenhorst's has more small-ticket itemsThey can get shoes from the likes of Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and other major brands, but they can only be black and white (no red Jordans for you, jailbird), and all other sorts of personal items.

Prisoners nationwide have schemes and methods to obtain goods that institutional administrations ban. Contraband, goods not sold by the prison canteen, or substances like drugs, are often smuggled into prisons by usually uncomfortable methods using the human body as transport mechanisms (Rose, 2011). Sometimes, guards will take bribes in order to smuggle in certain contraband, and other times, prisoners acquire illegal imports through visits with connections from the outside. Inmates use several different types of currency as capital and stock as they manage their personal finances during their time behind bars. Paynter (2011) notes that the majority of prison economies function as commodities markets. This commodities market concept is easy to grasp because there are strict regulations on cash behind bars. Any commodity in prison (allowed or not) has a set market value based on how much prisoners desire it. Like on the outside, supply and demand set the prices for the goods on the Wall Streets of prison cellblocks nationwide. On the trading floor of correctional institutions, values of commodities rise and fall (like a stock market in itself) based on such core economic principles. One of the most common forms of currency used in prison is tobacco. Even though current restrictions on its presence have limited its availability, the tobacco trade in prisons has

The Economy Incarcerated been as lucrative for prisoners as was the tobacco trade in colonial times for plantation owners. Rose (2011) writes:
according to Officer Eric Patao: Tobacco right now is a huge commodity. It's actually more expensive than marijuana, depending on supply and demand. A lot of these guys are just addicts with the nicotine and they've just got to have it at all costs A $15 can of Bugler tobacco can go for as much as $500 in prison.

Now that tobaccos presence in prisons has dwindled, several other commodities function as currency behind bars. Information from CorrectionsOne.com video (n.d.) shows that the majority of goods purchased for trade on the black market of prison cellblocks are snack food items such as candy, chips, and processed pastries. Inmates in the video show off their stash of honey buns, which are a staple on the market of their particular prison. One of the inmates says honey buns are a big thing on the chain gang and that 25 honey buns will buy a fellow prisoner one pack of cigarettes. In outside economic terms that seems outrageous. A single honey bun can be had on the outside (from a vending machine, for example), for one US dollar. A pack of cigarettes generally retails for about $4. In that particular instance, (recall that values fluctuate and prison economies are dynamic), the prison economy markup of a pack of cigarettes is approximately $20 over average retail. As the information from Rose (2011) noted earlier, this supports that cigarettes are still valuable behind bars, and supply and demand definitely apply on the inside. In prisons that ban cigarettes, an interesting trend has developed to replace them. To compensate for the ban on smokes, many prison economies have replaced cigarettes with packets of mackerel (Paynter, 2011). As peculiar as it seems to have fish replace cigarettes as a market staple, packets or cans of preserved mackerel can be purchased for approximately $1.40 each at the commissary, and hold their value well because the fish do not spoil when unopened (Paynter, 2011). Northrup (2009) notes further evidence that packaged fish has become a major player on the trading floor of prisons:
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mark Muntz, president of supplier Global Source, said his company unloaded about $1 million worth of mackerel to commissaries in federal penitentiaries last year, though its not particularly popular elsewhere.

The scarce nature of cash in prisons (and the always-impressive cleverness of prisoners) has caused postage stamps to become another high-value item behind bars (Rose, 2011). Due to their practical use (sending letters), small physical state, and monetary connotation (stamps can be accepted as legal tender), postage stamps have high value on the prison market (Rose, 2011). Unsurprisingly, there are also economic implications for the drug trade behind bars. Although riskier for those involved, Gleason (1978) notes that trade of contraband drugs yields different profits for the prisoners who sell them based on the substance. For example, marijuana is more valuable than cigarettes, and heroin is the most valuable substance of the prison drug trade. Interestingly, this hierarchy of values resembles the drug markets on the outside. The more potent the drug, the higher its price. However, like the rest of the currencies used behind bars, drug values are magnified and somewhat skewed when in prison context: "Dope can be as much as 10 times the street value," according to Officer Patao (Rose, 2011). As it is on the outside, in prison, everything has a price. More than just tangible goods have value in correctional facilities. The prison economy also offers plenty of services for sale (performed by both inmates and

The Economy Incarcerated correctional officers) ranging from physical protection, to violent hits ordered on certain prisoners, to homosexual activities (Gleason, 1978). Prisoners use their capital goods within the prison economy in different ways. The vast majority of inmates use tangible capital to trade with other inmates to acquire new goods or services. Like on the outside, the commodities market is a complex system. Prisoners need to maintain knowledge of the fluctuating values of goods behind bars, and maintain their investments to maximize their comfort and capital assets. Granted, some prisoners obviously consume their capital for personal use (candy, soda, snacks, etc.). However, because such items are the primary means of payment behind bars, a prisoner who consumes their bank recklessly could experience prison poverty and discomfort. In the same vein, a prisoner who hoards goods can harm their own economic interests because (like on the outside) a person who allows assets to stagnate can hurt themselves long-term if there is a change in the market. In a purely prison sense, if administration finds a large stash of capital (snacks, candy, etc.) the rule-makers may view the stockpile as contraband or prohibited activity (hoarding) by the inmate, and the investment will be lost. Administration may formally punish prisoners who stash and hoard, as Justin Scheck of the Wall Street Journal explains (2008):
guards respond by limiting the amount of goods prisoners can stockpile. Those who are caught bartering can end up in the "Special Housing Unit" -- an isolation area also known as the "hole" -and could lose credit they get for good behavior.

Inmates interviewed in the CorrectionsOne.com video (n.d.) remark that many prisoners participate so openly in the prison black market simply to become as comfortable as possible. This is logical, given that prisons are very uncomfortable for both the body and mind. In order to adapt and survive, inmates who seek comfort behind bars must master the ins and outs of the prison economy; like how outside businesses must adapt to survive in the economic sphere. In her 1978 article, Sandra Gleason illuminates several important aspects of the prison economy. Gleason mainly focuses on how hustling helps the prison economy exist. An important contention that Gleason makes is that hustling is not essential for prison life, as its absence would create inconveniences but no major hardships. This explains that making ends meet would be more difficult for prisoners if not for prison hustling, yet as humans always adapt, prisoners would adapt to the changes. In the same vein as types of currency accepted in prison markets, Gleason explains that there are three major types of capital: cash, cigarettes, and transfer of funds in mens trust accounts (scrip). In the systems she observed, cash heads the hierarchy as the most powerful currency, followed by cigarettes (in 1978) and scrip. According to her research, there are also three types of hustles: those with no purchased inputs (all stolen goods), those with some inputs stolen, and those with all purchased inputs. Gleason uses the term inputs to represent the tangible capital traded by inmates. Ironically, two of the three major hustling commodity categories distinguished by Gleason involve stolen goods (steaks from the kitchen, clothes from the laundry, etc.). Supposedly, to steal while already imprisoned must not faze prisoners. Like on the outside where skill and power dictate capitalist success, inmates with the most hustling experience usually end up in the most comfortable position. Gleason explains the factors contributing to a hustle, in the context of a particular prison environment. She includes these 4

The Economy Incarcerated factors: time spent in that prison, outside hustling skills brought to that prison, rules governing gifts in that prison, stock of competing goods in quality and quantity there, and the hustlers [individual] preference for risk. Gleason also writes that hustles are hierarchical, reflecting things like drug and pimping trades on the outside, and function as miniature versions of legal and illegal activities taking place in the free world. The prison hustle seems to mirror some core economic principles of the capitalist United States. Those with the most experience, the most talent, the most knowledge of the rules and risk, and the best goods to sell will end up richest. There are problems and difficulties inherent in the prison economy, for inmates and the institutional administration alike. As was alluded to while discussing cigarettes earlier, different types of institutions (i.e. federal versus state penitentiaries) allow different items behind bars. Federal penitentiaries have banned smoking since 2004 (Northrup, 2009) and many states and municipalities have followed suit with tobacco bans (Rose, 2011). The ban on tobacco in many places forced their individual prison economies to adapt to changing currencies. With the change, many prisoners seeking a nicotine buzz were forced to pursue other stimulants (like coffee or illegal drugs) while behind bars, which placed more stress on the prison economy and its commodities values. As noted by The Perfect Substitute blog author David (2009), there is a difficult balance between regulations and corruption regarding what prisons do and do not permit:
One of the challenges of prison operations is outlawing goods that are dangerous to guards and inmates while at the same time ensuring that guards are not tempted by offers of thousands of dollars for smuggling in, for example, small packages of heroin.

Federal inmates are not allowed to have cash (Paynter, 2011), and typically prisons raise commissary prices on a whim (Northrup, 2009). This frustrates prisoners trying to corner the market on a particular item used in the hustle. Furthermore, when considering how economic players on the outside try to achieve competitive advantage, inmates on the inside use various tactics to do so as well. Hustling tactics like price gouging and undercutting others hustles can be problematic for prisoners. Competition within the prison economy can soon manifest itself in a turf war of sorts (with violence as an obvious consequence), as various inmate hustlers vie for their market share. Prison officials who try to monitor and regulate what goods and exchanges prison economies allow must deal with corruption within their own ranks as well as the influence of powerful inmate hustlers. Organized crime tactics in prison are a factor that causes negative stress on the prison economy and makes the business of a dangerous place all the more risky. The Perfect Substitute blog helps explain the organized crime issue further (David, 2009):
it is not surprising to see organized crime arise. Historically, organized crime provides protection and enforces contracts this enterprise has low costs of enacting violence on others, and a result, the likelihood that a trading partner engages in some sort of fraud or post-contractual opportunism is diminished. When [legitimate] institutions are prevented from aiding trade, alternative mechanisms will be discovered.

As the previous quote notes, organized crime in prisons brings the issue of violence. Imprisoned organize crime entities offer to protect inmates in exchange for goods traded on the market, but the low cost of enforcing such contracts through violence is a major issue that makes prisoners and administrators wary. Gleason (1978) explains there is a dangerous con game which occurs 5

The Economy Incarcerated when organized crime groups extort and take advantage of the nave and weaker inmates. The cons receive currency goods without any resulting risk to their status or safety:
Protection services are often based on a "con game: One man or several threaten a victim and a third offers to protect the: victim from them for a fee of four to six cartons [of cigarettes] a month. However, if real protection was needed, it would not be provided. These services are attractive to men who fear homosexual rape, or the old or the weak who cannot protect themselves.

Gang influence and racial tensions also cause trouble within the prison economy. David of The Perfect Substitute blog (2009) explains that gangs involved in the prison economy only bring more problems to the unstable environment. Although recently indicted, when in power, the Black Guerilla Family prison gang had access to things like Grey Goose vodka, salmon, and fine cigars. Expensive items in the outside world, a gang accessing such valuable capital in prison causes the hierarchical power structure of the gangs control to remain in its volatile form. Furthermore, David (2009) shows that opportunities for power and influence within the prison economy allow this hierarchical structure to maintain. Some gang members and leaders have access to cellular phones, allowing them to extort and [control] criminal activities on the streets while participating in the prison economy. Another overarching issue that gangs bring to the prison economy is that prison gangs force non-gang prisoners to make payments to them using prison currency. Prison gangs sometimes exert control over the prison populace by providing public goods, enforcing loyalty contracts (often through violence), and demanding tax payments like gangs do the outside (David, 2009). The influence and control that gangs have behind bars usually imitates what organized crime entities implicate on the outside world. In prisons though, the danger involved in (and enabled by) the prison economy makes what prison gangs impose even more capricious. Like for citizens in the outside world, debt within the prison economy is an issue for inmates. However, unlike bank seizures or repossessions done on those in the free world who cannot make payments, in the prison economy, debt payments are enforced and regulated through violence. Rose (2011) examines this and writes, Not surprisingly, violence is also the most common form of bill collection. If inmates don't get paid then criminal acts are going to follow. Gleason explains that the violence associated with debt collection is directly related to the risk and value of the trade; whether the illegal drug trade behind bars, which is riskiest yet most lucrative, or the simple low-magnitude cigarette exchanges that happen virtually constantly (1978). The prison economy flourishes not only in spite of these issues of power and violence, but because humans are especially adaptive and clever when necessary. Despite the rules and regulations, inmates always find a way to satiate their basic needs (hunger, sex, comfort, and oftentimes a high). How prisoners capitalize on these human needs is simply stated by David of The Perfect Substitute blog, The black market economy in prison is substantial, and it is a testament to the ability of entrepreneurial individuals to provide people's needs in a marketplace, even ones as restricted as this (2009). Such entrepreneurship does not only apply to inmates, as oftentimes the guards will take bribe payments to let certain transactions slide and allow certain (riskier) prison exchanges to happen unabated (The Perfect Substitute blog author David, 2009). The breadth of the economy within a particular prison is usually dependent on the leniency of the administration and guards, and the type of prison. As mentioned earlier, federal inmates are 6

The Economy Incarcerated under more restrictions than are state or county inmates. The federal prison tobacco ban exhibits that when authority imposes new rules on the dynamic prison economy, prisoners cleverly adapt and make adjustments (i.e. they adopt new currency standards) to bring the commodities market back to equilibrium. A Le Chteliers principle idea, if you will. A specific price-centered example showing how prison economies differ among jurisdictions is rooted in a complaint made by an inmate regarding the price of Ramen noodles: It sells for 18 cents in state prisons but is 95 cents in Bucks County jail (Northrup, 2009). Supply and demand in each prisons economy most likely cause such discrepancies, which can cause inmates stress when they realize their capital goods are worth more in other markets. In general, research and current exposition clarify the ins and outs of the prison economy; a system that is dynamic, speaks to the adaptive instincts of humans, and reflects the capitalist economic principles of the United States.

The Rhetoric of the Prison Economy


The focus now shifts to how prison writers incorporate ideas stemming from the prison economy into their rhetoric and writing. Prison writing demonstrates that the scenarios and issues of the prison economy (like those mentioned previously) are real and genuine in the lives of those behind bars. The writings of prisoners link the research presented here to actual experiences within the prison economy. The examples presented provide tangible references for research on the prison economy topic. These writings allow the audience to see the authenticity of the prison economy in action. Mass culture labels the prison economy as a metaphoric shadow and even fake. Prison writing proves that the prison economy is a real one: the rhetoric reflects the research, and vice versa. Writers behind bars (through the texts that find a way to leave the cellblocks) mention the prison economy for several reasons. Prisoners write about the prison economy to expose the intricate system and give the audience a new, often unseen perspective on the daily life inside the pen. Prisoners use the prison economy in their rhetoric to explain the methods implemented to survive while subjugated. Prisoners writing supports the research provided here across many facets. The prison economy in prison rhetoric also appeals to the audiences inherent interest of the human condition, explaining how people find ways to adapt and survive under oppressive circumstances. As one must make a living with the politically and socially entrenched capitalistic system of the free United States, prisoners write how the entrenched prison economy necessitates making a living. A first major example of the prison economy in prison literature is Jack Londons Pinched! A Prison Experience. Londons work shows that even in the early 1900s prisoners used their wits and shrewdness to capitalize on their situations. London also demonstrates that the prison economy seemed well established in the early stages of the penal system in the United States. London writes (published in Franklin, 1998):
We were economic masters inside our hall, turning the trick in ways quite similar to the economic masters of civilization. We controlled the food-supply of the population, and, just like our brothers on the outside, we made the people pay through the nose for itchewing tobacco was the coin of the realmwe had to live. And certainly there should be some reward for initiative and enterpriseIn short, a full-grown system of barter obtained in the Erie County Pen. There was even money in circulationwe were wolves, believe me just like the fellows who do business in Wall Street.

The Economy Incarcerated Although London wrote Pinched! A Prison Experience over a century ago, it is interesting to note that the prison economy has permeated prison culture and has persisted throughout time. Tobacco (up until a few years ago) was a main currency as explained with the research here, and money has always been a valuable commodity between the cellblocks. London uses the ethos appeal to establish his writing as credible because he was one of the masters inside the prison he occupied, and his authority over others allowed his capital gains to perpetuate. London argues, fitting the Industrial Revolution and industrialization period in the United States, those business practices within prisons may not have literally mirrored the outside capitalist market, but the (questionable) ethics and values of the prison economy did. London recognizes the economic masters who made the people pay through the nose for goods, and the presence of wolves of such an enterprise. This reflected vicious Wall Street-like attitudes that made the already-cutthroat environment of prisons all the more intense. The writing of Jack London as rhetoric may influence the way prisons citizens on the outside perceive inmates. While penitentiaries are meant to punish, prisoners behind bars do need to find ways to survive we had to live, and it is remarkable to see how humans, especially inmates, adapt and capitalize on such adversity. Malcolm Bralys story of Chilly Willy produces some of the most expository prison economy writing. In On the Yard, (1998) Braly highlights many of the aspects of the prison economy highlighted in research here, and gives a twist on the subject that provides the audience rhetorical identification with him and his characters. Braly reaches such identification with the audience by exposing his thoughts, with hopes of getting ever closer to the outside. Braly complements the work of Jack London: Bralys narrative occurs in current times, with evidence that the prison economy is alive and well through the story of the business exploits of its protagonist Chilly Willy. Using an entertaining narrative to expose his personal situation to the outside, Braly implements language that middle-class citizens participating in wealth management strategies can appreciate. Braly writes, By convict standards he was a millionaire. In various places throughout the institution he had approximately three hundred cartons of cigarettes. To those on the outside, Chilly Willy diversifies his wealth and business ventures, which may reflect the knowledge Braly has of legitimate wealth management strategies of the free world. Rhetorically, it is possible that Braly includes such knowledge to show the audience he is aware of the financial world on the outside, and that the prison economy is truly ruled by those who are savvy and wise to the way the market is traded (just like on Wall Street). By including such detail into the story of Chilly Willy, it seems Braly writes about his own life, which would increase the ethos appeals of his authorship. Braly also shares with the audience how prisoners acquire cash, echoing the findings of earlier: The money came in over the visiting table. Their women brought itCustody was aware of thisbut there was a major flaw in their routineMoney flowed in steadily. As Rose noted (2011), contraband like cash does indeed enter prisons through on-body (and in-body) transport. Such methods are further testaments to the willingness of inmates and their families alike to push the boundaries of the rules and attempt to make the prison experience as (relatively) comfortable as possible. Bralys writing is especially relevant also because it includes specific details of Chilly Willys contraband nasal inhaler trade. Braly writes including price difference data of such drug substances inside and outside prison, a topic of earlier discussion. Braly writes, 8

The Economy Incarcerated [inhalers] retailed in any drugstore for approximately seventy-five centsthe profit was approximately thirty-five dollars on a single inhaler. Albeit risky, as Gleason (1978) mentioned risk as one of the key aspects of the prison hustle, the hazard paid off via the profit margin associated with Chilly Willys contraband drug sale. As noted, On the Yard contains many pieces of evidence that echo the research cited here and basic economic principles of the outside. Braly includes the rags to riches story of Chilly Willy (Chilly had hit the big yard broke), which may be a rhetorical ploy to include a theme recurring in much of popular American discourse; starting from the bottom and earning ones way to the top through knowledge and grit. In turn, the common rags to riches rhetorical trope in On the Yard increases the likelihood of the audience to identify positively with Braly. Interestingly enough, maybe to simplify his rhetorical approach, at the end of On the Yard, Braly writes that Chilly Willy acknowledged his work as just business; a trivial explanation of the complex and lucrative empire that Chilly Willy earned. There is much more prison rhetoric which enforces the findings of earlier about the prison economy, while presenting diverse views of first-hand prison experiences. This brief portion will note a few such examples. Malcolm X, the revolutionary activist and writer, used his time in prison to write on the personal changes he experienced while incarcerated. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (1998) X notes (likely to the chagrin of the administration), smuggling to prisoners washow guards make most of their living. X exposes this fact, which enhances his rhetorical role as a revolutionary and demonstrates his against the system attitude. Jerome Washington, another noted prison writer, explained how inmates and guards sometimes pursue other joint economic ventures in Barracuda and Sheryl (1998): The guard listened with keen ears for a dealpromised to cut him in on the profits. X and Washington use their writing to expose a key facet of the prison economy discussed earlier: prisoners gain access to goods and profit through interactions with their keepers. The presence of tobacco as currency is evident in many works of prison writers. David Wood shows this in his piece Feathers on the Solar Wind, (2011) in which its characters gamble for various brands of cigarettes (Lucky Strikes, Chesterfields, and generics). While todays audience may perceive the use of tobacco behind bars as proletariat and negative, the rhetoric of the prison economy rarely forgets the impact of smokes behind bars as capital. The piece by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Coming into Language (2011) gives the audience insight to how commodities in the prison economy are not always food or smokes, but interestingly enough, literature too. Baca writes, Soon I had a thriving barter business, exchanging my poems and letters for novels, commissary pencils, and writing tablets. Baca explains and manipulates the system through his rhetoric to show that the prison economy (like the outside economy) does not discriminate to which goods a prisoner can trade. If what an inmate owns, knows, or does has value, they can receive something in return for it. Baca includes his own story of using his writing ability for profit to help the audience see him in a more positive light. This may not happen if Baca had left out his tale of entrepreneurial spirit American audiences appreciate entrepreneurial spirit. In Death of a Duke by Dax Xenos (2011), Xenos describes the entrepreneurial exploits of inmates like Earl The Duke. Xenos writes that The Duke ruled fairly over his minions and enterprises and possessed an unlimited capacity for managing his ventures designed to 9

The Economy Incarcerated beat the Man at his own game. Xenos frames the Duke as possessing savvy and being an underdog (beating the Man), which enhances the rhetorical appeal of Xenos writing. Xenos shows the audience, usually receptive to underdog stories, that inmates try to beat the system to maximize their comfort and profit while incarcerated. Xenos also includes how the core economic principle of competition applies to the prison marketplace: Steaks had always been available on D Block for three decks, but Earl provided them hot and seasonedparlays paid five-to-one with the Duke, while Bumblebee still paid four-to-one. Competition among inmates for profits and market opportunities can contribute to the problem of violence within the prison economy, as shown in Death of a Duke (note its title), while Jeff Parnell further contributes to this idea in From the Inside Out (2001). Parnell includes the story of Andy in which gangsters stole his food items as prison economy profit or took the food as fees for his protection. Andy resorts to violence to solve the issue presented by the prison economy, by dousing the antagonist gang leader with hot bleach. Tonya Star Jones highlights gang issues like those discussed earlier (i.e. Gleason) brought on by the prison economy in What Its Like Being a Drag Queen in the Illinois Department of Corrections (2001). Jones writes, ...maximum-security facilitiescontrolled by the mob Chicago street gangsAll gangs have a P.O. box to which their members must pay two packs of cigarettes a week. The gangs payment demands of prison currency (the widespread tobacco) echo how gangs control both inside and outside ventures through extortion and manipulation, making the prison environment all the more volatile. Although the prison industrial complex is not a focus of this essay, a female inmate on death row participating in the LifeLines correspondence program opined on the big-picture financial issues that the prison economy presents to the inmates. She wrote, The food is so bad we need to buy something good to eat off the store or to starve oneselfwe are really paying to stay hereeven prison is a racket for money (2005). This brings up the important point that the prison economy forces inmates to adapt and be shrewd. The female inmate implies that the prison economy is self-sustaining to keep prisons profitable, by forcing inmates to purchase from prison commissaries. She provides proof that prisons subscribe to capitalism, which demonstrates that the correctional institutions in the United States present a paradox. This such paradox is the way that the penal system implores prisoners to rehabilitate and how to reintegrate, yet it fiercely subscribes to capitalism and forces inmates to participate in the prison economy (through poor living conditions) for the prisons benefit. Prisoners write about the prison economy to show that it reaches all types of inmates: male, female, white, black, Hispanic, heterosexual, homosexual and more. The means by which inmates adapt, and the identities and affiliations they possess, determine how they relate to the prison economy in total. Judging by the literature that manages to escape prisons, inmates write and create rhetorical artifacts that audiences can use to see the meanings behind writing about the prison economy. Prison writers reference terms from the outside economy to create identification with the outside world compared to what they experience behind bars. Some prison writings provide formulaic rhetorical discourse that explains how to use certain strategies inside the prison economy to make personal profit. Audiences assess whether or not to accept this discourse based on the marginalized status of prisoners. Prisoners lessen their degree of marginalization and reduce their identity with the counterpublic through this rhetoric and literature that include economic facets of the outside. To increase their chances of positive 10

The Economy Incarcerated identification, prison writers reference the prison economy to make themselves seem knowledgeable, cunning, and perceptive despite their circumstances. Scene is the item of Burkes pentad that dominates the dramatistic element within the discussion of the prison economy. The prison community and scene presented by the prison economy allow prison writers to produce personal accounts and rhetoric with which to engage their audience effectively. Rhetoric is also apparent in what prisoners do not say while writing about their experiences within the prison economy. Prisoners rarely highlight specific punishments for possessing illegal contraband or participating in illegal trade tactics within the prison economy. Prisoners usually write about the lucrative benefits of the prison economy, hustling and turning tricks behind bars. Prison writing that leaves out punishments for violating administrative rules of the prison economy neglects the full rhetorical scene, which may reduce the authors ethos. The lack of the prison guards first-hand perspectives also prevents current prison economy rhetoric from signifying the complete scene and picture. Although prison economy rhetoric presents interesting insights, leaving out discussion of punishments and alternative views may take away from the effectiveness of its messages. The genre or niche of prison writing, especially that including the prison economy, presents interesting residuals of human and societal tendencies. Humans adapt to survive. Humans behave differently when under control or authority. Humans find ways to take advantage of their surroundings. Prison writers use the prison economy to give their audience another lens into the rudimentary and oppressed lifestyle of inmates nationwide, and to give insight to how humans possess the innate ability to adapt to even the most adverse conditions. In closing, this essay has defined, explained, and analyzed the dynamic prison economy. The commodities market behind bars provides inmates with the opportunity to subscribe to capitalism while incarcerated, and to trade diverse currency items to mimic and mirror the economic principles that drive the United States. Inmates involved in exchanges on the Wall Streets of prisons cleverly price, sell, and value their capital. Once reigned by tobacco, the prison economy of today has turned to snack foods and obscure items such as packaged fish and postage stamps as its capital fixtures. Sandra Gleason (1978) and independent journalists like Brent Rose (2011) write that there are various issues enveloped in the prison economy. Violence, gang-related and otherwise, along with competition and pricing disagreements can magnify the volatility of the prison experience. Rule bending and breaking are the lifeblood of the prison economy. Guards and administrators either turn the other cheek to such exchanges, or end up participating on their own by smuggling contraband goods to the incarcerated for profit. Many diverse prison writers have contributed quality literature that exposes, through their personal knowledge, many such traits of the prison economy. Such writers have included the prison economy in their writings to tell the audience that capitalism reigns, whether free or jailed. Should the prison economy exist as it does in all kinds of United States prisons despite the problems of corruption and violence it presents? The research and rhetoric presented here show us that regardless of its acquiescence, capitalism and inherent human adaptability enable the prison economy to function as a fixture incarcerated.

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The Economy Incarcerated


Works Cited Baca, J. (2011). Coming into language. In B. G. Chevigny (Ed.), Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (pp. 103-104). New York, NY: Arcade Publishing. Braly, M. (1998). "On the Yard". In H. B. Franklin (Ed.), Prison Writing in 20th-century America (pp. 222-225, 229). New York, NY: Penguin Books CorrectionsOne.com. (n.d.). Inside the prison economy. (Video). Retrieved from http://www.correctionsone.com/drug-issues/videos/2833022-Inside-the-prison-economy/ David. (2009, April 17). Prison Economics. (The Perfect Substitute blog post). Retrieved from http://perfectsubstitute.blogspot.com/2009/04/prison-economics.html Female Inmate. (2005). An evil place (personal correspondence letter). In J. Arriens (Ed.), Welcome to Hell: Letters and Writings from Death Row (2nd ed., p. 56). Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. Gleason, S. E. (1978). Hustling: The Inside Economy of a Prison. Fed. Probation, 42, 32. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/50862NCJRS.pdf Jones, T. S. (2001). What its like being a drag queen in the Illinois department of corrections. In J. Evans (Ed.), Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words (p. 118). Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. London, J. (1998). The pen: Long days in a county penitentiary. In H. B. Franklin (Ed.), Prison Writing in 20th-century America (pp. 51-53). New York, NY: Penguin Books. Northrup, L. (2009, November 21). At Least The Prison Economy Is Flourishing. Retrieved from http://consumerist.com/2009/11/21/at-least-the-prison-economy-is-flourishing/ Parnell, J. (2001). From the inside out. In J. Evans (Ed.), Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words (p. 95). Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. Paynter, B. (2011, January 31). Prison Economics: How Fish and Coffee Become Cash. Wired, 19(2). Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/01/st_prisoncurrencies/ Rose, B. (2011, October 27). Deep Inside Prisons Dark and Tangled Economy. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/5853770/deep-inside-prisons-dark-and-tangled-economy Scheck, J. (2008, October 2). Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122290720439096481.html Washington, J. (1998). Barracuda and Sheryl. In H. B. Franklin (Ed.), Prison Writing in 20th-century America (p. 324). New York, NY: Penguin Books. Wood, D. (2011). Feathers on the Solar Wind. In B. G. Chevigny (Ed.), Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (p. 153). New York, NY: Arcade Publishing. X, M. (1998). The autobiography of Malcolm x. In H. B. Franklin (Ed.), Prison Writing in 20thcentury America (p. 150). New York, NY: Penguin Books. Xenos, D. (2011). Death of a Duke. In B. G. Chevigny (Ed.), Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (p. 171-173). New York, NY: Arcade Publishing.

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