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The Tidbits Issue

I'm Busted

In prison there are serious restrictions on prisoners' personal property. In the world, people tend to accumulate things as they get older, but in prison convicts are expected to live decades of their lives and not accumulate any belongings. Not that...
Seth Ferranti
Κείμενο Seth Ferranti

In prison there are serious restrictions on prisoners’ personal property. In the world, people tend to accumulate things as they get older, but in prison convicts are expected to live decades of their lives and not accumulate any belongings. Not that there’s that much to accumulate. Most necessities are government issued, such as khaki uniforms, work boots, t-shirts, boxers, socks, jackets, blankets and linen. And the chow hall serves three meals a day. Magazines, newspapers, photos and books can be received through the mail, but the only other place a convict can obtain necessities or other items is the prison commissary. And the selection of items is very limited. But what should a convict expect, luxury items? It is prison after all.


The commissary at Federal Correctional Institution Gilmer, a prison in the foothills of West Virginia, offers a variety of items. And it is common knowledge in the belly of the beast that if it’s not available in the commissary or the prison doesn’t issue it to convicts then it’s contraband. And any contraband, from an onion to some heroin to a Hustler or some other nudie magazine, can get a prisoner locked down in the hole.

Prisoners used to be able to buy smokes from the commissary, but that has recently been outlawed also. So the commissary doesn’t sell cigarettes anymore. But what the fuck do they sell? A bunch of microwave type stuff, junk food, hygiene items, grey sweat suits, boots, radios and athletic shoes. It seems the prison is trying to fatten up the prisoner population because they sell a shitload of junk food. Jolly Ranchers, Lemon Drops, Tootsie Pops, Kit-Kats, Skittles, Doritos, Grandma’s Cookies, Fiddle Faddle, Nutty Bars, and Honey Buns. But the prices are fucked up. Imagine doing all your monthly grocery shopping at 7-Eleven. It is rumored that the company that supplies federal prisons with products for the prisoners to buy, The Keefe Company, is owned by the Bush Family. A nice little racket they got going if so. Pass the laws to keep prisoners locked up for decades for low-level drug offenses and then make money off their misery by selling junk food. The prices are outrageous too. A little bag of Jolly Ranchers costs $1.50 and Honey Buns (Keefe of course) and candy bars can only be bought individually at .55 cents each. So that’s 10 bars for $5.50. No discounts for bulk buying. Prison is not Sam’s Club.


A bunch of instant/microwave type food is sold too. Little microwave pizza kits at $2.95. But then the mozzerella cheese sticks cost $1.40 and a pack of sliced pepperoni is $1.50. And the pizzas are tiny so that’s an expensive lunch size pizza. Cup-a-soups cost .55 cents each. And what they call crackhead soups—top ramen noodles—cost .35 cents a bag. A small jar of Peanut Butter, the super economy size, costs $2.75. A bottle of honey comes in at a whooping $3.45. But you can’t even buy bread at the commissary, so making that peanut butter and jelly sandwich can cause a trip to the hole, as prisoners have to smuggle the bread out of the chowhall. By purchasing a pack of angel hair pasta for $1.05, a bottle of spaghetti sauce for $1.90, grated cheese for $1.40, garlic bulbs for .50 cents and a summer sausage for $1.50, prisoners can enjoy a Goodfellas moment with a microwave cooked pasta dinner. That’s what all the mob guys do.

Packets of tuna and mackerel are real popular at $1.05 a pouch as they are filling and cheap. A crackhead soup, a mackerel pouch, some Mrs. Dash seasoning at $2.60 for a saltshaker-sized bottle, and a prisoner is in microwave heaven. Now that cigarettes are outlawed, coffee is real popular. They sell the big bag of Tasters Choice for $7.25 and a small bag of Keefe Colombian coffee for $2.60. Prisoners can buy six packs of sodas—Coke, Sprite or Root Beer—for $2.25 each. Tea is available too at $2.60 for 100 bags. It’s Keefe brand. Convicts don’t have the option to buy any type of fruits or fruit juices. At one time in the past it was available but so much hooch (prison wine) was being made that now it is officially banned.


A lot of people are under the impression that prisoners can buy TVs for their cells, but that is some bullshit. FM/AM Sony Radios are sold for $41.95 and Koss CL-20 headphones cost $34.35. A radio is needed just to hear the TVs in the day rooms, which are all tuned to stations on the FM dial. And here in West Virginia that’s the only thing you need a radio for because the prison is in bumfuck. There are a couple of country stations and that’s it.

Hygiene items are available too. Everything is in economy size, like the type you would buy at the airport. Athletic clothes like gray Russell Sweat suits are $31.20 a set and Russell mesh shorts are $14.30. I guess there are good options for prisoners who don’t want to wear the prison-issued brown khaki uniforms all the time. But most prisoners can’t afford these Big Willie items, as the average wage for prison jobs is about $15 a month.

And for the real big spenders Timberland work boots can be had for $91.00, Nike High-tops for $72.00 and Skechers cross trainers for $56.00. Imagine a hardened convict in Skechers. Now that is a sight you won’t see everyday.