In July 2015, Victoria put the Corrections Smoke-Free Prisons Act into effect. The legislation prohibits smoking in all prisons across the state, which led to a spate of violent riots, most notably at the Ravenhall Remand Centre. That particular riot lasted two days and caused an estimated $10 million worth of damage. Still, the government didn't budge.
My friend Mikey was recently released from Barwon's maximum-security prison, where he'd applied the same entrepreneurial skills that landed him in prison in the first place. Basically, Mickey had figured out how to make fake cigarettes and was selling them at a premium.
I'd always wanted to know how Mickey crafted cigarettes without tobacco, papers, filters, or even any source of ignition, so I asked him to show me. He agreed, and after work picked me up from Holmesglen train station and guided me through life as an incarcerated tobacco merchant.
VICE: What was Barwon prison like?
Mikey: Boring. Jail is about boredom. The boredom is your punishment. Boredom's the biggest killer in there. So I thought, what do you when you're bored?
I don't know?
Of course. Tell me how it all started, because as visitors they wouldn't even let us smoke in the car park.
Well I can't take credit for inventing this, but as soon as the White Ox pouches were banned from the canteen, I guess everyone put their thinking caps on.
Ha! Yeah, so what's the process?
Well you can get issued nicotine patches, so you just put them in the microwave for roughly half a minute until the nicotine bubbles out of the patches into a kind of paste. Then we take our tea leaves, and squeeze all the tea out. Wait until that dries, and drown the dried leaves in the nicotine paste.
I had cunts frothin' because I had my own trick. I dipped my other tea leaves in red cordial, let them dry overnight, and then mixed it with a combo of normal tea leaves, mint leaves and the nicotine ones.
Nice one. So what do you use for paper?
Just roll her up in some bible paper and you have yourself a durry.
Dope, how do we get it lit?
Squash the end of a grey lead pencil on a piece of paper, chuck her in the microwave with the end of your smoke against the lead, watch it light up through the little window and we're on.
That doesn't sound safe.
Think about where the fuck we were mate.
True. Do you think the bans made much of a difference?
Fuck no. If you want a smoke, it can be organised. Everyone's still smoking, just using these homemade methods. Some blokes find century-old butts and smoke them. It's disgusting. What's the point [of the ban] if everyone smokes as soon as they step foot outside the gate anyway? If anything, it's just made some already tense individuals more stressed about their situation. That just adds more pollution to the environment.
Ever thought about meditation?
Most of us can't sit still for 30 seconds. You expect us to hum cross-legged for hours on end? We don't want people telling us how to change our lives. We don't need spiritual hippy remedies, we just want to puff a smoke every now and then.
Seems like a pretty lucrative thing you had going on.
Can't really complain. Kept me creative too, trying to figure out different ways to change the flavour. Made us happy giving blokes a taste of the real world.
Let me taste it.
Don't inhale too hard, go easy.
After two or three drags, I literally spent the whole night coughing. I think Mickey's fake cigarettes fucked my lungs. Seriously. Let the inmates smoke regulated tobacco, because as perverse as it might sound, that shit wasn't healthy.
Follow Mahmood on Twitter.