Prisoners Talk About How They Make and Waste Money on the Inside

"My mate books escorts and then I ring him at the brothel. I’ll listen as he fucks them how I want."
Some dude's prison art collection. Via Flickr user Shearer Family

While visiting my cousin in jail, I asked him to point out which visitors were smuggling in contraband—specifically methamphetamines and USB drives loaded with porn. He gave me a smile before gesturing to an inmate's girlfriend dressed in diamante jeans, and then an old Italian farmer in torn flannelette, followed by a tracksuit-sporting young thug with bright Nikes.

The majority of inmates organising the banned contraband wouldn’t use the drugs they make all their money off, so they just exchange and capitalise. Prisoners scheme because jail is boring and, according to my cousin, hustling keeps them busy. The majority of inmates are incarcerated for the desperate pursuit of cash, which continues into prison, even though they never actually touch the money.


VICE interviewed three prisoners to hear what inmates do with their black market cash and what role money plays behind bars.

Kassim / 38 / Firearms offences

VICE: Hey Kassim, how do you earn money in prison?
Kassim: I run poker games and organise tobacco to be lobbed into our jail. Our families outside have bank accounts so anyone who wants in makes a deposits or drop cash to our guy on the outside. We don’t fuck around with drugs and shit like that. We are hustlers trying to make ends meet for our families by any means, and if it means doing a few things here and there, like getting smokes to the boys, it’s another sacrifice we make.

What did you use the money for?
We use the money to look after our families. I’m the man of my house and unfortunately when I got locked up my hands were tied and I couldn’t provide for them. My wife doesn’t work and the kids were going through school, bills started piling up and I was forced to figure something out for them. You can only rely on your cousins and relatives for so long.

I started being able to pay off rent. There were a few hiccups where blokes would conveniently forget to put money in an account. If something like happens, and my family get their electricity cut, i'll more then happily cut you the fuck up. My son buys Bitcoins and invests the other half. He’s into computers and studying IT at university.

What role does money play in prison?
Money isn’t good or bad. People are bad. If you’re a snake outside, you’ll use your money like a snake on the inside. You'll attack your enemies and buy prisoners to hang around you to make you feel like you have a big dick. Overnight a mouse will turn into the most arrogant and loud person in the system, all because he realises that money controls poor people and that’s what jail is: a halfway house for the poor. Poor mentally, poor spiritually, and poor economically.


Christian / 27 / Trafficking

Hey Christian, how do you earn money in prison?
The Asians in our prison were kicking in ice. I knew a couple of them way back in the day, and we got talking through the fence. I knew they had made big moves and I worked out a situation with them that made me the sole distro (distributor) for our unit. The boys in our unit are all on the pipe, so I cashed in. Sounds fucked but this is prison, and anyone who's done well has left their morals at the gate.

What do you use the money for?
My mate books escorts and then I ring him at the brothel. I’ll listen as he fucks them how I want. He will describe the girls and I’ll pick depending on what I’m into. Sometimes, I’ll get them to visit me in prison and pay for it all. It’s mad having my fantasies come to life. In jail you obviously don’t get to fuck, so it does something to your head. You think about how you can get close to that feeling of fucking. Hearing a girl breathing, their voice, talking back to me, it really gets me going. They could be faking it but it doesn’t matter because everything’s more real to us over the phone.

What role does money play in prison?
Money is just something you use. It can make you very powerful and offer you things that make your time in prison safe and easy. But money is not necessary in life, and jail teaches you that. It’s worse on the outside. I’ve seen best mates shoot each other for money, guys that have known each other for 10 years roll on each other, and greed just fucks their heads up. They come to jail and realise I didn’t even really need it. But it’s weird because I’m saying all this shit to you now, but when I get outside I'll chase it just as hard all over again because that’s the reality. That’s how the world works.


Carl / 42 / Aggravated Burglary

Hey Carl, how did you earn money in prison?
I was on the Buprenorphine program when I got sentenced so I had access to it in jail. I chopped up half and kept half for myself. The half that I kicked up was sold and I got half the coin. I haven’t got anyone on the outside to put money in my account so another guy does all that for me.

What did you use the money for?
I can get chicken and shampoo with the money because unless you have support on the outside, or work for the jails, you can't get money for buy-ups [groceries]. I can buy spices and noodles. I just bought a pair of Asics and they’re real comfortable, especially in jail when you're on your feet a lot and spending lots of time in the gym. You can buy flex fit hats and sport watches. I like putting on parties on Sundays in jail. That’s the day in jail that we all party so I’ll shout everyone coffees, maybe if we’ve made a bit of coin, split a gram between the boys and just run amok. Sundays make jail life easy.

What role does money play in prison?
It's just like on the outside. People act like you don’t need money in jail but the reality is that you do. What they offer is just not enough or it’s shit house. With money you can buy extra pillows and that.

Follow Mahmood on Instagram

This article originally appeared on VICE AU.