My cousin recently called me from Loddon Prison and told me with adolescent enthusiasm about his preparations for his girlfriend's Valentine’s Day visit. I imagined Valentine’s Day in jail would be less material, because it’s an environment undiluted by the merchandise of romance; the obligatory fine dining, bouquets of roses. But I was wrong.
Inmates are cashing in on the business of Valentine’s Day by creating gifts for their fellow inmates. The items for sale include flower bouquets arranged from the prison yard, custom cakes baked in the kitchen, and illustrated portraits, all of which are permitted inside the visit rooms.
VICE spoke to some of these prisoners about the romantic rackets providing their fellow inmates with gifts to bestow on their partners.
Serving four years for aggravated burglary
I met my girlfriend Christy through a mutual friend inside. Christy is best mates with his missus. She would visit him and I twisted his arm to introduce us on a visit. She was wearing nike tracksuit pants with volleys and these flashy rings I complimented her on but she told me they were fake. It was funny as. I was obsessed with her as soon as I’d seen her. Jail makes you like that, a bit loopy, you think of things over and over again.
I’m a leader in the kitchen so a favour for me gets you a long way. I wanted to become a chef and got my certificate from Holmesglen. But what I’m famous for is baking all the cakes on Valentine’s Day for the inmates to [share] with their partners during their visit.
Inmates can order special items for their visits on Valentine’s day and usually if they’re from a separate unit, they will call me to the fence or come passed my cell to make custom requests. Some blokes will look after me with shit you can’t get like buep, smokes or usb sticks. Unfortunately, I’m pretty limited with my ingredients, we just stick to sponge cakes but I’m a bit of a magician with the icing and that’s all that counts in the end.
I’ve made cakes for a well-known underworld hitman; this year he wanted a cake that had him and his wife on a boat off the portsea pier. I baked a cake for a Bandidos bikie that had a Harley Davidson with love hearts coming out of the exhaust pipes. I even baked a cake for the warden that had a heart surrounded by a barbed wire fence and cameras looking at it. Doubt he gave it to his missus though.
Serving five years for fraud
My wife is in Hyderabad. I don’t have a chance to email her or hear from her on the phone so I write to her a lot. It’s hard because I get very excited about Valentine’s day and I know back home no one really cares about it. But in here we think about love a lot, even though everyone is busy at the gym looking tough.
The week before Valentine’s, I will go through the gardens and have friends from other units collect [flowers] from their yards for me. I collect all the old newspapers and paint them in bright colours in the art room. I’ll take everything back to my cell and begin arranging the flowers and wrapping them according to colours and shapes of the flowers. One of the prison officers bought me a book about flower arrangements in Japan. It talks about flower giving as pulling nature and humanity together, which in hinduism we believe too. No one in here is really into specific types of flowers unless they are roses, they mainly just look for the colours and see which ones work with the others. But they understand how important receiving flowers are especially when you find them in a shithole like prison.
I’m proud because it makes me feel really good when the boys come out from their visit and tell me how their wife started crying when he gave her the flowers. I do the same thing when a relative of someone inside passes or gives birth. Shame I can’t send any to my own, but that’s life, you reap what you sow.
Serving six years for aggravated assault
I was into graffiti as a young teen. My parents weren’t around so I’d always be out and about with the boys running amuck on the train line. [Then I] started fucking up and caught some weightier charges. When I finally got settled inside, I started decorating my cell with drawings of comic book characters fucking each other. I thought it was funny. But everyone liked my drawings; they’d all always say the same thing: “The drawings were mad but the ideas were fucked.” But they were funny.
Soon enough, blokes were getting me to tag their names and draw pieces at the bottom of their letters. The word spread faster than a rumour and before I knew it I had a line of blokes outside my cell wanting me to make shit for them. So I capitalised on it, and [in exchange] got all sorts of weird and wonderful shit, a lot of which you aren’t supposed to have. The month before Valentine's day is the busiest time for me, I’m basically in my cell the whole time and the time really flies, its grouse.
I drew some kinky sex drawings last week that some blokes were sending to their girls on Valentine’s Day, saying they were going to do it to them which made it really awkward because I had to imagine his girl naked and being fucked while he describes it to me. I’ve done some portraits of the guys in their cells, they are probably my favourite because naturally I’m into the darker side of prison life. It’s the side that doesn’t get shown I think, like the overdoses, the officers fucking over inmates and taking away our smokes. Bit of a grim reminder to be sending your loved ones though, but the blokes in here want the world to feel sorry for them, the blame the world and think it was society that put them in here when in reality they ran out of drug money and stuck up a milk bar.
For my girlfriend, I drew a picture of me in my room at home, smoking a ciggy while my girlfriend is on my bed ripping a bong, while the speakers blast our song, “Passenger” by Powderfinger. I think when I draw snapshots like that for the boys it makes their girlfriends feel that moment in their heads. I put a lot of thought into it. Keeping busy and drawing out my dreams, you do really easy time man. And it connects you to your partner every time they look at it because it came from your head.