Whenever I pass the latest Powerball advertisement I wonder how it would feel to win. We’ve all had that conversation with friends—about the twists our narrative would take if we inherited a fortune, but I wonder, how much of a difference would it really make?
I was raised in an environment that romanticised luxury culture because it was so far from what we knew. Whether it was pin striped suits in mob flicks, the diamonds in a 2pac music video, or jacking the Turismo in GTA, our vision of a better life came entirely from pop-culture fantasy.
For a lot of kids in my neighbourhood, that hunger for riches became a desperate need and they turned to crime. And I can tell you, the crim lifestyle is fuelled by one motivator: money. In prison, you can see this on the walls of inmates’ cells, where you’ll find posters of Mercedes C63s, hand drawn illustrations of Rolex watches, and notebooks filled with boastful raps about how rich they once were.
But as the cliche goes, money doesn’t buy happiness. It just functions like a slippery mirage that momentarily suspends the bullshit.
So I wanted to know how prison has changed the way inmates think about money, by asking them what they’d do if they won the lottery. Especially as prisoners get more time than anytone to reflect on the imagined correlation between cash and happiness.
Mark / 42 / Armed Burglary
VICE: Hey Mark, what would you do if you won the lottery the day you leave prison?
Mark: If I’m to be honest, I’d probably book myself an escort or two. And a limousine and take them to the casino for a nice evening. I might sound like a bit dirty, but the reality is there’s no other way a crook as beat up as me is going to meet a good looking chick at a bar. I’ve always thought that money isn’t everything but it does make things more convenient. And so, I’d probably buy a bag of dope, a nice suit from David Jones and take the girls out for a night of seafood and a bottle of French wine. I’d give the girls a $1000 each and watch them play the tables. I love doing that, watching girls gamble is shit hot.
Why two girls?
I love the attention I guess. Rich people get heaps of attention and in prison you get none. So, I don’t really want them for sexual stuff. I’d barely last two seconds these days anyway.
What do you make of the expression “more money, more problems”?
I wouldn’t know mate. The biggest score I ever earned was around eight grand and was divided between three blokes. We come across a safe in a suburban house, so me and another bloke lifted it and then the getaway driver needed paying as well. So, just under three grand a piece and we thought we were on fire. It didn’t last a weekend. We blew our money on drugs and pokies and we were scheming come Monday morning.
When you’ve never had money you don’t know how to manage it so it disappears. The richest blokes in the joint are also the biggest tight arses, there’s drug dealers in here worth a fortune and they’re so stingy about sharing their coffee, it amazes me. Jesus, when you were allowed tobacco inside you should've seen the antics those rich cunts went through to hide their stashes and act like they didn’t have enough. It was fucking sad really.
Do you think money has the power to make you a better person?
I think it has more power than prison does. But at the same time, as I said, when we made money we didn’t know what to do with it. We thought money would solve all our issues but it didn’t do shit. It just made us want it more and more. It’s like a drug that has no high. You get a taste of it, you buy the jewellery you always wanted and then a week later you’re trading it in at Cash Converters for half the price.
Abdullah / 30 / Intentionally Causing Serious Injury
Hey Abdullah, what would you do if you won the lottery on your release date?
I would buy tickets for my family in Lebanon to come over and stay. I would put half the money in my wife's account and the other half in my parents’. Not because I’m an angel but because I would blow it on dumb shit. But I’d have to get myself a new car too, something classy like one of those 4WD Porsches, but get it murdered. All black tinted windows, blacked out rims, and a fat exhaust. I want to buy my old man a Rado watch, when we were young he went overseas and used to always look at the posters. I told him one day, I’m going to get you that and look at me, all I got him was a broken heart and a seven year sentence.
How important is money to prisoners?
If you come to jail you will see the real effect money has on people. That’s because in jail there’s no money but most people who land here came because they were trying to get paid. Money isn’t important in jail because there’s nothing you can do with it. Money can buy you power in jail, but only to a certain point. To the point where it all gets taken from you and you end up with a piece of steel shoved in between your ribs. It’s funny, in jail they’ll do anything for money even though they can't see it or even use it. We are obsessed with the idea of money because all the successful people in the world have money and you don’t. So what does that make you? And what are you going to do to change that?
How did you overcome your obsession with getting paid?
I studied my religion. I learnt about our concept of deen [religion] over dunya [material world]. The only thing that matters in the world are things like honesty, always speaking the truth, and taking care of your family. You don’t need riches to do that and live happy. My old man never had a million dollars and he lived a good life until I ruined it for him. I was stupid and believed that taking him dirty money would make him proud of me.
Ashoor / 26 / Commercial Trafficking Methamphetamines
Hey Ashoor, what’s the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
I would organise and plan a big holiday with my boys. We would hit Thailand, then Ibiza, and Europe. I want all the boys that were with me from start to now to get a piece and we’d just live it up until it all ran out. Live fast as we can. I’ve wasted a lot of time in here so I want to spend the outside moments doing things I love with people who really care about me. I would take them shopping so we’d all look fresh as fuck before we went. That’s what it’s like for us, when your in the scene you break bread with your brothers. Buy booths and bottles and forget all the drama.
What’s the drama?
The real world cuz. It’s a dirty place full of treacherous dogs. Everyone’s out to bite each other in the arse or set each other up for their own profit. So when we do it, we do it big because we all want to forget the shit we’ve gone through. We fled bombings in Iraq and came here. But we were all shit at studying so we had to be tradies but being a tradie wasn’t good enough. If you got big dreams for yourself you have to take big risks and that’s why I’m locked up. I had a crack mate, I made money but got greedy.
Did money make you greedy?
Fast money made me greedy. When I was working as a concreter I didn’t give a shit. I’d blow my money on the boys in one night. I don’t care about myself as long as we all have a mad night. And those are the nights I remember cuz, not the parties when I made big money because I was surrounded by fakes who just used me for rack or because we always had hotel rooms full of strippers. The more money I made the less I cared about other people. I thought everyone was out to earn from me. So I cut them out of my life and in the end it was just me and my money. And then I got caught and didn’t even have the money.
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.