This story is over 5 years old.


How Prison Inmates Get Porn

"It's crazy the prices we pay," one prisoner recently told me over the phone. "But then again, it's prison. Checking out a little porn is all a guy really has to look forward to."
Illustration by Deshi Deng

This article originally appeared on VICE US

In many prisons, the most valuable commodity is not tobacco or even hard drugs, but smut. Not everyone gets high or smokes, but every inmate jerks off, out of loneliness or horniness or sheer boredom. During my 21 years of incarceration in America, the one thing that I missed more than anything else was the company of a woman, especially as I had no conjugal visits while in the feds.


The most common form of porn that's circulated in prison is photocopied smut magazines, though modeling magazines that don't have nudity are also popular. Often, actual hardcore porn mags are smuggled in by correctional officers looking to make some extra money. If you have a magazine in its entirety, it can be hawked to other inmates for upwards of €180, depending on what condition it's in. The owners then make copies and resell them in black-and-white for €20 a pop. Copies (e.g. copies of copies) of spreads or certain pin-ups are then sold for a stamp a page, and prisoners often trade when they get bored of "their girls."

The other popular form of sexual entertainment is photos from the web that friends or family on the outside print out in bundles, then send through snail mail. A porn DVD—extremely rare in prison—can bring several hundred dollars to the officer who smuggled it in; phones with downloaded porn videos are sold for upward of €450.

"It's crazy the prices we pay," one prisoner recently told me over the phone. "But then again, it's prison. Checking out a little porn is all a guy really has to look forward to."

Since most prisons nationwide have banned porn, prisoners will go to great lengths to both preserve and conceal their collections. Depending on the individual institution's rules, punishments can range from confiscation or time in solitary confinement to disciplinary transfers to new criminal charges for the introduction or possession of sexually explicit materials. Some prisons have made masturbation, even without porn, an infraction.

To get some insight about how prisoners share smut today, we talked to several prisoners doing time around the nation to learn how they get porn in, how it's traded among inmates, and what it's like to hide something that free Americans spend countless hours with each day.

Prisoner One
31 Years Old
Serving Ten Years at FCI Beckley in West Virginia for Crystal Meth Distribution

There are dudes in prison who live well on the porn trade. They have regular customers, as it's an addiction to some people. I had this old, beat-up issue of Just 18 magazine from 1999 with about half the pages missing that I used to rent out. The cost to rent was five stamps—approximately €1.35—for a 30-minute rental. That gets a little costly for a serial jacker. Certain dudes who are considered creeps have problems with masturbation, like real addiction problems, and I try to stay away from them. I sold that issue of Just 18 for €90 right before I transferred to another prison. In another jail, my homeboy had a copy of Buttman. This magazine was kept in a pristine plastic protector. He sold it for €180 right before he left. Another guy in here just got shipped from FCI Texarkana to Beckley for getting caught smuggling in a computer. He was renting it out for €4,5 an hour, and had hundreds of porn videos downloaded. When he got caught, he was taken back to court and received another six month sentence. Dudes will also sell photos that are sent to jail from their families or homeboys. They'll send a stack of pictures, and the inmates will sell them for three to four stamps a piece. Some inmates, they get tired of the same pictures, so they just rotate and trade them for a new chick. The price of a single photo depends on how fat the girl's ass is. Some guys will even put out special requests or orders for specific girls or porn stars. I've seen inmates become infatuated with them, as if they were literally their chick.

Prisoner Two

46 Years Old
Serving a Life Sentence at Pickaway Correctional Facility in Ohio for Drug Trafficking Blacktail, De'Unique, Penthouse, Playboy, Buttman, Freaky Girls, Video Illustrated: These are what we call "fuck books," "fiend mags," and "short eyes" in here. On the streets, the price for a magazine is usually around $10, but in prison a recent issue of Blacktail can run you from €180 to €270. These magazines are contraband and will be confiscated if found. You can even get an incident report, or be put under investigation or in the hole for being caught in possession of porn. To protect your stash, you have to disguise the mag with a smoke cover of an acceptable magazine. When I was selling magazines, I had to number the pages myself because I swear dudes are so fucking slick at tearing pages out that you might not notice a missing page. And even when you do notice, you might not know who exactly did that shit. I only let a selective few rent the mags I got, and I go through every page before and after so there aren't no misunderstandings. I got a photo of a nice, exotic-looking chick with silky, curly pussy hair and a dildo in her mouth. The look in her eyes says it all, plus the way she's sitting, inviting me to please her. I paid a bag of Keefe coffee for her, and I don't let no one borrow her. I'm thinking about writing something vague-but-specific like "New York" on the back with a magic marker, just in case police tear my cell up and the photo comes up missing. Putting your actual name on a photo is some sucker shit, but I've seen dudes write their name and register number on their prized possessions.

Prisoner Three

38 Years Old
Serving 18 Years at USP Big Sandy in Kentucky for Bank Robbery I've been to five different compounds over my 14 years in prison, and I've seen the same black-and-white [porn photocopies] everywhere. They just get worse and worse, copy-wise, but I still buy them. It's the closest I'll get to pussy in fucking forever. There are different ways of getting them in, such as through special mail. But the main way is the old-fashioned way—through cops and correctional officers. They make fake covers and bring them in with other magazines. The black-and-whites are kept wherever. The guards aren't going to fuck with them because they know you haven't seen pussy since Bush was president, so they'll leave your stash alone. If a man doing life has an obsession with [the porn star] Pinky, you don't want to be the one to come in between that. There's no such thing as internet porn in the big house. We don't have access to anything in here, so that's out. I had the chance to mess around with a screen phone a few years back in another prison. It had so much porn on it, I damn near had a heart attack right there. Dudes were using the phone for nefarious activities, but all I was trying to do was watch porn. They were like, "You can see the security truck driving around the prison on Google Earth!" and I was like, "Dude, fuck that—look at all this porn."

Prisoner Four

40 Years Old
Serving 35 years at MDC Brooklyn in New York for Racketeering When you get locked up in this concrete jungle, your girls are Palm-ela and A-hand-a; they're right by your side daily and always reliable. When I came in, it was just [PG-13 magazines, without nudity] like Smooth and Straight Stuntin' that had the jails on smash. You had models like Buffie the Body, Maliah, CoCo, Rosa Acosta, and Vida Guerra killing it, and dudes was fiending to have some exclusive pics of these women. We would trade mags before lock-in, and release pent-up stress by stroking the mental pain away. When one homie moved our unit, we had a whole DVD case of porn. We'd put a smuggled DVD player on a crate in the slop sink—like one in a janitor's closet—with a chair, and have dudes lined up waiting to go in to get their shit off. We called it the "Boom Boom Room," and it was right next to where we played poker. It was the best of both worlds and you could pick your poison. It's definitely big business in here, and whenever someone needs to take their mind away from all that's going on, I'd advise them to grab some mags or nude pics, grab some lotion and some tissue, put your towel over your cell window, and get to work. When you finish, I bet you'll feel better until you get home to the real thing. Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter