Let me Put a Bid on That

You don’t throw things away in prison, and you definitely don’t take them home with you. So what happens with everything you have when it’s time to leave? The bidding begins.

When someone asks if they can put a bid on something what they’re really saying is “can I have that when you leave?” If a person wanted to they could actually let someone bid on an item, which would be the going ‘price’ until someone else bids higher. There are a lot of hustles in prison and a degree of honor exists within each of them. Hustling your stuff away in exchange for free commissary before you leave, however, is not one of them.

What does everyone bid on? The list is endless but has to start with pillows. Good pillows, really good ones, are far and few in between. You’re not likely to see them returned to laundry. A nice pillow will find a new home while an old pillow is then returned in it’s place. One of my favorite conversations I overheard went like this: “Hey, I’m leaving soon, do you want to try out my pillow? I got it from so and so about two years ago after he got it from this other guy, it’s amazing.” I actually thought to myself “damn, this sounds like a really nice pillow, I bet it is indeed quite comfortable.” Meanwhile, free people are struggling to decide whether to purchase a new pillow from Casper, Purple or Bed Bath & Beyond and they are definitely stressing about the decision.

Next up, shoes. When I was free I never once, not ONCE, looked at someone’s shoes and thought about asking how much they’d sell them to me for, or if they would give them away. The same pairs circle their way through a prison yard for years. Imagine sending a genetic test to 23 & me except instead of learning your family tree you’ll be approached by a guy on the track one morning and he’ll give you the back-story of the shoes you’re wearing.

“Yeah, I picked those up in Texas five years ago, sold them to old boy over there about 3 years back, he gave ’em to Dave, who then let Hank use them for a few. Not sure who had the pair for eight months there but it’s cool to see those old things again.” Meanwhile, I was brand new here and happy to be wearing anything other than the 4lb per pair pleather BOP issued composite toe boots, even though the front half of the sole of these shoes separated with every step.

I’ve had friends ask for my bath towel, dental floss, toothpaste, sweats, t-shirts, spices and even inquire on the quality of my foam mattress, which is falling apart yet somehow still mildly comfortable. Why not? You can buy whatever you need when you’re free. In here, the average pay rate is measured in cents per hour and inflation is rapidly increasing the price of everything on commissary while the spending limit remains unchanged.

As one close friend so wisely put it: “The goal is to leave prison with nothing, leave it all here. That way if you come back everything is waiting for you and if you never come back, consider yourself blessed.”

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