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10 Strangest Things People Can Get in Prison
From watching documentaries or shows like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, you may already have an idea of what a person can purchase or receive while they are in jail. Or, you might know someone who’s had to take an “extended vacation” from real life for a while. You probably imagine items like shower shoes and candy bars when you envision what they are selling inside your nearest prison.
But in fact, the truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. Depending on your location, some of the items you can find inside are downright bizarre, not to mention messed-up and potentially deadly.
10 Baby Clams and Oysters
Prison food may be better than you think. At one federal prison, you can buy smoked oysters and baby clams at the commissary. These prison delicacies are eaten as tapas or even raw in many countries as a novelty dish. Oysters might be considered a delicacy, and it’s certainly something you’d think of as true foodies eating. So it’s pretty embarrassing that they’ve got it on offer in a prison.
I can’t really imagine the inmates breaking out the baby clams as a film-night snack instead of popcorn. Not to mention the oysters! Why would oysters be sold in prison? We bet they smell really awful too. If you were to buy oysters for yourself as a treat, we don’t think your cellmates would be very pleased with the stench coming from your bed. But surprisingly, you can get a whole lot of seafood from inmate stores like canned sardines and salmon, with some prisoners even being able to purchase octopus! It’s probably much better than the regular jail-food staple.
9 Knitting Needles
You may think that inmates sitting around knitting for charity sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what happens in some correctional facilities. “Knitting Behind Bars” is a program that took five years to get off the ground. The program is now going strong after a lot of hard work and determination by Lynn Zwerling and her team of volunteers.
After leaving her job, Lynn Zwerling had time on her hands and realized that the calming power of knitting could be the very thing to help rehabilitate inmates in the local prison system. Surprisingly, despite some initial resistance, the program became highly successful—against all odds. Knitting calms the prisoners, gives them peace of mind, gives them something meaningful to do.
Just as in any other knitting circle, prisoners have a chance to socialize, exchange ideas, use etiquette, and communicate with each other and with the women who teach them. No one is allowed to curse or call each other names when they are in class. Prisoners in the program have to be on their best behavior; some will even go so far as to give up their dinner so that they can attend the weekly two-hour sessions.
8 Waist Trimmers
Inmates at one federal prison may buy waist trimmers and tummy belts from the commissary starting at around $10. In case you didn’t know, a waist trimmer works to compress your wobbly bits, giving the illusion of a thinner waist and flatter tummy. Some waist trimmers are even sold and marketed as a way to lose weight—something experts do not consider to be strictly accurate.
Why are they selling them in a prison? It would seem to be listed as a “recreational item” along with other workout gear like weightlifting gloves and wrist bands. So maybe the prisoners want to stay healthy and exercise, using these to help slim down. Well, after eating all that seafood, we can give them a pass on wanting something to look fit and trim. At least they don’t sell Spanx.
7 Mustache Scissors
You can buy mustache scissors and beard trimmers in one Georgia jail. We definitely consider this a pretty expensive grooming item, as they cost around $8. Just think about it for a minute. They are essentially just scissors. How important are they? Do most men in the world own a small pair of mustache scissors? Is that really a thing? Oh, and considering that if a prisoner works, he only earns between $0.12 and $0.40 per hour—that equals one expensive indulgence.
However, when it comes to personal grooming, prisons have very strict rules. You must keep yourself clean and well-groomed because if you don’t, you can get a violation or, worse still, face the wrath of your fellow prisoners. Yet, scissors just don’t seem necessary to us. It makes you think of the kind of tacky goods that hipsters consume, like beard oil and beard balm. It might just be a lack of knowledge on my part (having neither beard nor mustache), but it could be that beards need oil just as much as mustaches need their own special scissors. Also, you’ve got to wonder if allowing prisoners to have any kind of bladed tools is safe. I can see inmates nurturing their mustaches only so that they have an excuse to get their hands on some scissors.
6 Prison Gift Shop
Yes, it’s a thing. Prison gift shops, primarily aimed at tourists but often open to inmates, sell the things you’d find in most tourist hotspots: hoodies, key rings, and coffee mugs. They are typically housed in or close to some of the country’s worst jails in terms of institutional violence, death sentences, sexual assault, and solitary confinement. Some of them are run directly by prisons and even prisoners. And boy, you can buy some fun items in them.
In Huntsville Texas, home to “Ole Sparky,” you can find shot glasses and t-shirts proudly proclaiming “Property of Texas Prison System”—not sure who would want to wear those after an extended holiday off the grid. At Angola in Louisiana, prisoners run the “Prison View Golf Course” that’s open to the public. Golf balls are among the favorites purchased at this gift shop. The prison also has a notorious reputation for keeping inmates in extreme isolation for decades, hence the much-purchased Angola dog collars.
5 A Spork (Spoon-Fork)
For certain inmates, a trip to the prison commissary might give them a little bit of joy at an otherwise dark point in their lives. That’s probably why most commissaries sell sporks. Because we all know there’s nothing that says, “You’ll find happiness once you file me down to use it as a knife,” quite like a spork does.
Luckily, most prisons have begun to move away from plastic utensils and are looking at new and innovative utensils such as the “Ecotensil,” a utensil made of slick cardboard similar to that of a milk carton. It folds to create a robust yet simple structure that lets prisoners cut through most food items, such as tamales or eggs, but not human skin. The utensil also has perforation around the edges, allowing the product to break down more easily if swallowed or flushed. According to the tool’s designer, the biggest concern with plastic utensils is the opportunities they create for prisoners to turn them into lethal weapons to use against personnel or other prisoners or to harm themselves. As such, the novel use of paperboard renders their utensils virtually non-weaponizable.
Though this cannot be bought in any commissary, one guy actually decided to make his own. During his daily workshop session, Lorenzo Pollard decided to create a cool pair of karate tools from the legs of his chair and some linen. That should sound the kind of thing that a child would do (and then use to expertly knock himself out), but Pollard made a break for it.
First, he successfully fought off a dozen or so armed guards before breaking a glass block window and jumping over two different wire fences, effectively giving him the nickname “Bruce Lee.” At some point, when several guards were trying to overpower him, Pollard scrambled up to the second level of the prison, where he bravely continued to fight guards off until he could get back out of another window. It just goes to show that where there’s a will, there will be a way.
3 Hippy Crack
In 2017, three inmates in prison in the United Kingdom were filmed inhaling nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas, from canisters they filled through balloons. The colorless gas is often fondly referred to as “hippy crack.” In the video footage of the men, captured by an unnamed individual, we can see them in a variety of different inebriated stages as they inhale the gas.
In one of the clips, it actually appears as if one of the prisoners eventually loses consciousness. The inhalation of nitrous oxide can cause feelings of relaxation and euphoria. But it can also cause individuals to experience hallucinations when it is being used at elevated doses. It can even lead to death if there is a lack of oxygen when being abused.
2 Prison Wine (Hooch)
Alcohol has been with us through the best and worst of circumstances since the dawn of time. It has managed to survive countless attempts to restrict and boycott it yet still succeeded in emerging victorious due to the perseverance of mankind. Whatever the situation or crisis may be, we have always found a way to make our own liquor. But nowhere is this unstoppable spirit more patently clear than in prisons around the globe.
Despite its dangers, freshly made jailhouse booze or pruno has a wide range of titles. It can be made from mixtures that include any type of fruit, tea, sugar, and even other ingredients such as moldy bread. The industry probably began to thrive one day after human history had taken its first prisoner to its cell. And try as they can, prison guards and other officials have never been able to stop it. In fact, it has become such an ingrained part of prison culture that many of today’s wardens now accept it as part of the package when they begin their duties.
You’ve probably heard about grain silos that can explode due to the fine dust grain produced, which, when ignited, burns extremely fast. Essentially, it burns the very air inside, causing it to explode. The same principle applies to any extremely fine powder. In fact, some mines used to spontaneously combust because of their fine coal dust bursting into flames—or maybe that was simply because of random Balrog attacks. But if you’ve got the brains and happen to be super smart, you might do the same thing with fine powder as straightforward as a regular powdered coffee creamer.
In the United Kingdom, a few prison officials came dangerously close to finding out exactly how easy prisoners can build a bomb from powdered creamer. Ironically, had the prison supplied milk instead of the lumpy alternative, they would have been safer. Four inmates were caught when their “teatime experiment” burst after being lit and thrown into the stairwell. Luckily, it did not explode completely. Prison bombs are not an exact science. But it alerted the authorities to what could have been a very dangerous weapon.