A Geek in Prison & Socioeconomic Observations Mashup - A Life Series by Charlie Shrem (Part 8 - InterPrison Exchange & Keyboard Training)

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This is Part 8 in a series about my life as a Geek in Prison. Click my name to follow me and check out my blog for the Preamble and Parts 1-7. All names are changed to protect inmates privacy. Everything I write is hypothetical and for educational purposes only.

This is a joint post of my Geek in Prison and Socioeconomic Observation Series. I think you will all enjoy this one as I find it intriguing.

Every prison has a commissary as we discussed in previous posts. Depending on your level of security, it could be better or worse. As far as federal institutions go, the highest security is a Super Max like ADX Florence, CO. The next level down is a maximum penitentiary, a medium, low and a camp. After a camp you can be designated to community release which allows you to live on home confinement but are still an inmate. You are only eligible for this once you've completed 90% of your sentence.

In Lewisburg, we had a pretty decent commissary. Across all prisons the price of Mackerel never deviated much away from the $1.25 range which is another reason it was used as a currency. If you transferred prisons, they let you take your property with you including your Mackerel. The Mackerel maintained its value throughout all prisons.

This is a really important factor when it comes to maintaining value. If a currency isn't fungible and without bias it will fail.

Many inamtes love Siracha Hot Sauce but my prison did not sell Siracha and other prisons did. The same thing goes for larger bowls, robes and other items that were in high demand.


The IntraPrison Exchange where you can buy something from an other inmate is pretty well known. You can use various prison currencies such as the Mackerel, or even be "on the books" where an inmate run store can issue you credit for a fee. You can use that credit around the compound and as long as you settle up with your credit issuer you are fine. It's the prison credit card.

The InterPrison Exchange or IPX as its known is the ability to purchase something from another prison. How this works depends on your institution and can vary.

Many inmates have hustles, where they do things for money. This can be personal training, cleaning your cube, ironing, cooking, drawing, and even hat and scarf sewing.

Personally I did not have a hustle although I would help people do things for free like typing. Use of the email system costs $0.05 a minute. Being a fast typer myself, writing a few dozens emails a day would only cost me roughly $1-$2 a day maximum. However many inmates were either older, from lower income neighborhoods, or just never spent too much time around a computer. I was surprised at the amount of people who were spending 30 minutes writing 1 email! Thats roughly $1.50 per email and adds up quickly.

Of course, if there is demand there will be supply and that included typists. Typists would charge and type up emails for you. However I liked teaching an inmate how to type himself. I figured that in any job they get, being a fast typist is important.


I would train people a few different ways. The easiest and cheapest way was to draw out a keyboard like this and sit with the inmate while he practices. It seems trivial, but it helped and saved inmates hundreds of dollars. I would have them write out an email they wanted to send by hand, practice on the keyboard and then head into the computer. Their fingers were now trained.

Some inmates wrote very personal emails to their loved ones and I was touched and humbled that they trusted me with this. I personally wish that typing classes could be officially given in prisons as is a really easy thing to learn and can help raise inmates confidence to reach for higher goals.


I met and befriended dozens of extremely smart people who simply never had the educational experience to pursue something other than selling drugs. I met a marijuana farmer who can run numbers better than math PhD's because its what he did all day. When I asked him why he didn't go to college, he said he never needed to.

In the next post I will talk about some classes that were given and the type of educational and vocational actives were offered in my prison. Thankfully my prison had what I thought was a good educational department.

What types of classes would you like to see being taught in prison?


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