Federal Prison Jobs, Hustles, & Money

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FPC Montgomery – Prison Work Camp

FPC Montgomery was a work prison camp, therefore everyone had a job. Jobs ranged from building orderlies, to lawn maintenance, kitchen workers, plumbers, HVAC technicians, Unicor, etc. It was interesting to see formerly high powered CEOs and attorneys cleaning tables in the cafeteria. My first job was cutting grass on the Maxwell Air Force Base. From there, I moved to the facilities department where I made signs and plaques for all of the retiring staff members. Generally speaking, a lot of BOP staff start at higher levels of security but come to a camp, when they are closer to retiring. This is not always the case but we had a lot of staff retire while I was there.

My favorite job was being a town driver. I was given a car, and ran all types of errands for the prison, including picking up supplies, dropping fellow inmates off at the airport, bus stations and doctors offices. The best part of the job was being able to leave the prison completely unsupervised for hours at a time. I would drive as far as Birmingham, AL which was about two hours away. One time stayed out for 17 hours. If you’re interested in applying for a town driver position, make sure you renew your driver’s license before going in.

Although everyone was required to work, none of the jobs paid very well. The average job paid about $20 to $25 per month. Yes I said month – that is not a typo. The lawn guys only got paid $9 a month. The skilled workers like HVAC got as much as $60 per month but started around $30 per month. Town drivers (there were only four of us) got paid $87 a month. The best paying jobs where at Unicor but those were difficult to get and there was always a long waiting list. I was told some of the Unicor guys made as much as $175 per month but most of them made much less. The pay didn’t have much to do with your skill level – it was based on your grade level. Every few months, we were allowed to sign up for a higher grade if there were any openings. Guys on the job the longest would get preference.

The Prison Hustle

That being said, the measly wages made it difficult to survive in prison without friends and family putting money on our books. I was lucky enough to have my parents, wife, and friends send money when I needed it. However, other people were in prison for so long that all their friends and family had written them off and had to hustle to make it.

Standard hustles included laundry and bed making. Some guys would make desserts from ingredients purchased off the commissary. Others would sell greeting cards made in the art room, some would make wallets and MP3 player cases made in the leather shop. Some of the more nefarious and profitable hustles were selling cigarettes, alcohol, creatine, and food stolen out of the kitchen. Obviously, if you got caught smuggling any of these items in, you would get sent to the county jail and sometimes you’d never be seen again – hence, more risk, more profit.

Money is not allowed in prisons; therefore most places use stamps as currency. At FPC Montgomery, we used Macks, as in packets of Mackerel Fish. I’ve attached a picture below:

Macks were available for purchase at the commissary for $1.05 or could be purchased in bulk from other inmates for about 70 cents each. Purchasing from other inmates required either putting money on their books or having money sent directly to their family members outside. Taking or giving anything to another inmate is against BOP rules, so a lot of stealth had to be used. People would give instructions to family members during visits or send a letter (out going mail was not read by staff). Never say anything over the phone, all calls are recorded and monitored.

Some services and pricing:

  • Laundry Service 1 Mack
  • Bed Making (including washing sheets) 2 Macks
  • Haircuts at the barber shop are supposed to be free, but everyone knows its really 2 Macks
  • Desserts ranged from 1 to 2 Macks
  • Cigarettes ranged from 3 to 7 Macks (depending on how many people got busted and how tight the supply was that day)
  • Chicken, Fish, Burgers taken out of the kitchen were usually 2 for 3 Macks

Inmate stores were also common. Guys would purchase soda, chips, and cakes in bulk from the commissary and sell them for Macks.

  • Sodas were 2 for 3 Macks
  • Chips were 3 Macks a bag
  • Cakes varied from 1 Mack for individual servings to 3 Macks a box.
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