Prison Diary: The Hustle

Money isn’t the only part of prison economy, the other key player is “the hustle.”

In prison parlance “the hustle” is any sort of access or ability the prisoner can use to create income or use in a barter.

I have not made an inventory of all the prison hustles. Again, a doctoral dissertation could be written about the subject. But here are four common hustles.

More about this in a later post, but fashion continues to rule in the prison. Yes, all the inmates are given a pullover, smock-like shirt and some pants with an elastic waistband. All white. (Which is why we call them the “Men in White.”) But despite, or perhaps because of, the bland uniformity of prison dress, fashion reigns in the prison. Consequently, the inmates who work in the garment factory--where prison attire is made, repaired and cleaned--have the ability to create a fashion hustle. The hustle involves taking an order to clean or make changes to the clothing to met fashion standards, changes hard for most people to detect unless you know what you’re looking for.

All that to say, if you work in the garment factory you can get a good hustle going, taking clothing orders for stamps or “real money.”

Another hustle is cleaning, mainly because of movement. An inmate with cleaning responsibilities will move from block to block doing their work. This allows the inmate to create a courier hustle, transporting messages or items from cell block to cell block. Cleaning jobs create mailman hustles.

Kitchen workers, obviously, have access to food. Food pilfered from the kitchen creates food hustles.

Finally, specialized skills can create hustles, from cooking to repair to electronics. Your special talent in making or repairing something can create your hustle.

All that to say, in the prison economy the hustle, if you can get one, is a key and vital part of your livelihood and position within the prison.

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