Prison Isn’t Free: The Costs of Being Incarcerated

As I’ve been sitting in the belly of the beast, it has been a whirlwind of new discoveries. None have been more impactful than the pressures of surviving financially while incarcerated in the MDOC.

Through time, unaccountability, and privatization, they have mastered the ability to force prisoners to survive on the most minimal amount of necessities.

Healthcare won’t provide medication for free if it’s sold on the store list, so what does the MDOC do? Place the majority of medications on the store list. To top that off, they charge you a co-pay to be seen and rarely do anything for you. A prisoner must pay for most things dealing with health: everything from Tylenol to knee braces, health care won’t provide because healthcare is heavily influenced and dictated by the MDOC, who told the system to stop giving out “special accommodations details” to prisoners if they could purchase the needed materials on their own through store or catalog order.

Prisoners are forced to shop in the MDOC’s store where everything is sold at a 15% markup, and half the things along with a 6% sales tax—taxation without representation at its finest. We are forced to do so because the MDOC has whittled away the chow hall food budget to the point where they feed each prisoner three meals a day for the low cost of 77¢ a day. I want to let that sink in for a minute: all three meals for the cost of 77¢. Who can survive on that? The MDOC allowed privatization of the kitchen only long enough to learn how to spend the least amount possible, and once they learned from the big businesses how to cost-effectively feed prisoners for the lowest amount, they ended their contracts and mastered the art themselves. Prisoners lucky enough to have a support system are forced to spend $100 every two weeks from the store to just be able to eat a healthy meal a day. They even went so far in their admission that they don’t feed prisoners nearly enough that they allowed family members and friends to be able to send prisoners food packages every three months for up to $100. The items purchased from the store for the most part are single-serving items, and those that are not can’t be viably stored due to inadequate storage capabilities or rules that say you have to consume the majority of your items within anywhere from three days to two weeks, and with caps on how much store you can have in your possession at one time. They pretty much have us over a barrel on surviving.

Prisoners are forced to purchase any and all items that help pass the time, from books and appliances to hobby craft materials, all at marked-up rates for the cheapest items. For example, a 13″ inch TV costs damn near $200. These items must be purchased through contractors who bid for the opportunity to be able to sell items to the MDOC prison population. Many times, the contractors are friends and family of MDOC employees and give major kick-backs to the MDOC for the opportunity, which the prisoners don’t see any of.

Clothes must be a mandatory purchase due to the fact that the clothes provided by the state are wholly inadequate to protect prisoners from the elements, a fact all prisoners are made aware of when experiencing their first winter in the MDOC. This is further emphasized by the evolving of MSI (Michigan State Industries), a facet of the MDOC using prison labor to make its products, that now has started selling the prisoner population clothes itself, which incentivizes the MDOC to give away inadequate clothing so that inmates are forced to buy their products. You can see these manipulations with forcing prisoners to buy stuff from the MDOC in every facet of prison life; they also stopped providing salt and pepper, and placed it on the store so we would have to purchase it. They even attempted it with toilet paper!

There is a very real disturbing fact that has been growing in its cruelty for over 50 years: prices for any and all available items that can be purchased have steadily risen, while wages for the prisoner population have not increased one iota. If you look up the policy on institutional wages, school, and stipends, you’ll see for yourself the ridiculous wages prisoners are paid. Then, go to and see the prices we are charged for store items. You will see for yourself the financial burdens placed on prisoners within the MDOC.

The craziest part is that with the advent of the pandemic, it has gotten worse. Those wages are all but obsolete—during the pandemic all but basically kitchen jobs are shut down, so we now have lost those finances. This has ramifications that I don’t have the characters left to explain, but suffice it to say that it creates an all around more volatile environment.

Friends and loved ones, please support the inmate population in these trying times however you can. There has never been a time where you’re more needed.

Support H.H. today!

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