What luxuries (TV, cigarettes, drinks, etc) can you have while incarcerated?
March 14, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Lil Wayne's prison sentence got me thinking- what luxuries will he able to enjoy in prison as a star or wealthy person? If not him specifically what luxuries can be given to a prisoner with enough wealth and influence? How is this legal?

I am also thinking specifically of a couple of scenes in The Wire and other TV shows and movies where a "kingpin" has a jail cell with nice sheets, a nice radio (or even a TV), a cell phone, and a selection of candy, cigarettes, and other luxuries. Would a situation like this occur in real life? How?
posted by ejfox to Law & Government (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My mind always jumps to The Wire, Season 2 where Avon Barksdale goes to prison.
posted by bamassippi at 4:48 PM on March 14, 2010

I've no insider knowledge of the prison system, but have always thought that these things occur because prisons cannot function without some degree of prisoner consent. Presumably one of the easiest ways to manipulate prisoners is to buy a portion of the influence of the most powerful inmates. If prisons were not overpopulated, undermanned and underfunded institutions, such tricks would probably be less needed. The US prison system, coping with an estimated 2+ million inmates, has to stop chaos any way it can.
posted by howfar at 4:50 PM on March 14, 2010


Money talks. As a prison guard, do you really want to cross a kingpin and have one of his henchmen make your life hell at the very least, or do you want to earn some extra scratch for letting some extra bed sheets through? Seems like a no brainer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:50 PM on March 14, 2010

You guys watch too much TV.

Celebrity prisoners don't get special treatment, at least in the US. Hell, they may even be put in solitary confinement because of their fame.
posted by dfriedman at 4:52 PM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Al Capone had some swanky digs when he stayed at Eastern State Penitentiary.

My guess is that it would be unlikely for anything this luxurious would occur in a US prison these days.
posted by i love cheese at 4:55 PM on March 14, 2010

Your question made me curious, and after poking around a bit, I found this: Lil' Wayne's Life in Jail, People magazine, Mar. 11.

For posterity, since that link will probably go stale:
"Inmate Carter is in a category of housing that we call 'general population/escort,' " a New York City Department of Corrections official tells PEOPLE. That means when he leaves the housing area (his cell or the day room), he will have a captain escorting him at all times.

On an hourly basis, the rapper can decide if he wants to be locked in his cell or locked out of it.
Article includes other general info about life at Riker's.
posted by rkent at 5:04 PM on March 14, 2010

On a sidenote, a recent "Answerer" question regarding Lil Wayne's incarceration: Can he bring his gold and diamond-encrusted teeth?
posted by crazyray at 5:04 PM on March 14, 2010

You guys watch too much TV.


Seems to happen in NYC on a grand scale.
posted by kimdog at 5:05 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Celebrity prisoners don't get special treatment, at least in the US. Hell, they may even be put in solitary confinement because of their fame.
posted by dfriedman at 4:52 PM on March 1

This is incorrect. Besides kimdog's evidence, there was also the incident where country singer Glen Campbell drove drunk, assaulted a police officer, and then was given the gold star treatment by his jailer and fan, Joe Arpaio. He had his cell phone, for Christ's sake. Other VIPs stay in that cushy Mesa facility, as well.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:42 PM on March 14, 2010

It's probably realistic to consider all of this a gray area. That is, there's a range of special treatment that he'll be accorded by fellow prisoners, and by guards, just because of his fame. There's also the darker gray in the penumbra of corruption, where guards may be bribed to look the other way if they wouldn't be inclined to overlook something otherwise. Then, getting darker, you start to encroach on the territory of the protection racket. I personally don't keep up with rap culture in any depth, but in the past there have been serious rivalries verging on gang warfare even among very big stars, and at the lower echelons there's certainly plenty of existing overlap with gangsterism. So presumably it's possible that he could be in the wrong prison controlled by the wrong gang, or conversely, and either way at some risk to his life, which as a celebrity he'll have the resources to mitigate. Then, ultimately, you have the risk of being someone with money and fame in prison, which is that you're in an environment where that becomes a kind of currency and thus a threat, even more than on the outside.

Things will also vary depending on whether he serves his time in a local lock-up, a state prison, or a privatized prison. Federal prison is probably the place closest to dfriedman's view, but obviously a lot goes on there regardless. I knew a guy who went to Club Fed on a tax fraud charge, and there were people there who were dangerous enough. Mostly it was pretty boring. The prison administration will also play a role.

All that said, I think it's a bit of a hoot that people concentrate on prisoners getting the cushiness of extra sheets. Imagine the life of luxury! They're inside, and that's what counts.
posted by dhartung at 6:26 PM on March 14, 2010

Here's a list of things available in the Tuscon, AZ Federal Correction Institution from 2005. I can't imagine the contents or the prices have changed much since then. If you've got someone on the outside who can send you money, you can buy things there.

If you're willing to get a little creative, you can actually cook a damn fine meal out of what's on that list. I know I could. A hundred bucks a week would go one hell of a long way in there, and that's peanuts for the people we're talking about.
posted by valkyryn at 7:31 PM on March 14, 2010

valkyryn writes "A hundred bucks a week would go one hell of a long way in there, and that's peanuts for the people we're talking about."

Note though that prisoners have a monthly spending cap of $40.
posted by Mitheral at 11:14 PM on March 14, 2010

Well it happened back in the day, at least, according to Goodfellas.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:04 AM on March 15, 2010

To answer your questions directly, all sorts of luxuries up to and including drugs and prostitutes have been known be supplied for inmates who're connected enough. Of course it's not legal, but it happens. Lots of illegal stuff happens with the connivance of the prison system. And if I were a famous rapper in jail I'd be worrying less about outside gang beef and more about the lifer who wants to make a name.
posted by jtron at 5:37 AM on March 15, 2010

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