600 words; 3 minutes to read

Cons and Kernels owner/entrepreneur Emily O’Brien has been in the news a lot lately as she continues to build her business and is a great spokesperson for seeing ex-prisoners in a positive light.

Earlier posts on her situation and business can be found here and here.

In recent blog posts on her site, Emily shared some interesting aspects of her prison experience, parts of which are the substance of this post.

Prisoners have no money

“Did you know that the 2018 pay rate for an inmate was $5.80/day? That was what I was getting during my term, and that rate hasn’t changed since 1980, definitely hasn’t kept up with the cost of living.

From that, the prison takes off 30% for room and board. That’s right: we pay for rent in prison!

In addition, we get a weekly prison allowance of $38.01 for groceries, and we have a list of about 440 items to choose from. Phone calls are 11 cents a minute, and we also pay out $7.99 a month for TV cable (trust me, it’s worth it!).

The next time you hear a politician or news pundit talking about “luxury” prisons or “Club Fed”, keep these facts in mind. Also consider that ex-cons, without any kind of financial education, often end up broke and homeless when they’re released, which causes many of them to get back into a life of crime.”

Prison wisdom

– A common prank is telling new prisoners that they need to pay $80 for their “body bag”. Really, it’s not for that, but rather, a mandatory savings that you need to have so that when you’re released, you’re not completely broke.
– No Polaroid pictures are allowed because you can extract the ink from them and use them for tattoos.
– Taking someone else’s prescription pills is an offence that you can be charged for.
– If you’re caught trying to modify prison clothing in any way, it’s a $5 fine.
– In the last 10 years, the number of women in prison has increased by 30%.
– Ion scanners, designed to scan everyone coming into the prison for illicit substances, go off for the weirdest reasons. The oddest one I remember was for a very elderly Mennonite woman who was as clean as a bean. It makes me question their accuracy [editor – a complaint heard frequently]
– There’s an inmate catalogue for clothing and other items. It reminded me of the 1995 Sears Wishbook, only with 2020 prices.
– The women at Grand Valley used to be allowed to have, well, personal pleasure items, but the guards complained that it made them uncomfortable.
– You can’t mail glitter to an inmate: it’s not allowed.
– Prisoners use calling cards that can be reloaded once a month to anywhere in Canada. Phone calls in Canada cost 11 cents per minute.
– Mail from your lawyer used to be considered “privileged” (private), meaning prison staff could not open it but after a few abuses, prison staff now have to be present when you open privileged mail.
– You can’t use clear tape for letters because that’s one way to traffic in meth.
– Prisoners can’t wear hoodies as [supposedly] it makes it easier for them to commit a crime (e.g assaulting another inmate) and not be identified.
– Prisoners get a $4.00 allowance for hygiene products every two weeks.
– In Canada, two out of every three women serving time in federal prisons are mothers.

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Ms O’Brien, still subject to parole supervision, continues to be a great spokesperson for these issues. And she is able to get many public figures, including politicians, to be photographed with her, which is not the case for too many other ex-prisoner.  If only more people realized that the vast majority of ex-prisoners are, like her, just trying to find a way to live well despite all the obstacles facing anyone with a criminal record!




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