A movie-goer's concept of prison economy is likely that it's a cigarette-fueled barter system. That may be part of it, but it only scratches the surface. The truth is a violent world of sex, drugs and... postage stamps?
First off, the days of prisoners being allowed to have two packs of cigarettes a week are long gone. In California, and most other states, there is a full ban on any tobacco products. Regardless, smokers want their fix, and if you're familiar with the principles of supply and demand, you will understand that the price of tobacco in prison is astronomical. In fact, it can be even more expensive than dope, according to Officer Eric Patao:
"Tobacco right now is a huge commodity. It's actually more expensive than marijuana, depending on supply and demand. A lot of these guys are just addicts with the nicotine and they've just got to have it at all costs. They'll jeopardize their loved ones on the streets to try to smuggle it in. They don't care."
Tobacco, drugs, and other contraband enter jails through the same (usually uncomfortable) channels that cellphones do, which we covered in depth yesterday. And prices are highly variable depending on what you're in for: the more secure the unit, the harder to get contraband, the higher the price. According to Officer Eric Patao, "A $15 can of Bugler tobacco can go for as much as $500 in prison."