When I asked the CO at the commissary window for Braid Butter, he (a black man) looked at my bald, white head and said, “Oh really?!” I replied with all the seriousness I could muster, “Come on Mr. Snell, you know these clothes don`t iron themselves.” He laughed and gave me the Braid Butter.
If you`re not familiar with the stuff, Braid Butter is used by black guys (and some white guys) to get their braids started so they can grow dreadlocks. So for a bald, white guy to buy Braid Butter, the very wise Mr. Snell knew what was up: I had to pay a debt.
He was right. The guy who ironed my clothes for me requested a tub of Braid Butter as payment for his services. This small payment, maybe $3, was well worth it because it saved me time. Better: It allowed me to invest my time into other things that were more important to me.
That`s what`s called a “hustle” in prison: performing a service to make someone`s life better and receiving payment for it. Lots of guys in prison don`t get any money sent in “from the street” (that is, from family), so they pick up a hustle. Often, these hustles are benign, like ironing clothes or cleaning rooms for people. Staff generally look the other way with these hustles, and it`s the harmful hustles that get the most attention from staff. This includes selling drugs, selling sex, gambling, etc.
Staff also gets involved when people don`t pay their bills because it leads to fights and people “checking in” by going to the SHU (special housing unit) so they won`t get beat up for not paying their tab. This eats up staff`s time and, my God, don`t force a BOP employee to do extra work!
While all hustles are forbidden by BOP policy, they`re a way of life in prison for most people. It`s unlikely someone will make it through even the shortest prison sentence without playing part in some sort of hustle. Considering that the BOP requires prisoners to work and only pays 8 or 12 cents an hour, and considering that a bar of Dial soap is $1.40 on commissary, a hustle can be a necessity for some.
The advice I give to people entering prison is to choose your hustle wisely. The wrong one could end up costing you more than it`s worth. The right one, however, could be a source of pride and accomplishment. Sex offenders are often educated and have usually held careers before being locked up, the typical sex offender is a college-educated 40 year-old white male. I suggest that these guys focus on their strengths and help others. These kinds of “hustles” not only help bring in some commissary items, but can help gain respect from the non-sex offenders in prison.
Just don`t over-promise something and you`ll do just fine.