Prison Jobs, Prison Cash, Prison Phones | By Noah Bergland

Prison Jobs, Prison Cash, Prison Phones | By Noah Bergland 1

So after the first few months in prison, if you didn’t completely prepare for prison you are most likely broke. I know I was.

That is on top of reality setting in and realizing I am three months into a 120-month sentence. Even though I said I wouldn’t become a convict, I still had to figure out how to live like one so I can make it through my sentence. So what I did was shut myself off to the outside world, except for a few people and I embraced my new world.

I am not saying this was the best or healthiest decision, but it worked for me. I knew my daughter was going to be in good hands regardless of who was taking care of her, so all I had to do is figure out how I was going to make it through alive without going insane. I didn’t have very high expectations for my life over the next several years when I surrendered myself to Milan and that probably helped my situation because the facility besides the appearance, at first sight, exceeded all my expectations.

The rules I just referred to in the previous post, both written and unwritten, were what I had to learn to live by to keep me out of trouble from both staff and inmates. It was a learning curve initially, being out of bounds, walking halfway across the compound before I realized it’s closed, missing call-outs because of unexpected compound closures, understanding the gibberish on the loudspeaker, taking a shower without shower shoes, using a mans washcloth to get something off my face, changing in my cube; these actions caused me both embarrassment from inmates and tongue lashing from staff, but I eventually figured it all out.

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I also learned I was never going to make enough money cleaning one shower for $35 per month, so I found ways to make extra money that wouldn’t get me more days in the hole. I knew for sure I didn’t want to go back in there, so that meant selling cigarettes and booze were out of the question. So, I started finding other inmates on orderly details that didn’t want to work, I offered to do their duties for their pay. They don’t have to work and I get some extra spending money, win-win.

After a couple of months, I had about ten different orderly jobs and was making an extra $150 a month doing jobs ranging from a second shower to the east side toilets, the west side sinks, and some floor details in different sections of the unit. The main reason for the needed extra spending money was the food in food service was very hard to get used to.

I am already a pretty gassy person for those that know me, but that was intensified tenfold once I got to Milan. Initially, I got put on food service detail but I couldn’t stand it, as we were locked in food service for our whole shift, and it felt like I was in jail in a prison. We worked for the first 30 minutes we were there, then the last 30 minutes, but the 3-4 hours in between we were stuck reading or playing cards if the officer on duty allowed it, if they didn’t we were sitting on our thumbs.

In my short time there I did see something else, packaged meat that read, “not fit for human consumption,” or recalled beef or pork that was sold to the BOP. The stuff wouldn’t kill you if you were capable of getting the food down but it was not pretty to look at. After that experience, there were certain meals I just stayed away from.

Thankfully not all facilities purchase this food, Yankton being one of those, so I appreciate that. So it’s safe to say I ate plenty of food off commissary, which costs money, and $35 per month was not going to get me very far. Some other safe hustles I did for extra money that didn’t risk my good time were cleaning cells and washing dishes.

One of my new friends saw I liked to stay busy and I didn’t mind cleaning so he suggested that I clean cells and also mentioned that there currently wasn’t anyone doing it in the unit we were living in. So, he took me door to door and we asked everyone in the unit if they wanted me to do there cleaning and then locked down whether it was going to be weekly or bi-weekly, and how much I was going to get paid.

Prison Jobs, Prison Cash, Prison Phones | By Noah Bergland 2

Weekly was 30 stamps a month and bi-weekly was 20 stamps, or a flat book (complete book of stamps). The cells took no more than 15 minutes to clean each, so I could knock out multiple in an hour, and altogether I had about 10-12 contracts. As for washing dishes I am not talking about in the kitchen, inmates do cook-ups in the unit and then there is usually a pile of bowls leftover and they would stack those up on my locker and I would do three washes for a bag of Keife coffee, which was $2.70.

So, now I had my coffee, which was and still is my new drug of choice, food from the commissary, and extra spending money to buy anything else I need off of commissary and could minimize the amount of money I needed to ask my friends and family for, as that is probably the most painful thing to do.

I realized I already let them all down and caused much pain and suffering for my mom and siblings, and on top of that I wasn’t going to beg them all for money constantly, so I suggest trying to figure out how you can take care of yourself first. Of course, I still get help from my family, but what I suggest is just asking if they are willing to help you out with a month contribution and if they do or don’t be grateful either way, because even if they don’t send money there is a good chance they will show their support in other forms.

Forms other then money are the ones that count the most you will find out later in your prison sentence if you are fortunate enough to have people stick around the whole time as I have.

As for phone calls you have one option and that is various payphones located around the unit, you are allowed 300 minutes in variables of 15-minute calls, and the phones calls range from costing 6 cents per minute ($.90/15 minutes), 21 cents per minute for long-distance ($3.15/15 minutes), and then international which cost $1 per minute.

The pay you make at your job through the initiation will range from 15 cents to 45 cents an hour so when you first start you will probably have to work a whole month to pay for 1/3 of your calls which will most likely be long distance.

If money is not a concern throughout your incarceration then make sure you use these minutes wisely because they can run out fast. As I previously stated I cut off much of the outside world in that first year so I didn’t even know the 300-minute limit existed until somewhere around month 13-14.

As I have been finding myself closer to the door however I have realized I have burned through the minutes more often and had to limit myself to four 15 minutes phones calls a week, which usually consists of two to my mom/daughter, then I have two more to fit in each week which vary from different family members such as my sister, my monthly phone call to my buddy Lars, or any number of the friends and family that have supported me throughout the last six years.

300 minutes is not a lot of time to get much done other then stay involved in the lives of a select few, it’s certainly not enough minutes to get to know your kids, manage a relationship with a spouse or loved one, and it’s definitely not enough time to conduct any sort of business.

So anyone who is locked up or getting locked up just know that your phone calls to the outside world will be minimal and set your expectations accordingly, and for anyone who is supporting someone locked up understand that the time being used to call you is valuable and use it wisely. Why spend those 15 minutes fighting when you can be talking about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thanks for listening!
Noah

Please note that while Coronavirus fiasco goes on, the BOP has ended in-person visiting and expanded telephone time allowances to try and balance the need for family contact while still limiting the spread of Coronavirus inside the prison system. 

More writing from Noah:

The Face Of Addiction, Noah’s Story
Overcome Negativity | Noah’s Story

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Chuck

Don’t go chasing waterfalls… I went straight home! I had to cough a couple of times… but I did it! I hope all is well! Miss you guys! Keep on Keeping on! Thanks for everything!

Chuck

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[…] Inmates typically live for the next meal so it only seemed appropriate to find ways to spend my time that was also profitable. […]