Jul

28

 Forever Stamps are used for currency in prisons and psychiatric hospitals where inmates and patients aren't allowed to have money. Not only is it a medium of exchange, it is a good store of value as stamps appreciate with the US Postal rates which historically have never declined.

The days of prisoners and patients 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 tobacco. Regardless, smokers get them and, per supply and demand, the price of tobacco in the facilities has risen astronomically, and can be even more expensive than dope.

When you think of prison economics the second thing that should come to mind after cigarettes is ‘mack' – small tins or pouches of preserved mackerel or tuna. Since 2004, mack has replaced ciggies for trading goods and services because they are small with a inestimable shelf life. Inmates and patients have built an entire economic structure around the oily fish.

Then, in 2007, Forever Stamps became the staple currency because they are smaller and last as long as cigarettes and mack, and they appreciate in value over time. They are non-denominational first class postage which means they can be used to mail first class letters no matter what the future postal rate. For example, in 2013 a Forever Stamp cost $.46 to mail a first class one-ounce letter, but today it costs $.49, which is an appreciation of about 7%.

One pack for a microwaved Mexican cuisine. Two macks for a haircut. Two books of Forever Stamps for a jug of bootleg wine. Forever Stamps are so popular that improvised black markets spontaneously emerge around them with inmates offering everything from handcrafts to clothes and televisions. There are 20 stamps per booklet which has a value of $10.00, and the booklets are generally not broken. That is, starched laundry is a book but never a book-and-half, and a bodyguard for a day may cost five books but stamps are never pulled.

Inmates and patients can procure postage stamps easily and legally by mail or in in-house exchanges for goods and services making them a de facto form of payment. In fact, postage stamps are considered legal tender in the United States. You should be able to go into Wal-Mart or any store and purchase any of these items offered in prisons and hospitals.

However, bill collection in the underworld is more grisly. If inmates don't get paid for goods, services or loans then criminal acts are going to follow. Contract hits over owing Forever Stamps occur daily.

There is an odd wrinkle called 'upping the value' of a booklet by offering a $7.00 item for two books of stamps that are worth $10.00. Yes, it cost the buyer $3.00 more but the thing was in demand with stamps in great supply. The seller may then turn around and put the stamps as money on his prison or hospital commissary account, or send the booklets home to be used as full value to send him more goods or stamps.

All of which means the prison or ward economy runs much like a commodities market: Money in a commissary account can’t be traded, but goods sold at the commissary can be. And since the amounts in circulation are tightly regulated, their value can far surpass their price in dollars. Store men — prison or psych businessmen who have amassed a fortune of stamps — often mail stamps to loved ones outside effectively converting their fortune into cash, reducing the number of stamps in play and thereby inflating the value of individual stamps.

In the corrections and hospital system, enterprising businessmen amass vast fortunes of strange juju. These eccentric fortunes cannot be deposited into traditional banks nor can their value be added on machines. Instead, they are hoarded in secret piggy banks like seat cushions and hollowed bedposts. One never knows when he will need an uncommon item not sold by the commissary such as clean urine (stored in condoms) for a drug test, and has to go to the bank to pay for it. In the joint, everything has a value and ingenuity is priceless.

And with that, we must study the improvised, underground economies of America’s vast prison and psychiatric systems. In traditional economies, money has three primary functions: as a medium of exchange, as a unit of account, and as a store of value. Forever Stamps are the underworld gold standard that citizens outside the walls might envy in some ways.


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1 Comment so far

  1. peter on July 30, 2015 11:57 am

    This great post and the earlier one on the same topic
    reminds me of the text:
    “The Economic Organisation of a P.O.W. Camp” by R. A. Radford

    Probably most here are familiar with it,
    but in case not,
    here is a link:
    http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~hfoad/e111su08/Radford.pdf

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