Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The jail store -- aka the commissary -- and what you should buy

You'll want to order things from the jail's Commissary. To do so, you need money in your jail account. When you checked into the Mason Marriott, they took any cash you had and put it into your account. You also can have friends or family deposit funds into your account. They can do so in person at the jail or over the phone using a credit card.

Note that there are various charges that the ICJ will make against your account, so your actual balance is lower than you may think. If you want to know the current balance of your account, fill out a kite. Also, when you receive your order from the Commissary, you'll get a statement with their idea of your current balance.

To place an order, you'll fill out an SAT-style bubble sheet. You'll provide your inmate number, name, and post/dorm/bed info. You'll order items from a menu they provide you, ordering each item by its catalog number.

Commissary orders are delivered on Wednesday and Saturday. You'll place your orders a couple of days before. The guards and your fellow inmates will keep you apprised of order nights. (Holidays interfere with the schedule. If you're going to be in jail on Christmas Day, for instance, be sure to make an entire week's order just in case.)

Here is a list of items I think you should order. Some of them may surprise you.
  • Two pairs of underpants, and at least one T-shirt. The T-shirt will be useful not only as a shirt, but also as a cloth you can fold and place over your eyes so you can sleep. You can get your whites washed once a week. A couple of changes of underwear is essential. (Surprisingly, the Commissary's prices on underwear are quite reasonable.)
  • If it's winter, long johns. The jail is old and leaky and your bed may not be warm.
  • Underarm deodorant, and deodorant soap. You only get your uniform washed once a week, and, in hot weather, you won't believe how much you stink without these amenities you're used to.
  • Emery boards. Yes, men, I'm advising you to order emery boards. You can use them to file your nails; it can take days for a guard to loan you nail clippers. You can also use them to sharpen the rubber jail pencils. (Another couple of ways to sharpen your pencils: scrape them along a window screen, or on the non-slip stickers on the bathroom floor.)
  • Envelopes. Order three or four manilla envelopes. They will be useful in organizing your papers -- legal documents, kites you've sent and gotten back, etc. Also order several pre-stamped envelopes.
  • Post cards. This will be an essential form of communication. Order 10 post cards to get you started.
  • Pencils. Order three spare pencils.
  • A rubber eraser to fit on your pencils.
  • A writing pad. You can get a ruled pad or a sketch pad with no lines on it. The sketch pad is the better deal -- it's larger, it's better paper, and you can draw or write without the constraint of the lines.
  • An insulated mug. You can use this for water, coffee, or soup. Plus you'll have a souvenir, with its "Hard Time Cafe" logo mimicking the Hard Rock Cafe.
  • Hand lotion. The jail's water is rough on skin. Get the large bottle; it's a better buy.
Now, order the food items you might want. Here are some suggestions:
  • Honey buns. At 85 cents each, these are a cheap way to get some calories while satisfying your sweet tooth.
  • Peanuts. A nice way to get protein, and the bags are a pretty good value.
  • Soup. A lot of inmates order soup mixes, and use hot water from the tap to turn them into soup. Inventive inmates may mix the soup with other stuff.
  • Coffee. A lot of inmates also order coffee; a surprising number of them drink coffee at night. This is a puzzlement; it's lights out at 11:00 p,m., and you'll be up at 6:00 a.m. But most inmates catch naps during the day. In any event, they love their coffee.
Here's a tip on dealing with your pathetic rubber pencils: they bend so much that they break the lead within. If you take the label off your bottle of lotion, and wrap it tightly around the pencil, you'll find that the pencil is much stronger and will last longer without breaking the lead.

If you arrive in jail with no money in your account, the jail will consider you indigent. You'll also be considered indigent if you have less than $2 in your account for 2 weeks. You can order a very limited set of items: paper, pencil, stamped envelop, stamped post car, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, and a comb.

If it's hot outside and you have to wake 2 weeks for deodorant, you'll need to take lots of showers.

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