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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8681/what-prison-really-means/

What Prison Really Means

October 2, 2008 by

At first blush, incarceration would seem to involve a loss of physical mobility – you have to stay in the prison all day and all night. You can’t go anywhere else. But you might have TV to watch, videos, recorded music, e-mail, mail mail, the Internet, even the prison library. So, the inability to move about outside the prison can be adapted to.

But there is another, more-serious deprivation that lends much to what a freedom lover understands as true prison: the prohibition of exchange. This article in today’s Wall Street Journal describes a situation familiar to students of POW camps, concentration camps, and other long-term detention facilities: the emergence of substitute monies. But what emerges in this article that wasn’t previously familiar to me is that federal prisoners, deprived of the right to possess money, are further deprived of all rights to exchange, at least through any medium such as cigarettes or, in this case, mackerel!

My understanding of what constitutes freedom has taken a great leap from this illustration of what it is to be deprived of freedom. And keep in mind: the progressive daily circumscription of our freedom to exchange with each other is subtle. To start with, you don’t have to be in prison to be fully subject to it.


jon October 2, 2008 at 10:20 pm

prisons are perhaps one of the greatest evils the state has ever fostered.

happylee October 3, 2008 at 12:29 am

What struck me about the article was:

1. Money is real. All men, in prison or not, strive to improve their condition. And to improve your condition you must trade. And to foster trade, you must have a medium of exchange.

2. The State will let you buy from a State Store, but will not let you re-sell what you bought, under penalty of time in the “hole.”

3. Did you see what each prisoner was in for? Tax evasion? Protesting? Selling drugs? Not one was in for, say, beating a hapless fellow over the head with a pipe in order to steal his wallet. Paulson is about to steal 700 billion bucks, but he is free, while some guy who wanted to keep a few kopecks from the IRS has to deal Mackerl to survive.

Speedmaster October 3, 2008 at 7:40 am

I read that article yesterday too. Aside from all of the other issues, I was surprised that peaceable free exchange was not allowed between inmates.

euphoria October 22, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I just completed my federal prison sentence,and we are deprived of the right to exchange monies (federal rules and regs) but ,we still find a way to make that transfer. Inmates are far from stupid, with codes for communication amongst other ways ( I’m not going to divulge) we can make it happen. It’s not what happens…but how we perceive what happens. The rules, are what happens from regulations, the exchange, is what happens from our perception of trying make our time less stressful. I remember the day I won a poker game , (which is prohibited) 3 cans of spam and a boatload of jolly ranchers. That made my week, and anything in prison that puts a smile on your face is a good thing. Prisons can take away our freedom, but they can’t take away our freedom to choose how we will react to our situation. That goes for life also. After my release I felt compelled to voice my opinion on just how deficient and frivolous the criminal justice system was. So I created a reality based prison board game using actual events, regulations, laws and of course humor. It’s called Parole-Board “The Ultimate Game of Injustice” http://www.parole-board.com Check it out

Liam March 31, 2011 at 8:48 am

Aside from the fact that this article shows the barbarity of the state prison system, the most interesting passage was this:

“Unlike those more expensive delicacies, former prisoners say, the mack is a good stand-in for the greenback because each can (or pouch) costs about $1 and few — other than weight-lifters craving protein — want to eat it.”

So the prisoners apprently use the mackerel not as a tradeable commodity to be bartered, but as medium of exchange avoiding the problematic double coincidence of wants.

This article should make libertarians happy as it shows the natural propensity of man to trade peaceably amongst themselves.

In fact I’d go so far as to say this story is a great metaphor for how we all live: we try and trade peaceably amongst ourselves but the state and its functionaries try to wreck that peace at every turn.

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