The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save-the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour-your capital. The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life-the greater is the store of your estranged being.Karl Marx
Life certainly isn’t all about material possession. Many find happiness while living a minimalistic lifestyle, but they get to have experiences–travel the world, have dinner with a friend, go to the theatre. Of course, you need money to do these things.
What if you don’t have money, or the time? It’s convenient to substitute experiences with material possessions to feel some satisfaction. When you come into some money, it’s easy to spend it on something you want rather than save it. Is this a lack of self-control? A lack of responsibility? No. Not at all. It’s a way to find joy in a world that hasn’t necessarily been joyful.
In prison, there are only a few items inmates are given for free; anything considered more luxurious can be bought in the commissary–like feminine hygiene products that are of decent quality.
If an incarcerated person has no one to put money on their books, they get $12 a month to spend in commissary, and have a separate items list to choose from. For reference, below is the indigent commissary list. The master list is four pages long and can be found here.
Feeling human is difficult while in an environment that is inherently dehumanizing. In reference to commissary, one of the women we are working with said “It makes you feel human…It’s a little thing but it’s a big thing in there.” Being indigent means you cannot afford to be human. Yes, you can buy basic hygiene products and some stationary, but that’s it. By restricting people who shop indigent–no snacks, no games, no makeup–it makes a statement that they do not deserve to enjoy.
Why is the prison system so adamant about disconnecting the human from the being? Shouldn’t rehabilitation, success, and happiness be encouraged? Of course not; that would give them hope.
The point of this post isn’t just to rant about the injustice of the prison system and economic inequality . I think about the women we are working with and how different their fond memories from life outside of prison are compared to ones made in prison. From making “spongebobs” to saving enough money to buy a radio, some of their best memories in prison center around the ability to own items and make them their own. A memory that has stuck with me since one of the women, Meagan, told me about it is when she received a birthday present from her family while at Hope Rises. Her nieces bought a stuffed bunny and sprayed it with her mom’s perfume. She says, to this day, the bunny smells like her mom. While it is a memory involving a material item, the satisfaction comes from the sentimental value.
It is quite amazing to see the resilience of these women–how they are able to have hope after being in an institution that tried everything possible to suppress it. I am so excited for the ladies to tell their stories and for the world to hear them.