Drug Markets Thrive in US Prisons

By Seth Ferranti 06/06/12

Pot, heroin and oxy are all widely available behind bars, as one prisoner describes to The Fix.

You can get your hands on what you want
Photo via

The War on Drugs has resulted in an amazing amount of locked-up drug dealers, users and addicts. Given these ingredients, it's not surprising that US prisons host miniature versions of the wider drug market. Every facility has its own black economy, through which every drug imaginable is available—only in more limited quantities than on the outside. "You can get whatever you want in here," one current prisoner tells The Fix, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals from prison authorities. "Marijuana, heroin, whatever. They had oxy-80s on the pound for $160 each. It's way more expensive than on the street, but if you got the money you can buy them." Marijuana is typically sold in ChapStick caps, and goes for $25 a cap. Heroin is usually sold in $50 or $100 papers; one gram of heroin will make twelve $100 pieces. We're talking small amounts, but in prison, just like the outside, drugs are in high demand and are a lucrative market—with prices inflated by scarcity.

"Whenever somebody makes a score, he puts the word out and all the drugs are bought up," the prisoner tells us. The preferred form of currency is books of stamps, which are valued at $6 each. "When the weed, heroin or oxys hit the yard, dudes have their stamps ready," he continues. "It's a first-come, first-serve basis, but you better have your cash in hand if you're looking to cop." Prison dealers always want payment up front. Marijuana, heroin and Oxycontin are the most popular substances overall, and supply generally meets demand. "I got busted for oxys and I can still get them in here," the prisoner reflects. "The sad thing about it all is, they lock you up for drugs and they can't even keep the drugs out of the prison."

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.