Smoking Pot in Prison

By Seth Ferranti 04/19/13

You have to be resourceful to light up behind bars these days. A prisoner tells The Fix how it's done.

Lighting up in prison is an acquired skill.
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Marijuana use in prison is very common, with inmates employing a range of tactics to get the weed inside. But with no access to accesseries like bongs, pipes or rolling papers, prisoners need to be extra-resourceful to light up—particularly now that tobacco products are outlawed in federal prisons. "It's real difficult in here these days," one inmate tells The Fix. "Especially since they don't sell cigarettes or cigars anymore. When you get some pot you have to find something to roll it up in. You can always use a soda can crunched in the middle and with holes in in it, but without a steady flame that is hard to smoke out of. The outside wrapper from a toilet paper rolls works best," he continues, "but then you have to find a light and that can be a job in itself."

To light up, prisoners often resort to "stone age" tactics, using batteries and candy wrappers from the prison commissary. "We use two triple a batteries and a thin aluminum strip to get a flame," says the prisoner. "You just run the strip between the batteries—and trust me, it's an acquired skill." Getting a flame is only the first hurdle; inmates then have to worry about not getting busted by prison guards while they're toking. "With no tobacco to cover up the smell, it's rough," the prisoner says. To hide the scent, baby powder or Muslim prayer oil are often employed. Another method involves cutting up a joint into small pieces and smoking it inside a toilet paper roll. "A cop doesn't even have to catch you smoking a joint, if he smells marijuana by your cell he can put you on the hot list and you will get piss tested," says the prisoner. Those busted can be sent to the "hole" (a high-security punishment zone within the prison) or put on 24-hour lockdown, for up to several months.

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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 You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.