Telita Hayes has actually spent thousands of dollars keeping in touch through her ex-husband, william Reese, who is incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Olivia Perillo for The Marshall Project and also The brand-new York time
Every month, Telita Hayes adds practically $200 to the commissary account for she ex-husband, william Reese, who has remained in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for 28 years.

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Each sinner there is given three meals a day and also some personal hygiene items, choose soap and toothpaste. But when Reese gets hungry in between meals, or when his state-issued supplies run out, the commissary money buys that extra food and also other necessities.


The Marshall job is partnering v The new York times Race/Related news to present a weeklong collection on households of the incarcerated. This is the first of five parts.

That is no the only means his imprisonment drains she wallet. On optimal of the $2,161 she has put in his commissary account so much this year, Hayes has actually paid $3,586 in dues for talk to the on the phone when she cannot do the hourlong journey to the prison, and even $419 because that emails sent out through the prison’s email system.


The office of justice Statistics reckons the the United states spends much more than $80 billion annually to keep roughly 2.3 million human being behind bars. Countless experts say that figure is a gross underestimate, though, due to the fact that it leaves out myriad hidden prices that are frequently borne by prisoners and their loved ones, with women overwhelmingly shouldering the financial burden. These costs rise throughout the holiday season, relatives of people in jail say, together they make more visits, call much more often and also send much more care packages.

National data is rarely gathered on how much prisoners’ families pay into the correction system. So to far better understand the hidden expenses of incarceration, The Marshall project asked world to document their spending. Almost 200 civilization responded. Numerous families said they covering out hundreds of dollars each month to feed, clothe and also stay connected to someone behind bars, payment for health and wellness care, an individual hygiene items and also phone calls and also other creates of communication.


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Hayes pulled out a t-shirt with her ex-husband's photograph on it that she do to attend a rodeo.

Olivia Perillo because that The Marshall Project and The new York time

Hayes claimed she spends an additional $200 top top visits and also phone calls approximately Christmastime. Prison is hard enough; making it through it alone is also harder—especially during the holidays.


“I think the greatest misconception that human being have around prison is that ‘the state’ pays because that everything,” wrote Connie Martin, 50, from Hazel Park, Michigan. “No one realizes that it’s the friends and families of loved ones that pay.”

The Prison plan Initiative, an organization working to reduce mass incarceration, approximates that families spend $2.9 exchange rate a year top top commissary accounts and phone calls. Families are also often responsible for paying court fees, restitution and fines when a member goes to prison. Follow to a 2015 report by the Ella Baker center for human being Rights, front Together, and Research activity Design, the average household paid around $13,000 in fines and also fees.

Kae Boone, 52, claims she spends $100 a month on her boyfriend, Charles Lee Isaac, 52, who is incarcerated in ~ the Graceville work-related Camp in Graceville, Florida, for failing a medicine test, a violation of his parole for an previously offense. Boone says the money mainly goes toward toiletries and also food. The one hotel-sized bar that soap Isaac gets each week native the jail won’t last through a complete week that showers.

Keeping him clean and also fed has required Boone to make trade-offs in her very own life. Periodically she battles to salary her very own bills. “I had actually one of my cars repossessed because I would favor to send the money and make certain he’s taken care of,” she said.


In countless facilities, straightforward items are sold by exclusive vendors, frequently with substantial markups or added service fees. Over the years, the expense to family members has boosted as prisons and also jails across the country increasingly outsource plenty of of the straightforward functions of to run a correctional basic to private companies.


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Hayes puts on her ex-husband's favourite shoes in ~ her residence as she prepares to go visit him at The Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Olivia Perillo because that The Marshall Project and The brand-new York time

It is a tendency that has accelerated since the 2008 recession, as state legislatures have looked for means to carry down the rising expense of incarceration, follow to Hadar Aviram, a professor in ~ the university of California, Hastings college of the Law. “Public prisons are public only by name,” she said. “These days, you salary for everything in prison.”

Prison officials frequently say the move to private sellers makes the prisons an ext secure and also prevents contraband from gift smuggled in with exterior food or gifts. Numerous families to speak they’re currently paying more for the same products they provided to be able to purchase on their own.

“Back in the day, we might buy underwear and also tennis shoes and jeans and also have the shipped straight to the inmate,” stated Hayes, who is 50. Now, she said, she has to go through approved vendors.

“The price is jacked increase on everything,” she said. End the two years since the pair reconnected ~ a 12-year separation, Hayes approximates that she has spent upward of $10,000 sustaining him in prison. She ex-husband is serving a life sentence because that aggravated rape, for this reason the costs of staying in touch can extend for numerous years.


When Dawn Hodges, 47, moved earlier to she hometown, she learned the her childhood friend T.J. Davis, additionally 47, to be serving a two-year sentence because that driving top top a rely license. Davis had been in and also out of jail over the years as he struggled to get over a drug addiction. Although he had been sober and out of trouble for practically a decade, the driving fee violated the regards to his parole.

At first, Hodges created Davis letters. Yet when your exchanges rekindled old feelings, they wanted to stay in touch much more often, so Hodges purchase Davis a tablet device. The tablets, which cost $80, offer Florida prisoners much more ways to affix with people earlier home, consisting of email and video clip calls—but in ~ a price.

Each email requires a digital “stamp,” which expenses $12 for a collection of 30. Pictures and also attachments require an additional stamp. Hodges claims she emails Davis at least once a day, blowing v 30 come 40 stamps a month.

Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate households Association, considers the money that world like Hodges spend an additional tax. The high prices room the an outcome of contracts that are written with profits in mind, she said. Texas recently reduced the expense of telephone calls with detainees to 6 cent a minute, native 23 cents, through negotiating a much better deal with the provider.

In claims where the prices are quiet exorbitant, the is perilously straightforward to party on expensive solutions to stay in touch. As a result, people trade tips for conserving money through many Facebook groups and also chat rooms for families of the incarcerated.


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The Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola Prison, in December.

Olivia Perillo for The Marshall Project and The brand-new York times

Whatever your workarounds, family members members claimed the strain of recognize the money to stay in touch and also ease the burdens that incarceration exacts a continual emotional toll.

“At times ns can’t purchased stamps, and also my love one feels forgotten about, yet life is expensive the end here,” wrote Jestine Pudlo, 24, of decision River, Florida. “I can not afford to placed money ~ above the phone, either, for this reason I have actually to decrease calls, and also it hurts my love to carry out that.”

In November and December, human being incarcerated in federal prisons are enabled to get an extra 100 minute of phone call calls. Family members members speak the extra time deserve to feel prefer a lifeline due to the fact that of restrictions on receiving presents from external prison.

Those constraints make calls and also visits about the holidays extremely important, composed Sheena Perron, 34, from St. Paul, Minnesota. “I discover myself willing to put myself in a jae won crunch simply to do that communication happen!”


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Nicole Lewis is a employee writer report on felony disenfranchisement and also other worries that directly impact the incarcerated and also their families. She has received several honors because that the first-of-its-kind political survey of the currently incarcerated. Previously, she wrote for The Washington Post.

Beatrix Lockwood has reported ~ above criminal justice concerns including family members of the incarcerated, prison food, and also electronic monitoring. She offers social media and also engagement report to include an ext community voices in stories.