Saturday, August 7, 2021
Photo of a wooden box with seeds in it.
Photo by Jack Matthew Heard


If I can make an essay out of something like coffee in prison, then I can write about anything . . . so let’s take a stab at it.

If you’ve been reading my journals, you’ve seen that there are so many things about prison that the average person knows little to nothing about. Society only sees prison through the media’s eyes, which is based on what prisons and county jails show them. And while it’s not the media’s fault, since they can only report what is given, it also ignores that the inmate has a voice. I wish people would listen to what we have to say.

So why am I talking about coffee? Because in most jails and prisons, coffee is a very critical thing to have. I never thought much about it before I got arrested. I mean, at home I drank a little coffee, maybe a cup or two a week, and during the winter. And, if I did drink coffee, it was with a lot of sugar. But here in prison, it’s essential to at least half of the inmate population.

Why is coffee so valued? I think many guys here drink it for the coffee; here at USP Tucson, they don’t give us any sugar. All the drinks are diet, the candy is sugar free, and even the water is . . . well, you get the idea. They sell Sugar Twin and Sweet ‘N Low in canteen, but to be honest, I hate these. Yet I buy them because I need to “sweeten” my coffee.

And I do buy coffee. Here, at the moment, they sell Keefe Columbian for $3.40 a three-ounce box; Keefe Columbian Blend for $2.30 a box; Maxwell House for $3.05 a bag; Folgers, for an eight-ounce jar it’s $6.90; and a bag of Taster’s Choice for $8.90 a bag. They’re getting rid of the Taster’s Choice for some no-name brand called “Deep Country,” a brand NOBODY asked for, yet the prison insists it was our idea. Idiots.

So, if I don’t drink coffee much, why do I buy it? And, as of the writing of this essay, I have a LOT of coffee. If I drank two cups of eight ounce coffee a day, what I have could last me a year! So . . . why do I have so much?

Because coffee, I’ve found, is a great icebreaker. It comes in handy when people are down on their fortune and need something as simple as a cup of coffee. Coffee drinkers know that feeling when you take that first sip of coffee . . . the calmness you get from it. No different here.

In stressful times, sometimes a “spot” of coffee helps so much. I don’t drink a lot of coffee, but I know many who do. So, when I can splurge, I buy coffee, sometimes creamer, and hot cocoa powder to make blends. For example, I have a bag of Keefe Columbian and Maxwell House blend. That bag alone (three-ounce bag) can likely last me a month. For some coffee drinkers here, that’s two weeks.

Sometimes I buy coffee for certain people. One kid here is a friend and is twenty-two years old. He’s a good kid, like a little brother to me. He loves coffee but can’t afford to buy it. So I try to keep coffee on me; whenever he needs some, I’ll fill a small pill bottle with coffee and give it to him. I usually buy it for him. But I also share with others, while being discreet. I can’t share with everybody because, as you’d imagine, there are people who only take and never give. Believe me, I learned my lesson of being “too nice” (and still learning it). 

Yet it doesn’t take from my compassion. I know I can’t drink all this coffee. It’s like six Folgers’ jars full. (Note, a Folgers coffee jar says eight ounce, but that’s about thirty liquid ounces. That’s a big jar, and a LOT of coffee.)

I like sharing; it makes me feel good. And yeah, next time I go to canteen, I’ll likely get a little more coffee. It’s just good to have in case somebody really needs a cup to start their day or to just kinda relax. 

What sucks is how they overcharge us; a thirty-ounce Maxwell House at many stores costs about five bucks. But because prisons contract sales to some senator’s cousin’s nephew’s cat, and because Fluffy just has to have diamond-crusted paw warmers, we get fleeced. Don’t get me started on that . . . really, don’t get me started.

Anyway, it’s just my way, when I buy coffee, to help some guys in the midst of some troubled times. In prison, we go through much more than people think, and when prison staff treats inmates like slaves or Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp, it’s very degrading. Many just need a single act of kindness to remind them that they’re still human.

Sometimes it’s found in a simple act of kindness––and a cup of coffee.

Until next time––