In most prisons inmates are required to hold a job unless they are physically unable. During my 5 years I held many different jobs. I cleaned tables in the cafeteria, worked in the chapel and held the always glamorous job of cleaning toilets. You can also work in the laundry, landscaping, barber shop, and recreation. Federal prisons also have the opportunity to work in UniCor, which produces various good and services delivered specifically to the government. They manufacture clothing for the military, process patents for the patent office, sew clothing for inmates, run print services for government offices and other similar services.
Pay for non-UniCor jobs ranges from about $5 to $200 month (starting at about 15 cents an hour) depending on the job. The most desirable jobs with the best pay are in the commissary and cooking in the kitchen. In Unicor, you can make up to $300 or so a month. As the cost of phone is up to 26 cents per minute (around $70/month) and use of email is 5 cents per minute, the money can disappear quickly.
I recommend finding a job as soon as you hit the compound. It takes time and effort to get into a good position, but it is possible. You will need to get to know the corrections officer in charge of that work detail and show up regularly and persistently to demonstrate your reliability and dependability. It also helps to get to know the head orderly on the detail as they tend to have some say in who is hired. At times, it is possible to pay a little homage to them with some ice cream or something to grease the skids a little.
Ultimately, work helped me learn some discipline and humility. It taught me to serve others and not get caught up in my own pride. It also helped me stay busy and active. God used the time to teach me lessons I didn’t learn when I should have learned them earlier in life. I tried to live by Colossians 3:23 – “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”