The CashApp Way - Enabling Corrupt Prison Guards

William "Dollar Bill" Mersey
Photo byNew York Times

I had to laugh yesterday upon hearing a local news feature revealing that a Rikers Island prison guard had just been indicted for accepting $6000 in bribes from a prisoner in exchange for muling drugs into the facility. The detainee would then deal the smuggled marijuana to his incarcerated homies at a considerable markup. And how did that prisoner pay the dirty guard? CashApp, baby. The criminal’s best friend.

Prisons and jails are in theory cashless societies. Whatever commerce is conducted is supposed to be of the throwback barter variety. (“I’ll swap you a tuna pack for a bar of soap,” just for example.) But there are ways to circumvent that. 

Take me and my experience at MCC federal prison, where I was locked up for almost a year. In addition to working suicide watch at night, I labored in the kitchen during the afternoon hours mopping floors and opening and traying dozens of 7-pound cans of vegetables — all for 6 cents per hour. 

I know that pay grade sounds absurd (and it is). But there were two perks. First kitchen workers ate better food than the general population. And second, we were given relatively lavish meals we could sell upstairs after our shifts were over. Exactly how would that sale go with no cash? Enter Cash App.

I would usually sell my chicken dinner for five dollars, payable in commissary items that held a dollar value. Mackerel packs went for a buck. Tuna packs two dollars — and on down the line. Once I had accumulated $100 worth of goods, I would then contact another enterprising inmate who would hoard certain items and then sell them at a premium when commissary ran out (which happened frequently at MCC) at a 20% discount ($80). 

That’s all good — but how was my business partner going to pay me? I hardly wanted different commissary items. I pretty much had them all in my Santa bag. 

Enter CashApp. He would contact a family member on the outside and have that person CashApp $80 to my prison commissary account. When I saw that the money had been deposited, I’d hide the $100 worth of goods in a laundry bag and truck it over to King’s tier. I didn’t have $80 in my hand. But I did have it in an account with a balance I’d get back upon release. 

That it took 30 phone calls, 10 emails, and 6 months to finally get that money after I got out is yet another sad saga in the mind-boggling inefficiency that defined MCC federal prison. But that’s a story for another day.

Here’s another CashApp moment: Six months into my one-year “vacation” behind bars, Paul Manafort became my celly. My previous partner had just been released, and a week later when Paul arrived, the warden needed to find an appropriate bunky for Paul. Let’s see. Mersey (that’s me). Caucasian…69 years old…in for tax fraud…educated? You get the idea. They put him in with me.

As previously mentioned, I was working two jobs and thus, out of the unit most of Paul’s waking hours. And it wasn’t long before Paulie was courted by a Bernie Madoff wannabe who fancied him to be his very own. But how to remove him from my cell so he could migrate to Dan’s.

Enter the corrupt prison guard and CashApp technology. Dan lobbied Carl (the guard), CashApped him money as an inducement to make the change, and one day after I came back to my cell from the kitchen, Paul was gone.

This nefarious scheme came to light when I chose a prisoner from Dan’s tier as my next celly. Chan knew all the dirt on this exchange and informed the first night we became cellies. 

The next day, the guys in Dan’s tier implored Chan to move back, fearful that he’d spill the beans and I’d rat out the entire hustle. Chan didn’t move — and I left well enough alone. Paulie wasn’t a bad celly. But he snored and farted a lot — and got up in the middle of the night to read the bible. Conversely, Chan didn’t snore — slept through the night — and was only flatulent when he ate a lot of fish. I kept him for the final 5 months of my incarceration. 

Back to the point: How to fix the situation with corrupt guards. First, let them know if they get caught, they’re going to serve serious time. Make the risk/reward equation such that they won’t even try it. Second, try to somehow prevent these CashApp exchanges between prisoners and guards. The technology is just too easy to access and is facilitating business transactions that would be better left more difficult to navigate.

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Alt views, news, and opinions from Greenwich Village, NY. Contributor for the Daily Beast, New York Daily News, Daily Mail, The Independent, and New York Times

New York, NY

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