Most Surprising and Cool Things Prisoners Get to Have in Prison

Whether you're in prison in the U.S., Norway, or somewhere else, you may be surprised what prisoner items are actually allowed behind bars.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet. Such a large prison population is a market for companies that supply correctional facilities’ commissaries, such as St. Louis-based Keefe Group. The type of prisoner items that are requested per year can be quite vast too.

Due to fundamental human rights in the nation, prisoners are allowed a lot more than people think. However, it is not just the United States that allows some surprising prisoner items or opportunities inside the prisons. Several other countries offer even weirder things too.

Take a look at some of the most surprising prisoner items.

21.) Art Equipment

art supplies among prisoner items


Prisoners are still people, regardless of what they might have done. They are also creative sometimes and can display that in an art form. Multiple prisons across the world, including the United States, allow art supplies in the prisons for those that want them.

Some prisons have teachers come in to help these people learn how to draw or paint. There have even been small art shows at certain prisons. You’ll tend to see the in-depth stuff like this at white collar prisons. However, there are many art supplies that are not dangerous. Therefore, even regular prisoner items like this can make it through to the more hardened prisons in the world.

20.) Sex Workers

prostitute allowed prisoner items

McAfee Institute

We know what you’re thinking. How in the world is this allowed? Plus, are we talking male or female “people of the night?” Depending on the prison, for years, something called a “conjugal visit” was allowed. Many prisons still allow it in the U.S. too. This type of visit usually only applied to a legal spouse of the prisoner. However, some sex workers made their way in too.

In Hondorus prisons, corrections officers and guards sort of look the other way when it comes to prostitutes in prison. They come in as visitors, and they’re paid for their work by the prisoners. This can be complicated monetarily, but they do get through without much issue.

19.) Books

books allowed prison items

Huffington Post

Prisoner items like books are common and have been allowed in prisons all over the world for centuries. Even some of the most hardcore English, French, and Russian prisons found books perfectly acceptable. In America, we allow them in isolation cells too.

It is so common for books to get through that prisoners eventually were allowed to use books for classes and get their degree while in prison. Some prisons even have big libraries of donated books from several authors on a variety of subject matters.

18.) Alcohol

alcohol allowed prisoner items


It is odd to hear that alcohol is allowed in prisons, but this depends on where you are. Prisons across the world have open concepts of prison that allowed several outside amenities to enter prisons. Norway and some Netherlands prisons allow far more than alcohol too.

Of course, there is also the well-known “toilet wine” that prisoners make. They tend to do this by using the fresh water from their toilets and combine it with different things they might get from the cafeteria. As long as it does not become a problem or prisoners do not make it obvious that they have it, guards often look the other way.

17.) Birds

birds are allowed prisoner items

Smithsonian Insider

This prisoner item depends on the prison, but pets are often allowed.  Birds are the most common pets. This tends to be more allowed at white-collar prisons than your normal public prison. That means the random rich guy who got caught for cheating people out of money will have a bird.

However, the guy who had to sell drugs to make ends meet because of the rich man who cheated his family out of money won’t be able to have access to something like this. Fair? No. However, some prisons outside the U.S. do not care about birds or other animals being in prisons. They love cats around to help with rats in various Asian nations.

16.) Musical Instruments

instruments are allowed prisoner items


Prisoner items like musical instruments are often allowed inside cells. There are times that places around the world may have a music room for something like this, but in America, it’s different. You’ll likely see musical instruments allowed for those in isolation cells. The concept of this is to help them remain sane, considering isolation cells do some real work on the brain.

Not all musical instruments are allowed. Usually smaller types like harmonicas are the most common, and violins are another popular option. Some prisons have music lessons and let prisoners use instruments supplied by the instructors too. Ultimately, the type of instrument comes down to the prison and nation it is located in.

15.) Restaurants

Restaurants allowed prison items

The New York Times

There are several prison restaurants across the United States. There are a few who make money too. Yes, some prisons let a small business of sorts operate inside the prison. These prisons also tend to have places for paying customers to eat outside the cell. Meanwhile, those who do not allow payment for prisons will only let you eat the food if you’re incarcerated at that prison.

Of course, guards and people who work there also can get the food too. A lot of these prisons in the United States that bring in chefs to teach these prisoners a useful life skill. It allows them to be more employable upon their release, which is never a bad thing. This has become a common thing to see across the country.

14.) Near Freedom (Norway)

freedom allowed prisoner items

Huffington Post

Norway and some other nations operate differently compared to nations like the United States. In Norway, prisoners are taken to an island away from people in the country. While here, they will be in open cell areas and work outside the prisons. They even have access to everything they might need.

They have a big open kitchen with full sets of knives as well as metal forks, spoons, and other kitchen tools. No one tries to escape and spend more time learning life skills. The most years someone can spend in prison is 21 years, so what they learn will be useful once they’re released. It turns out that this near freedom that Norway offers works too. They have a 20% repeat incarceration rate, among the lowest in the world. In comparison, it is 56.6% in the U.S, within the first year of a prisoner’s release.

13.) Free Healthcare

healthcare allowed prisoner items

The San Diego Union-Tribune

While it might seem horrible that prisoners are given healthcare, this isn’t exactly wrong. Due to the U.S. following basic human rights, they have to give healthcare to everyone fairly. While you might see a murderer or child rapist in prisons across the nation, you’ll also see your average drug dealer or tax evader too. This makes them different, yet equal in the eyes of the law.

That meant that if one had a right to healthcare, the others did too. This is why the taxpayer foots the bill for prisoners to receive medication and doctor care if they need it. While they do have these rights, it is sadly true that prisoners classically have terrible doctors. This leaves many prisoners in a bad way, despite having what amounts to free healthcare.

12.) Internet and Laptops

computers are allowed prisoner items

TED Ideas

Most prisons, especially public, have computer labs and allow some to use them to take things like online college classes. These computers for attaining certification and simple online fun. You only have so much time in a given week to be here, but it’s well worth it for those who use their time to educate themselves.

Because there are both public and private prisons in the United States, it depends on where you end up regarding what is available. In private prisons, you’ll see more amenities depending on the owner. The prisons do not supply laptops for prisoners, but prisoner items like personal laptops can come with them to their cells for most prisons here. Regarding how they’ll get WiFi to their cell may be up to how good their lawyer is.

11.) Food Selection

food among allowed prisoner items

Medical Daily

At every level of incarceration, from federal prison to county jail, inmates with enough money “on their books” can eschew facility food for fare purchased through the commissary. While most of the selections consist of mundane junk food like chips and candy, or staples such as peanut butter and Ramen noodles, some of the food available in prison commissaries is downright surprising.

Sriracha sauce and yellowfin tuna in Thai chili sauce, anyone? Or perhaps you’re in the mood for pizza tonight. Just pick up a pizza kit with crusts and sauce, add a little white meat chicken, some cheese, olives, jalapeño peppers, and kick it up with the onion you pocketed from the kitchen: Prison pizza paradise!

10.) Video Game Consoles

video games allowed prisoner items

Digital Trends

Inmates in states like Maryland and Wisconsin can purchase video game consoles and lose themselves in a virtual reality that is considerably different from the reality in which they’re living.

Game choices are typically limited to nonviolent, non-explicit titles. Facilities will also cap the number of individual games an inmate can have in his possession. As long as they get to play Mario Kart or Zelda games, most people won’t complain.

9.) Typewriters

typewriters are allowed prisoner items

Hindustan Times

A typewriter is a surprising inmate amenity. This is not only because prisoners in many non-federal facilities can have one but also because such an anachronistic machine is still available for purchase —anywhere.

Courts have held that inmates must be allowed access to typewriters to create legal documents. However, the image of an inmate in his or her cell, hunched over a Smith-Corona, clacking away like a ’40s newspaper reporter, is a startling one.

8.) Televisions

TVs are allowed prisoner items


Many state correctional facilities allow inmates to keep small, personal televisions in their living areas. Illinois prisons, for example, permit flat screen TVs up to 15 inches in prisoner areas. The TVs sold in prison commissaries typically don’t have speakers, so inmates usually have to buy headphones to go along with the TV or use headphones they already own.

There are several other white-collar prisons that offer a bit more than this. Truly, it depends on what you can negotiate as part of your sentence and the prison you enter.

7.) MP3 Players

MP3 Players are allowed prisoner items


Beginning in 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BoP, added MP3 players to commissary lists in several of its facilities. Inmates purchase songs through the inmate computer/email system at facility libraries but do not have access to cables or chargers in their cells. Charging and syncing is done in common areas.

Hundreds of thousands of songs are available for purchase on the BoP system. Most are radio-friendly versions without swearing or other explicit content. Some state prison systems, like Mississippi’s, also offer MP3 players.

6.) Magazines


Vector Illustration/Stock Unlimited

Prisoners love magazines since they don’t require as much effort or time to read as books. It provides them images which help them leave their situation for a second.

It can create a social situation so they can pass along magazines to their friends.

5.) Cheaper Drugs

cheaper drugs

Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

Drugs are typically what send people to prison. When people get sent to prison with an addiction, it continues. In some prisons, drugs are cheaper inside than they are outside.

Dealers are able to smuggle drugs in with guards or visitors.

4.) Money


Stock Photo/Stock Unlimited

Any money gained from work during the prisoner’s sentence is allowed, along with cash sent by loved ones.

The amount they can actually spend weekly varies on the prison policy.

3.) Sewing


Stock Photo/Stock Unlimited

Prisoners who stick to the rules and working towards rehabilitation are allowed to sew. This includes knitting too.

They are able to create blankets, hats, or any piece that can remind them of home.

2.) Radios



Similar to the MP3 players, radios are a great item to have in prison.

There is a variety of radio shows out there like talk shows, music, and story-based shows.

1.) Newspapers


Stock Vector Graphic/Stock Unlimited

While they are a bit more expensive, newspapers are a useful item that prisoners obtain.

It gives them a connection to the outside world, gets them involved with current event topics, and helps them focus their attention elsewhere.

Its good prisoners have these items while they are in prison! Click the next button to see the most unusual death row requests.