I first learned about the resident underground economy here when Janeen (pseudonym) became my roommate three years ago. When she moved back in last December she was still shopping and swapping items with other residents. Though Janeen claimed she had nothing good to swap, she managed to do a deal anyway.
Janeen told me she would love to go to a dollar store to shop, but she never got to. Most of the residents have that problem. There is no instant gratification from purchasing here. Janeen used to leave our room and return with items I had never seen before. That concerned me because I wondered if she had taken them. But when I asked her where they came from, she always told me they were given to her.
Although the shop/swap market is not condoned by management or nursing, nothing seems to stop the residents from doing it. There is subterfuge involved. Transactions are done quietly. I have seen a few and some residents drive a hard bargain.
When Janeen was my roommate a few months ago, she would leave and frequently return with a large plant. She did this over and over. That same plant was in and out of our room many times. I never knew if she bought it or swapped something for it. She kept it for a few days and then it would be gone again. The plant never had a chance to wilt or die in our room. It was constantly on the move.
A few years ago, a male nurse shared a story about resident shop-and-swaps. He told me the highest priced item ever sold was a two-liter bottle of soda pop, which a resident sold to another for $10.
The shopping and swapping has become cultural and based on need. Some residents sell or swap clothing that no longer fits or items they do not want. Some residents sell or swap items to get something different. I guess the resident market is not that different from shopping at a thrift store.
Even though facility management tries to curtail this, I can understand why staff might look the other way. After daytime activities there is little to do. Smoking is the major outlet. For those who do not smoke Christian activities are a great second choice. But weekend and after-hours, shopping and swapping with other residents provides a rewarding distraction.