Story: How I used Bitcoins to Help an Imprisoned Friend

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Recently I faced an uncommon problem of helping a friend imprisoned for possession of drugs in Russia. To make it more interesting, I’ll tell you the backstory.

A few years ago, my friend, hereinafter referred to as Vasia, was investigated for possession of Mary Jane. Due to some circumstances, the court sentenced him to 5 years in a general regime penal colony. At that time, I was living in the U.S., and knew about it only when Vasia was in jail.

Certainly, I was willing to help my friend; and there are some traditional and simple ways to do that, like writing a letter, sending a parcel, or sending money to his cell-phone account (I doubt anyone can be surprised by availability of cell phones in jail). The most convenient way for me was to send money, mostly for geographical reasons. The confidentiality was another issue. Sending money from a plastic card was a poor solution.

To summarize it, here is the task: 1. Sending money from abroad; 2. The receiving party is in jail; 3. The transaction shall be anonymous.

Then I thought bitcoin was the most convenient method. First of all, I didn’t want to disclose my personal data, especially in such delicate matter. Secondly, I could not replenish Vasia’s account with cash, as I might have done it with a payment terminal in Russia.

Surprisingly, the search for a suitable service was short. Within forty minutes’ time, twenty of which I spent to compare rates at different sites, I replenished my friend’s account with bitcoins. It was fast, convenient, and confidential. Hopefully, the readers may find my modest life-hack useful in some less dramatic situations.

I will not provide the names of the services I employed for my purposes, but I should state that the involved fees are usually pretty high. I managed to find at least three international services to do what I was going to do. Some of them allowed for reverse operations, i.e. buying bitcoins with a text message. Even though, to my knowledge, this kind of mobile payments is not widespread in Russia, they may become of greater demand in the future.

A bit later, having given it a thought, I realized bitcoin might become a very convenient currency for prisoners. Remembering the private and the public keys (which is not so easy, but it’s worth it) is enough to effect transactions between the prisoners, for buying stuff, food, or cigarettes. This kind of black market is a commonplace for jails. Certainly, the situation requires a third party to check the wallet balance and validity of the keys, but it still is much safer than having cash or paying with text messages. Phone and cash money may be stolen any moment, but as for a private key, it is not that easy.

By the end of the day Vasia had his money.

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