How Women In Prison Use Sharpies & Jolly Ranchers To Make Makeup

Photo Courtesy Of Lisa Iaboni, The Marshall Project.
This piece was reported and written by Simone Weichselbaum for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice that has just launched. Subscribe to its newsletter, or like it on Facebook.
Female inmates have limited access to hair and beauty products; commissaries in federal facilities generally offer bronzer, lip gloss, and liquid concealer. Most state and county facilities provide less, primarily mascara and eyeliner. So, inmates regularly concoct their own makeup, or “fakeup,” using food, lotions, and other items provided by their facilities.

Jolly Ranchers, M&Ms, & Colored Pencils
For hair gel, soak a Jolly Rancher in a cup of hot water, add a dab of body lotion, and apply on one’s tresses. For eyeshadow, break open a colored pencil, crush into a powder, mix into a clump of baby powder, and dab on the eyelids. To make an eye pencil, sharpen a colored pencil on a concrete wall and apply the point delicately on the eyelids. For foundation, use as much coffee as needed to match one’s complexion, pour the amount into a dollop of regular face cream, stir, and enjoy. M&Ms serve multiple fakeup needs: Mix the sweet candy-coated shells with hot water to make a lip stain. Use the leftover nut — if using peanut M&Ms — to crush into a spoonful of face cream, creating a protein-packed facial mask.

The Insider’s Perspective
“Colored pencils dried out the eyelids. Girls' eyes would be red,” says former Las Colinas Detention Facility inmate Annie Burchard, who is now at the nonprofit Welcome Home Ministries. Her favorite fakeup trick? “Using a T-Mobile ad [in the newspaper]. It has the perfect pink. I would put baby powder on my hands and use it as a base. Then, you take the newspaper ad, and run it on your cheekbone. It’s like a sheer blush.”

Photo Courtesy Of Lisa Iaboni, The Marshall Project.

What Everyone Gets Wrong
Corrections officers don’t necessarily spend their days hunting down inmates’ makeup stashes. In fact, many guards tend to ignore unauthorized beauty practices. According to Danyell Williams, with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, no one stopped female inmates in Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility from dyeing their hair with fruit-punch powder. “You had to be careful. Because, all this stuff was contraband. You weren’t really supposed to do it,” says Williams, who spent seven years in the jailhouse running a parenting program. “But, the corrections officers let them.”

The Lipstick Dilemma
Inmates held in the adult detention center in Fairfax County, Va., aren’t allowed to receive lipstick-stained letters. If a staffer spots a kiss mark on a piece of mail, it is sent back to the sender. A smear of makeup can easily be laced with LSD, or traces of other narcotics, according to Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Andrea Ceisler. “In the past, they used it to disguise drugs,” she says.

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