Couponing inmates


Every time you turn around, it seems, there’s another story about people whose illegal couponing gets them in trouble with the law and sometimes even lands them in prison. So it’s a refreshing change to see a story about how couponing can help keep people out of prison.

That’s the goal of a program in Oregon, which aims to teach inmates some of the life skills they’ll need on the outside, such as budgeting, providing for themselves – and couponing.

The sight of prison inmates clipping coupons and scouring supermarket ads is unusual, to say the least. They certainly don’t fit the image of the typical couponer. It’s such an unusual situation, that their story was recently featured in a Yahoo Finance article (watch the video above).

And it all came about as a result of “that show”.

“I started my program after being approached by one of the inmates that saw the TLC ‘Extreme Couponing’ show,” program leader Jeahara told Coupons in the News. Jeahara (who doesn’t use her last name in her prison classes) had been invited to volunteer at the Oregon State Correctional Institution by a friend, and she immediately saw an opportunity to put her five decades of coupon experience to good use. “I set him straight about couponing,” she said of the inmate who had hoped she could teach him how to amass cartfuls of groceries for free upon his release, just like they do on the TV show.

But the TV show has been criticized for bending and even breaking the rules of couponing, in more ways than one. The inmates “have been locked away and the only information they get is from the shows they watch,” Jeahara said. “That leaves a great impression on them, and sometimes it leaves the wrong impression.”

That teachable moment during Jeahara’s visit to the prison blossomed into something of a couponing crusade. “I had never taught couponing before,” she said. But she put together a sample class that proved so popular, it’s grown into a three-tiered series of classes that cover everything from grocery shopping to getting deals on furniture, appliances and clothing.


Her classes are now part of Prep Oregon, a nonprofit program started by her grandson, that helps inmates transition back into society. The majority of inmates have no family to support them financially, the program points out. With little money, few possessions and limited job prospects, many newly-released inmates end up falling back into a life of crime. Some may even find themselves back in prison. But in a state that already has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country, couponing can help keep them out.

“At first I thought, nah, couponing is for women, for mothers who don’t work and have loads of time to figure out ways to save money,” former inmate Curtis wrote in a testimonial on Prep Oregon’s website. But he attended Jeahara’s classes, and ended up “amazed at the amount of money you can save if you are willing to put a little effort into it.”

Curtis’ roommate Tim agrees. “I can go to the store and more often than not save 50-70% and sometimes more of my bill,” he writes. “This money is more important to an individual in my situation than to the normal everyday person.”

It’s equally important for newly-released inmates to play by the rules and avoid trouble – in life, and in couponing. So Jeahara emphasizes the importance of coupon etiquette. Her “rules” include no shelf-clearing, no misusing coupons and no arguments with cashiers. “I do not want my students out there bullying any clerk, manipulating the system, using coupons in the improper way. The last thing they need is to do fraudulent couponing,” Jeahara said.

As a result, her students – many of them hardened ex-cons – are among the most courteous couponers around. “The clerks and managers will say ‘I think one of your students was in here the other day, they knew the rules and were so polite’,” Jeahara said. “My stores know what I do and are so proud to have my students shop in the stores.”

In the end, it’s all about “the formula”. In order to be successful, Jeahara teaches, you need to know more than just how to coupon. You need to know how to incorporate couponing into your life, without either falling off the wagon, or going overboard. Long before “Extreme Couponing”, Jeahara admits she once let her own couponing get out of control. While today’s extreme couponers “always have their head in a newspaper or on the computer looking for that deal,” she said, “in my day, it was taking coupons out of magazines in the doctors’ offices and hoping no one saw you do it.”

Jeahara hopes her students can learn from her mistakes – and from their own mistakes in life. “I want them to succeed,” she said. “It is up to them to decide which path they choose, but after choosing the wrong path the first time, they are more than eager to take the right path and learn all they can.”

And if the result is fewer convicts in prison, and more courteous couponers in stores – then everyone wins.

To learn more about the program, and how you can help support the organizers’ efforts, click here to visit the Prep Oregon website.

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