These “cell-ebrities” finally got their big prison break.
Jailbirds are cashing in as influencers and racking up fans online. No longer behind bars, these former inmates and ex-cons are racking up large followings with their videos, some boasting millions of followers — all while making millions of dollars.
And no, this has nothing to do with Kim Kardashian and her recent interest in prison reform. Video blogs about penitentiary life have garnered fanfare long before the reality star began her jail-justice crusade.
With 1.27 million subscribers, one such vlog, “After Prison Show,” was started three years ago by ex-con Joe Guerrero after he served seven years for cocaine and firearm possession. Guerrero’s first viral video was about how to make a prison tattoo gun, the Washington Post reported, and his channel now has nearly 205 million total views.
Guerrero says that YouTubing is now his full-time job, which earns him “a six-figure income.”
“Until now, my life had been a constant failure,” Guerrero told the Washington Post in June. “I told myself that if I’m going to make it this time or if I’m going to fail, I want to show people what it’s like. A lot of people have no idea what it’s like to serve time and then try and restart their life.”
Unlike documentaries that tackle incarceration rates or social justice issues, these popular prison shows on YouTube discuss the grit and grime with no taboo topics barred. The “Lockdown 23and1” channel, which has 405,000 subscribers, even touched on questions including “What happens after the lights go out?” and even the perennial cliche: “What happens when someone drops soap in the shower?”
The channel “Fresh Out- Life After The Penitentiary” has a segment called “Prison Talk” with popular videos about joining a gang in prison, with 3.5 million views, and the perils of being short and skinny in jail, with 3.7 million views.
Marcus Timmons, also known as “Big Herc,” runs the popular “Fresh Out” channel, which has over 450,000 subscribers. An ex-con convicted of bank robbery, he recently told Insider he makes “thousands of dollars a month in ad payouts” from his popular videos.
Some even discuss tips and tricks for surviving the cellblock. Guerrero’s most popular videos include 10 ways to cook ramen in prison, which has 2.7 million views, how to make a lighter in prison, which racked up 1.5 million watches and a recipe for “prison pizza” with more than 1.3 million views.
So who’s watching? According to Timmons, it’s not just inmates looking for survival tactics, but also curious minds.
“A lot of our audience was originally ex-prisoners, but now we’re starting to get people from the outside who have never entertained life in prison — people would come from a more productive environment and they’re watching the show and leaving comments and questions,” Timmons told the Washington Post.
One such person who commented on Timmons’ YouTube page was a fellow ex-con, Wes Watson. He told Insider that an interview on the “Fresh Out” channel helped to catapult him into enough fame to launch his own channel, “GP- Penitentiary Life Wes Watson,” which has 215,000 subscribers.
Watson told Insider that his monthly income is $10,000, generated from ads on his popular YouTube videos. He also does life coaching, charges fitness-training clients $250 monthly and has plans to launch an online platform priced at $47 a month.
“[Success] is just helping as many people as I can through my platform,” he says, “and just steering people away from these negative traits.”