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Words and photos by Emily O’Brien.

“Ok Em, you asked.”

Kelly, a fellow inmate, comes into the library and sits down, proudly placing an unopened box of pads in front of me. 

Finally, I was going to learn how to make a dildo out of pads. My own personal prison sex toy…also a prohibited item.

Let me go back a bit. 

My name is Emily O’Brien. I am 30 years old, and I just got out of a federal prison. I had a one night stand with the drug trade and ended up attempting to mule drugs over the Canadian border. This situation was a culmination of a bad relationship, a drug and alcohol addiction, and a fascination with the dangerous lifestyle. A dumb move I must say. After a grueling two and a half years on bail, I agreed to a plea deal (a joint submission with the prosecutor) of four years. In prison. It was never in my five, ten, or fifteen year life plan, but hey, there I was. 

As former honor roll student and pretty successful business owner, I knew that I had the capability to turn the whole situation around and pay the price of the crime I had committed. 

What I did not know, was that there was another form of punishment that came along with this sentence. Sex was absolutely prohibited.

I didn’t go to prison with the intent of starting a relationship. In fact, I was already in one, so I paid most of my attention to the person on the phone. I soon started to get lonely, but again, I didn’t have any interest in seeking out a companion. I I had my urges, though, like anyone else would, so my partner and I would have dirty conversations over the phone, fluffing myself up for solo time later. 

Alas, when the time came for me to, well, take care of those urges in the privacy of my own room, I had to be careful. I had to time it perfectly so the guards wouldn’t be making the rounds. If you were caught in the act (having sex with someone else, masturbating without clothes on, etc.) you would be charged, and subsequently have to go to court again. 

What’s the punishment for something as horrendous as pleasuring oneself or another person? We’re talking fines of up to a day’s work in pay, being banned from seeing that other person, and receiving an incident report ( which is embarrassingly shared amongst all prison staff). One time, I fell asleep without my clothes on after some “alone time”, and the guards told me they were offended by my body and if it happened again they were going to charge me. I would have to go to “kangaroo court” (aka prison court for nudity.) Everyone found out, and I was humiliated.

If you were caught with any sex toys, they would be seized. So — as you can probably imagine — we all got pretty creative with our devices. I had no idea you could make a fully functioning dildo with a box of pads and exceptional handiwork! Erotic literature was also a huge hit. The erotic novels never spent a day on the shelf at the prison library, that’s for sure. Still, it was definitely not the same. Even conjugal visits could take months and months to get approved. It was awful. Needless to say, I was beyond excited for my conditional release (again, literally) after 10 months. 

That is, until I found what would come next…

What I didn’t quite understand back then is that once an inmate is eligible for parole (meaning they get released into the community to finish their sentence), they have to abide by a strict set of conditions. For me, one of those conditions is that I have to report every detail of my sexual relationship to my parole officer. Because I was with my boyfriend at the time of my offense, sex has everything to do with my bringing drugs over the border in the eyes of the law. My sex life is now under their jurisidition. 

Everytime I meet with my parole officer I feel uncomfortable. She always asks if I’m sleeping with anyone, and if so, needs their names and numbers. She calls my friends to ask them if we are sleeping together, trying to catch me in a lie. 

Sex is something that’s supposed to be personal, but when you go to prison, everything is taken away. I thought sex would be the one private thing I had left after getting out of prison. I was wrong. These conditions will continue until 2022, when my parole is done. 

At the very least, I’m living on my own, so my sex toys are allowed and I can roam around nude as I please. I begrudgingly report my relationships, because I would rather talk about my sex life with my parole officer than not have one at all. I hope that one day, women going through the system will have sexual agency and not be forced to discuss their intimate lives with someone they barely know. Until then, I offer this sacred DIY to anyone who might need it: 

Behold, the DIY Prison Dildo: 

You will need:

5-6 overnight pads (the longer the better) and condoms (lots of condoms).

  1. Unwrap each pad and roll very tightly lengthwise, do this with each pad
  2. Stick all rolled up pads together, for the desired girth! More pads=bigger dildo size
  3. Rip one more pad in half, covering using sticky surface to cover each end
  4. Cover with condom and VOILA!
  5. Enjoy.

Emily O’Brien is the founder of Cons & Kernels popcorn company. It all started when she went to prison. Before, Emily was an entrepreneur and social media professional, having created her own firm at a young age and enjoyed great success. Regrettably, addiction caused her to make some poor choices that culminated in a four-year jail term.

As her sentence began, Emily made it her mission to transform herself, get clean, and make a positive difference during her term. “I didn’t know how I’d make a difference at the time,” says Emily, “but I knew I would find something I cared about that would benefit from a purpose-driven facelift.”

Thus, Cons & Kernels was born.

Upon her release, Emily made a decision to start a popcorn company that used high quality, health-conscious ingredients to create unique flavors inspired by the ones she found in prison. A fun, self-deprecating brand that would also help remove the stigma around people who had prior convictions and provide newly-released offenders with the chance at a fresh start through training, empowerment, and education.