Cigarettes were money. You could get almost anything if you had a pack of cigarettes. Since Russ didnít smoke, it was money in the bank. He traded for soap, eggs from Jap guards and for coconut fuel oil used by Japanese in the diesel engines that furnished power for the camp. When refined, it could be used for cooking oil. There was a lot of black market operating.
All gatherings were forbidden including worship services. At 9 p.m. Cabanatuan was completely blacked cut except for the coal oil lamps in the guard hut and the tower lights zigzagging in and out of the compound. And with the darkness came the mosquitoes in droning hordes.
The camp cemetery was 1600 feet to the north and the men had to dig graves with homemade hoes. Most of the dirt had to be removed by hand or placed in buckets and lifted out, even though the common grave was only three feet deep. The dead were placed side by side in the grave and no services were allowed. Occasionally a chaplain on a work detail would slip into the grave and offer a prayer.
Although the death rate was high in Cabanatuan, transfer prisoners reported that in other prison camps it bordered on out-right genocide.
Medicines to help the men in their fight against diseases were being smuggled into the compound. Men gave rings money, anything of value to buy sulfa, quinine, anesthetics, chloroform, and others not labeled from the Filipino guerrillas.
Soon after Russ entered the camp, he found some of the officers were making a candy out of sugar and water and selling it for 25 cents a piece. So through the black market, Russ bought sugar, coconut oil, even some nuts and made a better candy for less money. He also made the box it was sold from with a cover to help keep flies out as flies were a terrible problem in the camps. Russ said when you went to eat you wound up with a spoon full of flies every time the spoon went from your bowl to your mouth.
Russ also let some of the other prisoners sell candy to help make themselves some money. When the American officer found out about Russ' candy making, he saw that Russ was on the next list to leave for Manchuria because Russ was competition for him.