When I first entered the netherworld of corruption and violence in October, 1993 I had a 304 month sentence for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. With the War on Drugs in high gear, I was just another number to be crunched in the revved up machinery of the criminal justice system. It didn’t matter who I was or what I wanted, the only thing that mattered was I had time to serve, and a lot of it, 25 years to be exact. With little money left over from my short-term and ill-advised career as a drug dealer, and seemingly no future, I decided to continue doing what had landed me in prison in the first place- sell drugs.
You might conclude that since I was in prison selling drugs would have been damn near impossible, but to my benefit it wasn’t. The illegal and illicit drug market in our nation’s correctional facilities was thriving and continues to be a booming business to this day. During the first 10 years of my sentence I participated wholeheartedly in activity which sustained and perpetrated this market and cultivating the juxtaposition which exists today. The conundrum where prisoners who are specifically locked up and serving time for drug offenses continue to sell, smuggle and use them while incarcerated. It’s a situation that has haunted our nation’s consciousness. What is the point if we can’t even keep the drugs out of our prisons? In reality, it’s all about supply and demand, and I found out early on in my bid that just like in the outside world, drugs played a pivotal role in the politics and underground economy of the prison landscape. Prison gangs and those willing to engage in violence dominated and controlled the trade. They called the shots inside and unknowingly I would become a player in this scene.
I was an East Coast drug dealer, shipping LSD and marijuana to colleges and universities like Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but I grew up in California. Due to my misadventures in the drug game and my journeys to multiple college campuses, I managed to meet a lot of nubile young women. When I got locked up in prison they flocked to see me. I wasn’t on the compound at FCI Manchester, a medium-to-high security institution in Kentucky six months when some California gangbangers, my so-called homeboys, stepped to me. “Yo, ese,” this one vato called Treviso said to me. “You got a lot of hyenas coming to see you. I got a business proposition for you, hey.” But it was more of a request than a proposition and it wasn’t something I was in the position to refuse.
The Cali gangsters wanted me to bring Mexican tar heroin in on my visits. They knew I had a lot of different girls coming to visit me from all over, so they broke the move down to me like this. “Check it out, homeboy, this is how it works.” Treviso said. “We send one of your girls $250 to cover her motel and rental car costs for the trip to see you, plus a package with 3 balloons it it. Tell her its marijuana or whatever you want and get her to bring them in and pass them from her mouth to yours when you kiss. You swallow the three balloons in the V.I. and throw them up when you get back to the unit and give them to me.” Since I was a 165 pound white kid from the suburbs, thrust into the belly of the beast with gangbangers, convicts, career felons and vicious drug lords, I complied. It’s not like I really had a choice. I would make something out of the deal too, as Treviso explained.
“You bring in 3 grams of chiva for us.” He said. “We break it down and get back $1200 a gram. One gram is yours. We can sell it for you, get the money sent to one of your girls or your prison account, or break you off with commissary or drugs. Whatever you want.” Basically, I would get a third of the heroin I was bringing in, and all costs associated with the visit were covered. I told myself that it was my decision to do it, I didn’t want to feel like I was being forced into something, it made it easier to live with myself that way. Because in the macho and hype-violent world of prison, no one wants to feel like a chump. I assuaged my wounded pride and ego by looking at the positive aspects of the venture.
I began my life as a prison drug smuggler. It was the same thing I had done in the world, but now I was just doing it on a much smaller scale. Due to my association with the California gangsters and my newfound hustle, which made me prison rich, I noticed that my stature on the compound was growing by leaps and bounds. Being young and wanting to prove that I was a go hard white boy convict, I rolled with it. Not even thinking or caring about the possible consequences. The folly of youth, I thought I was invincible and impervious to harm. But looking back now, I realize I was incredibly lucky I was that nothing bad came of my transgressions and in reality, my naivety was a blessing in disguise.
After being in prison for almost 21 years, I now know better and I am relieved that the reckless actions of my youth didn’t lead to me getting any more time, getting hurt or even dying. Because I have heard some horror stories about prisoners who were in situations similar to mine that didn’t turn out with such non- eventful endings. Smuggling drugs into prison or muling them for gangbangers by ingesting them and using your body as the smuggling container is not the smartest move. Balloons can burst, your business partners can get impatient and gangsters can strong arm you and physically violate you to get the contraband drugs. At the time I didn’t know any of this. My ignorance was bliss.
In prison, heroin is money and money in here is a currency that is traded for respect, power and control. Because in prison that is what it comes down to, who calls the shots and who controls the action on the yard. With a scarcity of resources, whoever controls the flow of drugs is the Don Dada. Men fight and kill in here for that power. Luckily I escaped my years of smuggling drugs into prison unscathed, but others have not been so fortunate. With the help of some other long-term prisoners in here, who wish to remain anonymous, I’d like to relate some of the horror stories that have circulated during the multiple decades I have been imprisoned.
“At USP Leavenworth there was this kid bringing in dope for the Aryan Brotherhood,” a prisoner we’ll call Rebel says. “It was going down for a minute, but then there was a problem with how the heroin was packaged in the balloons. Somebody on the outside, either the kid’s girl or the people who brought her the balloons fucked up. The kid swallowed the balloons like normal during the V.I. but before he could get back to the unit and throw them up one of the balloons burst in his stomach. It wasn’t a good look. He was fucked up, turning blue and shit. No one who knew what was up wanted to say what was wrong with him. So they took him to medical and long story short, he died.” When I think about it now, that kid could have been me.
“I’ve seen and heard worse though,” Rebel says. “There was the one story out of USP Beaumont, which they called Bloody Beaumont, about the dude that was bringing in heroin for the Crips. Well they said some Bloods who were beefing with the Crips on the yard found out the dude was bringing the stuff in, so they went to dude’s cell after his V.I. They told he to give up the heroin he had copped on the dance floor, but dude wouldn’t give it up. So the Bloods beat him down, pulled his pants down and forcibly removed the balloons, which dude had already thrown up and keistered, from his asshole. Those were some vicious dudes, going up in dude’s ass like that.” It’s very common for prisoners to hide drugs in their anal cavities. That way when guards perform strip and pat searches, no illegal contraband can be found on their person.
“The most vicious story I know about was at USP Victorville,” Rebel continues. “The cons call it Victimville and that joint is serious. Very political. The Mexican Mafia ran the yard and they had one of their people bring some tar in. The dude copping the tar was a bad junkie. He kept dipping into the balloons before he gave the Eme their cut. This went on for a minute and when the guy copped one time he got greedy. When the Eme dudes came to get their cut the guy acted like he didn’t make the move. This pissed the Eme dudes off, so they started stabbing dude, because they were sick of his disrespectful junkie ways. After they killed him they searched for the balloons, but couldn’t find them in dude’s cell. So they decided to cut dude open and pull out his intestines to recover the balloons of heroin.”
The tactics that prisoners resort to for drugs know no bounds. The power of the illicit contraband is that extreme. When you are doing life in the brutal gladiator schools that exist inside the Bureau of Prisons, and getting high is your only escape, the only way to ease the pain of your sentence, nothing is out of bounds. The extreme becomes the norm. All aspects of human decency and morals go out the window. Everything is done to feed the addiction; it’s just the nature of the beast. Thankfully my situation never turned into one of these horror stories, but it easily could have. Just some food for thought for the next time you feel like getting that monkey off your back.