There has been a lot of press recently about prisoners using drones to smuggle drugs into prisons. It would seem that the practice has transcended geographical boundaries and become a truly international affair with inmates all over the world using the technology to operate clandestine smuggling operations. This phenomenon has been reported on well over a year ago, but the idea has really taken off in the last 6 months as prisoners are taking advantage of drone technology to fly illegal drugs and other illicit contraband items into penitentiaries worldwide.
I first heard about prisoners using drones to ferry in drugs, tobacco and cellphones before I was released in August of 2014, but it seemed more a fantasy than realtiy. Back then prisoners utilized the tried and true smuggling methods that had worked for decades but with all things, innovation usually wins out in the end.. With a scarcity of resources inside the belly of the beast drugs, cellphones and tobacco are a big commodity and prisoners will go to extremes to procure these items that can translate to money, power and prestige. Using drones is the latest in the evolution of the art of prison drug smuggling.
In the last year though the practice has really taken off, no pun intended. Drones are obviously the new method of choice to smuggle drugs into prison, but prisoners have been getting drugs into prisons since the Quakers invented the penitentiary back in the 18th century, well before the advent of drones and the media frenzy that has exploded concerning their use. To find out how prisoners used to smuggle drugs into prison we got with a couple of hardcore ex-cons who did time in the federal Bureau of Prisons to find out the methods that were employed.
“People smuggle drugs into prisons in various way.” Jesse, who just completed a 10 year sentence for drugs at FCC Forrest City, tells Gorilla Convict. “I know sometimes these dudes would smooth talk the C/O’s into bringing stuff in, but at the end of my bid the guys getting stuff into the prison would just have people throw it over the fence in either a handball, football or basketballs.”
The same basic premise as a drone, just a whole lot less technical. But that practice has been around a long time. They were doing that when I was at FCI Beckley in 1997. A cliff overlooked the recreation yard and prisoners would get their friends or family members or even recently released prisoners from that area to throw hand balls full of weed and heroin onto the softball and soccer fields. On the early morning rec move they would go out and retrieve the handballs and get them safely back in the unit by the end of breakfast. Breaking them down into papers to sell for books of stamps and commissary on the compound.
“A lot of K2 and cellphones were coming over the fence where I was at that way,” Jesse says. “So much that they started shutting down the yard at dusk so nobody could be out there after dark. Then every morning the C/O’s would do a perimeter check before they even opened the yard in the morning to make sure there wasn’t any drugs laying around out there to pick up. When they finished that’s when they would finally let everybody back out there. Everybody would be getting punished for what a couple people were doing.”
That goes with the territory, but before the advent of drones prisoners had a variety of different smuggling techniques.
“It has been my experience that a very high percentage of the drugs in prison come through the visiting room.” Steve, who did almost a decade for drugs in the Bureau of Prisons at a bunch of East Coast prisons, tells Gorilla Convict. “A lot of guys have girls bring it in so many different ways. Most guys have families and when you go to jail your wife and kids still need support. Whether it’s heroin, cocaine, meth, or weed, drugs are a highly desired commodity, therefore demand a premium price.”
In prison, heroin can go for $300-500 a gram with coke and meth being a little cheaper. Weed, just about everywhere goes for $25 a chapstick cap. And guys make serious money on small quantities of drugs. Back in the 1980s and early 90s, a lot of C/O’s brought in drugs to the inmates. Prison was its own world and convicts respected the no snitching code and wouldn’t even snitch on a cop. But nowadays its a different story.
Prisoners still get guards to bring in everything from tobacco products to food to cellphones, but with so many inmates getting busted they are telling on the C/O’s at a phenomenal rate, trying to avoid catching that new case and getting more time. Snitches have ruined the drug scene in prison for everyone. Because the C/O’s aren’t as willing to take the risk now, since they know getting told on is a distinct possibility. Making drones an inevitable outcome.
But despite all the rats some prisons are still chalk full of illegal contraband items, it just depends on where you are at.
“Places as relaxed as Fort Dix are loaded with drugs, phones, and tobacco going over the fence.” Steve says. “All the prison camps have contraband. Where there’s a demand, there will always be a way to smuggle stuff in. The best place was MDC Brooklyn. You could pass anything through that visiting room. Being it was mostly a pretrial hold, except for the work cadre. Pretrial inmates pay over inflated prices, so when they get to a compound they got exclusive stuff- G-Shock watches, gold chains, sneakers. Anything that other people don’t have.” The fringe benefits of the illicit drug trade inside the belly of the beast.
But drones came into use by necessity as the old smuggling avenues where being shut down.
“Nowadays there are such advanced ways to prevent stuff getting in.” Steve tells Gorilla Convict. “UV lights, X-ray machines, etc. USP Caanan was practically impenetrable. But if convicts are anything, it’s genius.” The use of drones proves that. It has just hit the mainstream news now, but its been going on for a minute. Prisoners have been making money and getting rich, although most of the operations are controlled by prison gangs, who have the resources and manpower to pull the operation off.
Julio, another recent release, who was in a on drug charges offers this, “I did about six years in a federal prison, mind you it was Forrest City Low, but locked up is locked up.” He tells Gorilla Convict. “When it comes to the matter of contraband and prohibited items, in particular tobacco and illegal drugs or even proscribed drugs, where there’s a will there’s a way. Thanks to cinema and televised shows about prison, the stigma is that everything is shoved up someone’s anal cavity, sure it’s a tried and true way of old, but we live in a very small and isolated world when we are put away from society for our quote unquote rehabilitation.”
Julio is referring to the technique known as keistering. Where an inmate gets drugs from his visitor in the visiting room and keisters it up his asshole. I have seen dudes put an ounce of weed up their ass, wrapped in duct tape of course. But Julio is right. With prisoners having nothing but time, they can come up with all types of ways to get drugs in.
“In reality all we have is time to think of ways to get over on the man, or if its easier, on the next man,” Julio says. “Who’s to say that it can’t be as easy as someone throwing a ball full of bud or tar or powder or candy or whatever, over a couple of fences near the woods, or it just so happens that a C/O drops a cig that’s worth about twenty bucks on the pound, lets not be nice, its as easy as something so complicated can be, anything is possible, corruption is at every level of any system, a rule with exception is not a rule, its a mockery.”
And that sums it up, because when prisoners use drones to smuggle in drugs to supposedly secure facilities it makes a mockery of the criminal justice system. Our country puts people in prison for drugs and they can’t even keep the drugs out. The use of drones and all the other above referenced smuggling techniques will continued to be used. They will continue to succeed. Keeping our nations correctional facilities full of illicit contraband items like drugs, cell phones and tobacco. There is no stopping it.
Prison officials are most likely figuring out how to combat the drones as we speak, especially since it has been getting so much news attention. But a new method is already being devised by prisoners, they are coming up with ways to counter the practices that prison officials are putting into place, so its a losing situation for prison officials all the way around. Until the prison industrial complex stops being reactive and starts being proactive the cycle will continue and drugs will continue to be abundant inside the netherworld or corruption and violence.