We have a prison problem in North America. Though the number of inmates has declined slightly in recent years, the US has a disturbingly high percentage of its population behind bars (730 prisoners for every 100,000 people), and it's increasingly handed the administration of punishment over to privatized prisons. Meanwhile, incarceration rates are rising in Canada, and just as in the US, the inmates are disproportionately minorities. You can argue that some people need to be kept locked up in a tiny cell, but there are also a ton of truly questionable cases of imprisonment.
While we have often featured stories about people who are stuck in bars, prison guards themselves are also affected by this system and have to witness—and participate in—all sorts of inhumane acts. We recently spoke to George, a corrections officer at a maximum-security prison in Canada who has been in the business for 27 years, including 12 on the riot squad. “Yes, I’ve seen some crazy stuff,” he told us, before going on to describe some of that insanity.
Illustrations by Donald Clement
We have to do some routine strip searches. Every unit, every month, has to be fully searched. So if you’re an inmate for longer than a month, you know it’s coming. We basically look through everything they have: sheets, books, whatever is in the cell. Then they have to bend over, spread their cheeks, and cough.
If they haven’t packed their drugs right, it’s very possible the drugs are going to fall out [of their butts]. This one time a guy was looking a little off and a little high. He coughed and something popped out a bit. I told him to cough again and then a little bullet, the size of a chocolate-covered almond covered in saran wrap, fell out. We both looked at it and back and forth at each other. And then he quickly grabbed it and threw it in his mouth. So I had to grab him by the neck and say, “Buddy spit it out!” but he wouldn’t, so we wrestled for a bit then it pops out of his mouth and then he grabs it and tries to stick it up his ass again. I actually couldn’t believe it. So we find it. It turns out to be one pill. He fought like a bastard for one little pill of morphine.
Other guys will puke up their methadone if they can. This has been going on since Christ was a cowboy, this whole idea of checking or regurgitating your drugs. The methods that these guys come up with are ingenious. With methadone they will puke it up, it’s absolutely disgusting. Almost a quarter of the inmates are on methadone, and there is a huge demand for it inside. Today, out of 200 inmates in my prison, 50 of them are on methadone. They will take the drink (methadone comes in liquid form) and then they will barf it up in some sort of plastic they have saved, like an empty toothpaste container, and then they sell it inside. Believe it or not, this happens a lot.
Drugs into Eggs into Butts
People are getting themselves put into jail to trade drugs. It’s very lucrative. Last month I found a guy with $15,000 dollars worth of street drugs on him. Hydromorphone, marijuana, and cocaine—stuffed in little kids’ Kinder eggs using the plastic container inside. He had these things wrapped in condoms and he had shoved them up his ass. You wouldn’t even think [all of those drugs] could fit [inside his butt], but they did.
When the cops arrived and checked it out, they said [his stash of butt drugs] was worth about $80,000 dollars in jail. We used to worry about drugs getting distributed through the kitchen, but these days the gangs have experts who know how to really [hide] drugs well. It’s crazy, absolutely crazy. The drug trade in jails right now is crazy and it’s basically the gangs running it. There’s more crack and marijuana being smoked in jail than you could ever imagine. Imagine your thumb was a compressed piece of tobacco, that’s worth about $100 in jail.
This guy came in a couple weeks ago and needed our help, because he’d snorted a half-ounce of cocaine he was supposed to bring in with him. There were people on the inside waiting for it. But then he snorted it all in the two days before he came in—he was crying because now he needed our help. That happens all of the time. And now we’re in a position where we have to protect him.
He ended up going over to a protective custody unit. Half the jail is now protective custody these days because inmates are scared of who's inside. It’s wild. Maybe a third of people are in there for true heinous crimes where they need protective custody—but the rest are in there because they have burned the wrong people, like this guy. But the protective custody guys are the worst, they are terrible, they are the creepiest guys in there—you’re better off in the regular unit. Trust me.
The jail staff has been getting attacked lately because we’ve lost control. The jail is being run by a bunch of social workers. They didn’t like they way it was done before because they said we were too heavy-handed, well now we’re getting run over by the prisoners.
Last week a buddy of mine got stabbed in the throat by an inmate... he should have been in segregation. He waited until a guard moved near him and he stabbed him in the throat with a pencil. My friend was spurting blood. The inmate is schizophrenic and was shipped off to another institution.
Real Life Fight Club
Prisoners do creative things to keep themselves busy. They have what’s called “Fight Club” where they provide their own entertainment by making people fight each other, and they threaten you if you don’t fight. Saying no means you will get the shit beaten out of you. The gang guys will get the new guys. They could be anybody. I’ve taken more people than I care to imagine to the hospital. That happens all the time.
We’ve had a guy beaten so bad he died in the hospital. He was just brutally smashed in from Fight Club. We are the last people on the range to see what’s going on sometimes because we can’t be in two places at once—although our new camera system is going to help with that. But prior to this, we’d do half-hour checks and while you’re checking one side, who knows what they are doing on the other side. You just can’t be everywhere.
Follow Angela on Twitter: @angelamaries
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