In the netherworld of corruption and violence, convicts live for drama. Dudes in prison are constantly scheming, trying to find a way to come up or a way to tune out and escape the brutal reality of their incarceration. Drugs are usually a means to an end. In federal prison, where more than 50 percent of the inmate population are in on drug convictions, heroin, coke, meth, pot, acid, and crack provide an alternative to the endless days and nights of monotony and, more importantly, they provide a way to get money, power, and respect.
With close to 200,000 prisoners doing football numbers in the Bureau of Prisons due to the War on Drugs, the Feds has become the largest and most violent system in the world. And the drug problem is tremendous. It’s like Jimmy, a federal prisoner who’s done ten calendars, says, “Drugs are easy to get in prison. I can get a paper of heroin [$25 worth] for drawing a b-day card or two.” Jimmy and his roaddog Cide, another convict with some years under his belt, admit to having seen, “marijuana, heroin, ephedrine, and assorted prescription drugs intentionally misused” on compounds across the nation. To them the War on Drugs is a joke. “They can’t even keep the drugs outta their own prisons,” Cide says. But how do the drugs get in?
“Contact visits primarily,” Cide says. “Cops sometimes. Mail. In one place I was, the locals would throw tennis balls full of weed over the wall.” And the U.S. Justice Department agrees with Cide. They issued a report in 2003 that blames visitors, mail, and prison employees for bringing contraband—including marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs, into the nation’s 102 federal prisons. “Prison personnel are of particular concern because they tend to bring in larger amounts,” said Inspector General Glen A. Fine in the report. “A few corrupt staff can do enormous damage to the safety and security of the institution.”
“Fucking-A right,” says Jimmy. “Tell them fucking cops to bring in some more heroin.” Heroin is the most prevalent drug in prison. Easy to smuggle in small amounts of one to three grams and with a high dollar return of $1,200 a gram, somebody will always be willing to take the risk. What’s 18 more months when you already got 25 years? The BOP reports that an annual average of over 3,000 prisoners test positive for drugs and that over 1,100 drug stashes are found either on inmates, in their belongings, or in their cells. “If you are a known user and have money, it is no problem getting drugs,” Cide says. “But the prices are three to ten times higher than street prices.” And getting needles isn’t a problem either.
“Orderlies steal them from health services or diabetics sneak off without turning them back in,” Cide says. Jimmy says, “You can buy a needle for $10 and the best place to shoot up is in your cell with a lookout watching.” When asked about catching AIDS, Cide says, “I’m not trying to, but fuck it.”
The BOP reports that over 50 prisoners a year suffer fatal drug overdoses and almost 100 prison guards or staffers have sustained drug-related misconduct charges nationally over the last couple of years. “One cop at this prison I was at got caught with a quarter pound of weed in his lunch-box,” Jimmy says. The BOP also reports that drugs are passed to inmates through soda cans, babies’ diapers, and kisses during contact visits. “A buddy of mine swallowed 16 balloons of heroin at a visit,” Jimmy says. “He made a killing.” And concerning the mail Cide says, “Acid tabs come under stamps. Bags of heroin between pages of a magazine that were glued together.” Jimmy tells of another way, “A guy I knew was getting legal mail sent in notebooks with hollow binders that were stuffed with grams of heroin.”
The violence the drug trade spawns can be unsettling. “I saw a man killed for $40 he owed,” Jimmy says. “The Mexican Mafia stabbed him 17 times in the chest.” A lot of dudes who can’t pay drug debts check into protective custody. “Hole time is just a vacation anyways,” Jimmy says.
With convicts who don’t care if they have dirty urine or not, the drug problem in prison won’t be going away anytime soon. Cops will bring them in, dudes will catch more time and get cased up, and the junkies will run up bills and get beat down or check into PC. To all of this, Dan Dunne, a prisons spokesman, says, “The bureau has made significant progress to prevent the introduction, possession, and use of drugs. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have.”