Tech-savvy criminals are increasingly turning to drones to sneak contraband into Quebec prisons. Numbers released by Quebec's Ministry of Public Security show that in the last year, 16 drones were spotted hovering near the province's prisons. That's up from three incidents between 2013 and 2014, the year the small crafts were first noticed buzzing around penitentiaries.
It's hard to say how many of these drone-drop operations were successful, or to determine what merchandise—if any—they were transporting. Only six out of the close to 20 flying objects were ever seized.
In November 2014, two men were arrested after their drug-carrying drone crashed into the prison yard at Sorel-Tracy Detention Centre, northeast of Montreal. The machine's video camera had captured images of the cunning criminals before its launch, and the footage made for some pretty incriminating evidence.
This ingeniously modern trafficking method is rather unsurprising from Quebec's prisoners. This is, after all, in a province that has witnessed spectacular helicopterjailbreaks and where inmates can apparently manage international drug rings from within the prison system.
But what is actually being confiscated within these penitentiaries isn't exactly the fun stuff you see on Narcos, instead, it is kind of sad.
Yes, there are cell phones and drugs, along with a slew of improvised weapons all bearing the well-worn label of "artisanal": an artisanal Exacto knife, an artisanal truncheon, and an artisanal machete, to name but a few.
Many of these confiscated articles help illustrate just how difficult it can be to seek out any type of comfort behind bars. A plant, a can of Ensure, and a night-light count amongst some of the most (seemingly) benign prohibited objects. Prison staff also cracked down on hardcover books and removed MP3 players, CD players, and at least one Walkman.
There's also an evident yearning for intimacy: along with porn and "obscene images," guards also confiscated massage oil and an 'artisanal' vibrator.
VICE contacted ex-inmate Daniel*, who authors a blog detailing his experiences behind bars, to find out how this contraband smuggling—and the guards' raids—went down.
The former prisoner says that while searches were a relatively infrequent affair, they were pretty consistently stressful. "There are guards who are are cool and others who are nuts," he details, adding that inmates never know how their cell will look afterwards.
"Once we were three in a cell and they took away all of our hygienic products to make a big pile in the middle of the room," he recalls. "My legal papers were in there, and they poured a bottle of soap on them."
"There's always something you're not supposed to have, like a radio another guy lent you or stuff some dude left behind when he was freed."
And while Daniel's incarceration precedes the use of drones, he says inmates can easily sneak in prohibited goods by inserting them into body cavities, although "bringing in a phone and a charger gets a bit more complicated." And if you're not able to conceal the goods or have them flown in, your best bet is to befriend the very people in charge of contraband control.
"For sure guards bring in [contraband]. They regularly got reprimanded for that."
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