Prisoners incarcerated in the United States are subject to drug tests at any given moment. During the 21 years I served in the Bureau of Prisons for a first-time, nonviolent LSD conspiracy I was subjected plenty of urinalysis. A lot of times I’d be minding my own business in the prison library or recreation yard when I heard my name called over the public announce system that blared into every corner of the facility, summoning me to the Lieutenants office to urinate in a cup. Even though I smoked weed throughout the early part of my bid I never got a dirty. And in fact, most prisoners beat their drug tests on the inside using a variety of methods to game them. Most of the time a test is given at random, but inmates can be put on the “hot list” if prison authorities have reason to believe they are using. Those on the list become experts at passing tests in a hurry.
VICE talked to some ex-prisoners to find out how they beat urine tests while inside the belly of the beast. You'd have to be pretty naive to believe prisons are drug-free. In the penitentiary, drugs are plentiful, highly sought after, and are smuggled in at an alarming rate. Some of the compounds where I was housed were like a free-for-all drug bazaar. Prisoners have found myriad ways to beat the tests. Below are but a few of them.
We were outside smoking joints, joking about how they were probably watching us because I was hot as fuck on the compound as the only white boy with dreadlocks in the federal penitentiary. Sure enough they ran up on us and everyone ditched their shit except my boy. He was the sacrificial lamb that allowed us to get away. I made it back to my block and ran into my buddies cell. I proceeded to drink two gallons of water (knowing that will beat the shit out of any drug in your system) then I threw it all back up.
I knew I was fucked and just waited to get called for my test, but I had time to drink another two gallons. I had to lay down from the beating the liquid did to my body. I know you can die from drinking too much water and I thought—after quickly downing four gallons—I did it on this one. I couldn't stop shaking and I was freezing cold in a cell with no air conditioning in the dead of summer. "I fucking did it this time. I'm gonna fucking die from water," I told my celly.
I was pissing every five minutes when they came to my door and told me that I had a test, which I knew was coming. When I made it to the testing room I saw the rest of my cohorts sitting in line waiting their turn to fill up the clear plastic cup that could cost us a lot of hole and good time. I took my place in line and was called up, the clear liquid not even resembling urine immediately shot out of my body. I filled the cup up and then kept on pissing, so long that even the cop collecting the sample said I must of been holding it for a long time.
"Guess I was," I said as I handed him the cup filled with clear, water like piss. - John Broman, 36-year-old from Pittsburgh who served 16-and-a-half years for bank robbery in the Bureau of Prisons
It was the mid 90s in a California state prison where I first experienced a random drug test. I’ve never been a heavy drug user, but I did enjoy smoking some weed every now and then. The problem was it stays in your system longer than other harder drugs. One particular time I purchased about half an ounce of skunk weed. Man, I must’ve got all the homies high that day. The problem with weed is you can’t get rid of the smell. It’s on your clothes, it spreads through the air, and of course some of the homies weren’t too careful, and decided to smoke in their cell. Big mistake.
Once an officer smells this he orders an immediate lock down of the cell block. I remember that day, I was high as a kite playing chess in the day room when the officer in the gun tower yells out “Lock it up,” earlier than expected. By the time I got to my cell we knew what was going down. My cell-mate was already pouring some bleach into an empty coffee can we had in our cell. He immediately told me to dip my fingers in the bleach and leave them there before the goon squad and medics arrived. I was confused and asked why. He went on to say we were all going to get tested due to some idiot smoking out in his cell.
Sure enough the medics arrived with my fingers still soaking in bleach. As they got closer to our cell we poured the bleach out and let our fingers air dry. My cellmate told me to piss on my fingers whilst aiming in the container. The officers and medics watched me piss on my finger as I attempted to piss in the container. One of the officers looked at me and smirked, “Wow, some clean-ass piss you got there, almost smells like bleach.” Even the medic didn’t look surprised and said, “Yeah, apparently everyone’s piss on this block’s smells like bleach.”
Once they left, we washed up and stayed on lock down till the next day. After a few days, the results came in. Officers walked into our cell block and began handcuffing certain inmates who tested positive and escorted them to the hole. I was dreading it but as the day came to an end the officers stopped coming in to remove inmates. I had skated, as we’d say, dodged a trip to the hole, and adding time to my sentence. The sound on the intercom, “Yard is open,” was music to my ears. Finally, we were off of lock down and able to get some fresh air. As I arrived at the bleacher where the homies hung out, I was handed a lit joint. - Gustavo Alvarez, 44-year-old who did 10 years for Assault and Firearms in the California Department of Corrections
I used the glove trick for years inside prison—I would have boxer briefs and a glove with this liquid that I carried so it's nice and warm. Another way was I played the water game. I would flush my system starting at 4 AM and by 8 AM I am peeing crystal clear like I was a human water filter. It was pure water and I had to take a piss literally every five minutes, but that was the way to pass it. I was water poisoned a few times, it's bad. - Pavle Stanimirovic, 46-year-old who did 16 years for robberies in the New York State system
OPP (Other People's Piss)
Spend 13 years in prison like me and you see a lot of crazy shit. And anyone who has spent significant time in prison knows drugs are easy to get on “the yard.” The last prison I was in, Macomb Correctional Facility, was located just outside of Detroit. As a result, a steady flow of drugs made their way inside. Dirty officers and staff brought it in. Personally, I never got high inside. But the same guys, the ones everyone knows are getting high, get called to the control center to drop. I saw guys use powdered bleach under their fingernail to mess up tests. Chemical cleaning detergents too. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But the craziest thing was when guys would pay a patsy to drop for them.
When the desk officer suddenly called a group of six to eight guys to the control center, everyone knows they are being called to drop urine. The cops who do the tests usually only work in the control center. They don’t know every face. Not when there are 1,700 guys on the compound. Guys would simply hand off their prison ID to the patsy, and have him go drop piss in the control center for him. I was always shocked by the balls these patsies had. But they were being paid, or sometimes extorted, to do it. I saw guys do it multiple times. The things guys did to stay high and move dope in prison was legendary, but my advice is to just not go to prison. - Alan Gunner Lindbloom, 45-year-old from Detroit who served 13 years from extortion and bank robbery in the Michigan State System
I was 21 years old and I was locked up in Youngstown, Ohio. Me and my homies used to hang out in my cell smoking weed and playing PlayStation. The Correctional Officers knew we all smoked weed. The smell was always in the air at this particular prison. Early one morning after chow my crew was starting out the morning with a jay. I had a feeling that a cell search was coming that week so I had cleaned my cell thoroughly. Thinking that a drug test was coming I had gotten a friend of mine with clean urine to give me some in an eye drop bottle. I kept this eye drop bottle on me for like three days, just to make sure I was on my toes and ready for a drug test. I had a visit coming soon and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that, but I didn’t want to stop smoking weed either.
So, as I said it was early in the morning after chow, like 6 AM. A C.O. knocked on my cell door and stuck his head in. He turned his nose up and fake fanned the weed smoke away from his face. “Williams!” he blurted out. “Drug test! Y’all need to put some smell good in the air. Shake down coming this morning.” With a heads up from the C. O. everyone cleared my cell and went to clean up their own. I went to the Lieutenant’s where I got in line with other convicts that were targeted for suspected drug use. Inside a dirty bathroom I was handed a cup to piss in by another C.O. He thought he was watching me well, but I slipped the eye drop bottle from between my legs and squeezed the clean urine into the cup. I lived to smoke another jay. - Eyone Williams, 42-year-old from Washington DC who served 17 years for Second Degree Murder in the Bureau of Prisons
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter and Instagram.