You may be staying a week; you may be staying a year. Either way, the 7-foot-by-10- foot cell you share at the D.C. Jail isn’t outfitted for your entertainment. For at least 18 hours a day, it’s just you, your cellmate, and his stink. You need a distraction.
Take a cue from inmate Joshua Holiday. Last Christmas, the jail had been on 24-hour lockdown for days, and inmates were even more dispirited than usual. According to internal reports, Holiday marked the occasion anyway. He allegedly embarked on a PCP-fueled rampage. While his trip ended in a fog of chemical spray and under a pile of guards, it did allow him precious out-of-cell exercise.
Jail commerce caters to the most discriminating tastes. Along with the regular flow of street knives and hard drugs, pretty much everything penetrates the facility’s thick concrete walls: fried chicken, kung-fu videos, a machete, a half-ounce bottle of Calvin Klein’s Escape cologne.
Gone are the frustrating days of metal files baked into apple pies. Correctional officers, say inmates, are the surest means of procurement. “It’s a lot easier,” explains one former inmate. “Plus, you get more that way.” That’s also how you get the choicest items, such as electric blankets and the kind of blades you can skin deer with. FedEx isn’t as fast: An order placed early enough with certain guards can be delivered by day’s end.
Yet the semiofficial method of conveyance isn’t foolproof. You have to select your mule carefully, or else grapple with a tricky return policy. “Sometimes a guard will mess up an order,” says another former inmate, a self-described jailhouse drug dealer. None of his own deals were botched, but one time a guard delivered the wrong type of fish to his cellmate, who out of disgust passed it on to the dealer gratis. “I was shocked,” says the dealer. “I thought I was going to have to pay for it.”
There are also unpredictable disruptions of service. In November 2002, a jail security officer summoned Sgt. Irmgard Roach from her cellblock post. Bring your lunch, he said. According to jail incident reports, Roach was then ordered to unwrap her sandwich and remove the bread. Layered atop the steak and cheese, allegedly, was a Ziploc bag of pot. Not exactly a Medellín-sized bust; prosecutors later dropped Roach’s criminal charge. But the feds have shown a continuing interest in possible drug trafficking by guards, and who knows? Maybe they’ll shut down the officer-assisted trade route altogether.
Still, no need to deny yourself the fruits of a free market. You can always resort to the Berlin-airlift tactic, currently the refuge of those unwilling to pay guard-inflated prices. Strong-armed importers launch their goods over a 20-foot fence and into the inmate recreation yard. Over three weeks in April 2003, guards retrieved three tennis balls from near the inside perimeter wall. One held six packets of heroin, a bag of PCP-laced marijuana, and two stones to give it heft. A second ball held 10 baggies of heroin. A third ball was empty, possibly because an inmate got to it first.
Another mode of entry cuts out the middleman entirely, although it may cause you some discomfort. The jailhouse dealer suggests keeping cash and a few rocks of crack on your person at all times, even at the courthouse. “You never know when you’ll need it,” he says. Whenever he’s picked up and shuffled to jail, he arrives ready for business. Clearing the strip search and anal probe is no sweat. Assholes are old-school: He hides rocks of crack, a 10-dollar bill, and two 20s in his foreskin. It makes for a large bulb, but no one takes special notice, he says.
There’s only so much you can transport undetected, so don’t get greedy. Last December, an overreaching inmate was the catalyst of one of the biggest contraband seizures of the year.
A little before noon on Dec. 4, a guard spotted inmate Winston Robinson walking down to the rec yard and then rushing back a few minutes later. But before the inmate could reach the cellblock, guards subjected Robinson to a shakedown. A package allegedly fell out of the leg of his jumpsuit.
Upon inspection, the foot-and-a-half-long bundle wasn’t just a package. According to incident reports, it was a cornucopia of contraband. Wrapped inside an umbrella and secured with gray and green tape were 12 bags of suspected pot, 24 bags of suspected PCP or heroin, two cell phones with an A/C charger, a radio, three sets of headphones, and a pair of sunglasses.
Lesson: Don’t bother with shades. Sunlight barely reaches the cellblock.
Temper your desires, and your valuables stand a better chance of reaching your cell. When they do, your next task is to stash them where no one, neither inmates nor guards, can get at them. Popular hiding places include under the benches of picnic tables, in the mop closet, the tips of crutches, light fixtures, baby-powder containers, and mattresses. In March 2003, guards discovered 33 rocks of crack stuffed in the waistband of an inmate’s underwear.
Compulsive shopping has become something of a pastime: an end in itself, more fun than checkers. You may even smuggle in stuff you don’t need. The dealer, for example, has seen lots of inmates with M-1000 firecrackers, but they frequently go unused. “People just collect them, I guess,” he says. CP