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The never ending search for and study of contraband

August 31st, 2011

Some corrections professionals make a career out of studying the delivery, trade and elimination of contraband. Over the course of one’s vocational life, one can see many different foci, methods, and delivery systems of illegal goods within a correctional facility.

Some would wonder if studying contraband control is an exercise in futility. They may reason that contraband is like the weather. It happens and there is nothing we can do about it. Certainly, one can prepare for a hurricane. However, one cannot do a thing about the storm’s arrival. The inevitability of contraband in a corrections setting – just like that of the storm occurring in nature – cannot be averted.

I do not believe that entirely. I concede that where there’s a will there’s a way. Contraband trade is as old as confinement. That does not mean that we give up on trying to slow the flow just because finds are few and far between at times. I believe that a good professional stance is to mitigate contraband flow in order to secure safety. Realistically, we will never halt it – but we can enhance safety by putting a dent in trade. That is not pessimism. It is realism.

Still, some questions arise, though they are really the same questions asked in different ways. When do you stop studying contraband and it impact? How long are you supposed to wait until you stop gathering data for bootleg delivery and trade? What is the end date for devising manners in which to control illicit trade?

The correct answer is you can never finish learning about contraband trade and how to mitigate it. Granted, given a steep learning curve and diligent study in a matter of a couple years, one can learn almost all one will learn in a career about contraband control. But the field is too big. One simply can never earn learn it all.

Here are some reasons to continue searching for and learning about contraband:

Think about innovations. Consider the now-ubiquitous cell phone. Some people currently working began employment in a time where cell phones were large and (by all intents and purposes) useless. Now they are micro computers with filming and voice recoding abilities. And those are just the auxiliary functions.

Nothing stands still. Innovations keep us on our toes. As expensive novelties turn into inexpensive necessities on the street, they tend to find their way inside our lock ups. Inside, they are assigned a variety of utilities. Often, these utilities are not intended by the designers and manufactures.

Though I don’t know the source, I heard once that they considered closing the US Patent Office in the 1920s. Thankfully that was not done. Of course if it were closed, things like jet engines, computers, and nuclear missiles, would have had to been patented elsewhere. Innovation does not simply turn off for a few years. Therefore, contraband hounds will always have something new to investigate.

The search is worth it. This is true because uncovering one dangerous thing may save many lives. For example, let’s say that you find the back of a metal bookshelf that is being bent to be used as a shank. It may be that you had not thought of that prior and that this is a new trick to you. Also, the find was not in a comfortable place. In other words, those who try to dislodge the metal, have to crouch in order to reach it. You have learned that contraband may be hidden in places where it is difficult or uncomfortable for staff to search. And while you learn this new axiom, you have removed a dangerous item from circulation.

Serendipity happens. Sometimes, we simply stumble upon a discovery. We observe something new such as a swelled interest in a section of the kitchen. Prior, there may be only one person per shift in that section. Now it is knotted with a veritable throng of active offenders. As you watch, you realize they’re trying to block someone who is trying to dislodge metal from one of the out-of-the-way cabinets. From all this we find that as we continue to watch, we continue to discover. Therefore, study contraband will continue.

We are already watching, anyway. We keep watching as a matter of our job duties. To alleviate boredom, we think of where things may be hidden, often wandering into the realm of the absurd. Since we are already watching, we may as well engage in a little creative find and seek.

The search will never really end. The passing of time and the many locations we have to search tell us that there are so many places to hide things. And once you have looked over a location, offenders have had time and opportunity to place items in recently searched areas. In all of this, there may not be many finds. However, there is the potential to uncover something.

What if you don’t look and you miss something big? Many contraband searches reveal nothing. And when you find something, the discovery may be a simple love note, an old betting slip, or even some poorly written graffiti. But you can’t risk not looking. That is because you may find a prison made alcohol, a shank, or some indication of escape plans. In other words, because the potential to find some things there, we continue to look.

These are just a few reasons why professionals continue to search. They do this even if their knowledge is already vast. So if you asked me when I’ll stop looking for contraband and ways to halt the danger, I will say this: “I will stop tomorrow.”Of course, by the time it is tomorrow it’s actually today. Tomorrow never comes. The search goes on. The learning continues.

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