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Contraband in “literature”

April 7th, 2010

 

Any seasoned corrections professional knows that contraband equals power.  Even if it is not overtly or obviously a weapon, any item still can be traded.  Trading dynamic may be the catalyst of violence between competing individuals or groups. In short, the barter of forbidden items and services is the foundation of chaos. 

literature

 

Judging a book by its cover, the title of this essay would seem to be a review of works about contraband.  But, as in corrections, the true nature of things may not be apparent at first glance.  The following is about the nuts and bolts of items found in book, or if you wish, literature. It is a fact that contraband can be hidden almost anywhere.  However, the library is a prime location to conceal and move bootleg.

 

 

There are so many items that can be concealed in a book or in library shelving.  Here are just a few of them. Let us read between the lines and look at the pages of common contraband vessels – law and general library books.

 

 

Under the general category of information-contraband, one would find written notes (amorous, sinister, and instructive), code, and security threat group graffiti.  Information is power.  And the knowledge gained from these missives can be shocking and significant.  Halting the information flow between offenders enhances security.

 

In the category of “literature” within literature, is pornography is a frequent find.  A multi-page bartering tool, these candid pictorials offer a means for some offenders settle debts.  Regardless of one’s stance of the artistic or sociological value of this media, it cannot be denied that pornography is an abundant currency in corrections facilities.

 

Food-stuff and other consumables is also transported and traded in books.  Salt, pepper, sugar, powdered drink mix and candy often make the trip in books.  Some consumables with more trade value are tobacco and medication.  Finding the trading origin of one of these items may yield an intelligence bonanza.

 

Other practical, non-consumable items are also found in books.  Fish lines can be constructed out of parts of mop heads and dental floss.  Coiled wire from a dismantled radio also circulates in book vessels.  Metal is no stranger to the pages of books.

 

 

Methods of concealment vary.  The old Hollywood cliché of hollowing out a book is alive and well, despite its age and obvious nature.  Of course, not all hollowed areas are created equally.  I have seen hastily dug cavities that lacked basic craftsmanship.   Contrariwise, I have discovered unobtrusive, small, neat hollows that were reinforced with tape.  These defy even the most skilled searcher.  It makes one wonder what was overlooked in other searches.  Of course, a neat hollow raise alarm to the finder, as it may indicate that there is a loose razor in the system. 

 

In the end, the neatness may not matter.   The detect-ability of each hollow combined with staff tenacity will determine of the success or failure of the delivery to the intended recipient.

 

There are less obvious manners of concealing smaller objects.  Many times, one will find these between pages.  The pages can be sealed with soap, deodorant, semen, saliva, or any other makeshift glue. Sometimes an adhesive is not employed.  Most small items can be hidden in a single folded page.  These are hard to detect, especially in a book with many pages.

 

Other places to hide contraband are in pocket part¸ in circulation card pockets, and on the reverse side of or in the folds of the book jacket.

 

One of the most ingenious methods that I have uncovered came in the form of a false back page.   Tobacco was flattened and covered with a blank piece of paper designed to look like a part of the back cover.  The adhesive agent was tar from the window of a cell.  This was undetectable with a cursory glance. Its discovery set in motion the actions that dismantled a tobacco smuggling operation.

 

Adhesive bandages, tape, and gum can be used to place contraband-laden envelopes under book carts, chairs, and tables.  All can serve as drop and pass locations.  The book cart is a mobile version of this concept.  And this is particularly hard to trace when the book cart travels to segregation units. 

 

In reality not much will be found on a typical day of contraband hunting.  This is particularly true if an area is searched often.  When contraband finds are far and few between, a sense of futility may settle on the scene. It may seem to staff that the search may be a perfunctory gesture.  This is when staff feel that they are literally just going through the motions

 

But there are benefits to the act of the search.  For example, positioned correctly, I can perform the function of searching books while monitoring the entire library and a classroom.  I can even see hallway traffic while actively engaged in contraband control.  Plus, my very presence acts as a deterrent.  Also, prisoners observe that I observe. 

 

One might consider my extensive “literature search” and wonder if all of the effort is worthwhile. I believe that it is.  I support that answer in a word – metal.  One morning, as I searched a large federal law book, a four inch by three-quarter inch aluminum piece fell from the book.  (It tumbled out in what almost seemed like a cheesy film, as the metal appeared to fall in slow motion from the overturned book.) In an instant, there was one less weapon in the system.  In consideration of limiting injuries or even a possible death, I do believe that contraband control is a notable endeavor.  

 

As a librarian, I appreciate the bibliotheraphy and incentive of a good novel.  I also know tha benefits of a full law library.  It is true that many offender patrons treat books reasonably well.  Still, I know that I must continue to search the collection for altered books and potentially dangerous items.  It is my vocational duty to do so.  In working both sides of the hyphen corrections-librarian, searching for contraband is one of the ways to contribute to the safety of staff, offenders, and the public.

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