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Simple Methods of Hiding Contraband
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 10/04/2010

Wheelb We hear a lot of stories from the Cold War era. Did you hear the one about the guy who walked past a check point each day with a wheelbarrow full of dirt? Every day, rain or shine, like clockwork at 0600, he would approach the check point.

Assuming the position, he watched passively as the officer at the entry station shoveled through the dirt. Though he looked every day, the officer never found contraband. Each day at 1730 (again, like clockwork) the worker would return through the gates with nothing in hand. A search of his person by the same officer revealed nothing.

Eventually, larger events abolished the need for the checkpoint. People, with or without a wheelbarrow full of dirt, could move freely between the formerly restricted points.

Long retired, the officer saw the wheelbarrow man at a local bar. With a nostalgic grin, the officer said to the man, “I always thought you were smuggling something. You were too sly. Tell me, my clever friend, what was your game?”

Without missing a beat, the other said, “…smuggling wheelbarrows, my friend!”

I don’t really know if this happened in Berlin between 1960 and 1990. Still, it is an effective example of how smuggling could happen. There are many variations on this theme. But the goal of the perpetrator is always the same – to gain power, goods, and prestige through the exchange of bootleg.

Following are some simple contraband concealment techniques that are tried on corrections staff every day:

In hand – sometimes, the forbidden item is audaciously displayed. I once saw an offender walk out of the prison library with a new, facility-owned dictionary in his right hand. As he stood while being patted down, the book was untouched . Exuding confidence, the prisoner acted as though the book were his personal property. It was only because I noticed the facility stamp on the outer pages that I was able to seize the book and issue a major misconduct. As I wrote the ‘ticket’, I wondered how many outgoing books in plain sight I have missed.

In palm – A small item in the palm is technically not in plain sight. But, with good sleight if hand, this method can be as effective and confusing as the shell game. Perhaps due to the huge volume of searches we do every day, we don’t always instruct the offender to open his hands.

Redirection – Just as the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the disruption gets the attention. In any crowded area, it is easy to pass contraband quietly while others pull staff attention away from the transaction. And a seemingly remorseful reaction to a verbal reprimand from staff usually yields little or no sanction to the decoy.

Seemingly permissible – Some prisoners will hold contraband in an unashamed manner. The demeanor of confidence that the offender wears may make some less seasoned or less certain staff question if it is contraband at all. If asked, the inmate may calmly insist that the property is permissible.

Of course, the long train of bootleg of all varieties will roll with very few impediments. It is as though it is on track and a new train comes with great regularity. Can we really make a dent in contraband traffic? Will removal of one item make a true difference?

To answer these questions is like predicting the future based on one event. The best answer is: removal of even one item may make a true difference. Its removal could serve as a deterrent, a thwarting f a larger connected deal, or diminishing the confidence of a would-be trader. In other words, little things could mean a lot.

Are there ways to derail this train? One way is to tactically place staff at different vantage points whenever possible. Another is to vary search routines in time or in order of operation. A third way is to focus the search occasionally on calm, collected prisoners.

Whether smuggling wheelbarrows or betting slips, the search is not always easy. But the goal of staff is to take away forbidden tools of all sorts that have the potential to destabilize security. Given time, persistence, and curiosity, staff will uncover many forbidden items.

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