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Thinking with a Twisted Mind
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 03/30/2015

Brain mri The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

“You have a twisted mind. But, that is a good thing.” That is not some cheesy line from a Jon Cryer B-movie. It is a vocational truism. And it is the basis of this icebreaker.

A good way to jump start a module on security awareness is to give the following introduction.

“Do you know someone who thinks with a twisted mind? I do not mean someone with a convoluted sense of morality. Nor, do I refer to a perversion of any sort or an unorthodox sense of humor. One can think with a twisted mind and become an effective part of security. In this case, I refer to the contraband hound.

Contraband hounds are important in corrections and in criminal justice because they can see beyond the normal uses of items and apply other practical uses. They sniff out illicit schemes. Like the television series MacGuyver, contraband hounds can conceive a working battery pack out of tape, radio wire, and toilet paper tube. Contraband hounds are present in all classifications in our profession. Please take a few minutes to take the following test.”

Once participants are thinking in this way, give each of them a 25 question test on contraband. All questions are true and false.

Thinking with a twisted mind Contraband Knowledge Test

Please read and answer each question as True or False.
  1. Some common plants on many prison yards can produce a sense of euphoria if ingested.
  2. Sugar substitutes can burn.
  3. Diapers are a way that some have moved narcotics into visiting rooms.
  4. Hollowed candy bars can serve as a vessel for contraband.
  5. “What color is your car?” also means “what color book will you put the contraband in?”
  6. The hollowed book is not just a Hollywood cliché. It is a living demonstration of a‘classic’ means of moving bootleg.
  7. Mucus, semen and saliva (disgusting as it seems) can be used as adhesives. Utilizing any of those glues, one can hide a thin item between book pages and escape detection.
  8. Soap also serves as an adhesive. So, a good-smelling book may mean there is contraband inside.
  9. Heat and salt packets applied to some metals can act as a hardening agent.
  10. Spud juice or institutional alcohol can be made from many more things than potato peelings.
  11. Tic tac toe grids and dots serve as a basis for many coded languages.
  12. Coded language is important in sustaining contraband empires.
  13. There have been actual cases where snakes have been captured by inmates to intimidate their neighbors. This living contraband is seen by many as a formidable weapon.
  14. Magician’s tricks such as the false back of a table have been used in escapes.
  15. Aluminum light fixtures are the source of many prison made knives.
  16. An empty eye dropper is dangerous and can actually spread infectious diseases.
  17. Some prisoners will make loud diversions so quiet trades can be made away from the attention.
  18. It is simple to conceal small amounts of drugs near the adhesive part of any envelope.
  19. When prison made weapons are in motion, they look bigger and more dangerous than when they are stationary.
  20. Black markers and white out can reassign property, alter documents and even assist in escapes.
  21. Forming moistened newspaper with the hands, and time are ingredients in making an effective club.
  22. By photocopying a gun and applying the photocopy to a piece of carved soap, a prisoner may take a hostage.
  23. Soap sculptures made by inmates may not be just aesthetically pleasing. They can serve as a safe place for prisoners to hide valuables.
  24. Sleight of hand is not only the mark of a good magician, it also aids contrabandists.
  25. Insufficient postage and the return address of another prisoner is a way that some contrabandists fool staff into inadvertently moving bootleg.
Note: This is a very easy test to grade. All of the above are true. This may become evident to the test takers as they proceed. But the point is not to make a college level test. The goal is to get staff to think about ways some prisoners use every day items to violate rules and ultimately breach security.

In fact, the instructor and students may know of many of these methods. This can be demonstrated as the facilitator reads each of the 25 statements and ask participants if they have ever seen these contraband tricks.

That is not just a way to loosen up the students. The discussion also is a way to share information between areas that may not normally converse.

Note: This icebreaker may be used in criminal justice classes. Students who have no experience in the field will benefit from some of these strange but true facts.

Warning: Keep this test away from all prisoners. Treat it as it were a transfer list. To be sure, prisoners may know the following concepts. But we do not need to make our facilities less safe by disseminating this collected knowledge.

Now more than ever, it is important to see the alternate use of seemingly innocent items. Our world has changed. In the last few years, we have been exposed to shoe bombers, cell phone detonators, and liquid explosives housed in cosmetic containers. In short, we need more corrections professionals to try to imagine motives and means of would-be contrabandists. In other words, we all need to think with a twisted mind. The security of staff, prisoners, and the public at large depend on it.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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  2. mamasan on 03/30/2015:

    Good copy! Interesting reading and very true!

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