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John’s Very Bad Day at Work
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/21/2015

Stress a

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.

This is an icebreaker built from an article that I wrote about contrabandists’ motivations to smuggle. The article can serve as a base of information. After the instructor reads or distributes the information, the class breaks up into teams and takes a test. In it, scenarios will feature at least one of the following varieties of contrabandists:
  1. Thrill seeker
  2. Libidinous
  3. Compromised
The article explains these three behaviors.

Background material –The TLC of smuggling

I believe that most corrections staff are honest and honorable. They act under dangerous conditions every day to fulfill the mission of safety for staff, prisoners, and the public. It is the epitome of public service. Corrections staff are the hidden heroes of the Criminal Justice System.

Unfortunately, not everyone is honest. From time to time, stories break in the news about staff who smuggle contraband inside the facility. Despite the nobility of the profession, ‘dirty’ staff are not absent from the equation.

When staff bring contraband into a facility, there are three chief dangers. First, a prisoner or a group of prisoners may become powerful and compromise security. The contraband item itself can be a source of direct or indirect power. Second, the staff person is a weak link who gives advantage by overlooking misconduct. Third, once discovered, honest staff must reassess how much they had formerly trusted the smuggler. Trust between staff is a fundamental glue in corrections. When that bond is broken, we are less effective, as we spend more time scrutinizing each other than monitoring prisoners. Betrayal is a psychological hurdle that is difficult to get over.

I think that there are three main motivations for staff to smuggle. They are simple to remember with the letters TLC. They are the thrill seeker, the libidinous, and the compromised.

Thrill seeker -
Some people derive pleasure from deceiving others. The jolt that thrill seekers get from performing forbidden acts can be intoxicating and addictive. One of the most forbidden acts for corrections staff is to introduce contraband into the facility.

Libidinous -
Another forbidden act –an illegal act and cardinal corrections sin - is for staff to have sex with prisoners. Lust / ‘love’ is a way that some fall under the spell of the contrabandist. With that as a motivation, the relationship between smuggler and manipulator becomes one of puppet and puppet master.

Compromised -
When some staff are caught in a mistake, they conceal it. Often, in exchange for the false promise of not revealing the mistake, the enterprising prisoner asks staff to bring in a small, forbidden item. Eventually, they allow themselves to be manipulated into misconduct. Of course, the trap is sprung when the prisoner’s demands increase in size and danger. Many staff-assisted escapes have root in a simple compromise.


Name the contrabandist type for each scenario. All of these are about the very generic staff member named John. Mark T for thrill seeker, L for Libidinous, and C for compromised. There may be more than one right answer.
  1. John is a corrections staff who has a gambling problem. He learned that he can make a quick buck by bringing in drugs for a gang member who arranges for distribution of the contraband and paying his mules. Once John get started, he cannot stop. One reason is that he likes the rush. Another reason that John continues to bring in narcotics is that the prisoner for whom he mules showed him a letter to the warden that he wrote in case John “gets cold feet”. [T, C]
  2. John is in love with an inmate and gets a rush from being almost caught in a sexual act. He will do anything to ensure the prisoner’s comfort, including bringing in tobacco and matches for his lover. [T, L]
  3. John hates authority and loves getting one over on them. He has no need for love or money, but gets an adrenal rush from giving candy to prisoners during the holidays. Staff start to wonder why there are so many M & M wrappers all over Delta Unit’s floor. [T]
  4. John called a prisoner an asshole “as a joke”. The prisoner threatened to tell the inspector if John did not bring in some gum. After he did, the shopping list got bigger. Now john brings in pain killers and skittles and also has agreed to give fellatio to the prisoner on his command. [C]
  5. John is bored at work. He cannot find any pleasure in any part of his chosen work. Then, quite by accident, he left his cell phone in his pocket and took it inside the secure perimeter. He felt very alive as he left the facility. Now he routinely brings in the cell phone for his own use. [T]
  6. John is caught having sexual intercourse in a broom closet with a coworker. Both of them are married. A prisoner hears of this and threatens to write to John’s family unless he brings in credit card numbers and a cell phone and charger. [T, C]
Note that one cannot tell John’s rank, vocational niche, or time in the job. In other words, John can be anyone. Also note that all of these scenarios will end with John being compromised.

After these scenarios are discussed, the facilitator solicits from the class strategies on how to mitigate this sort of behavior and the collateral damage that comes from it. One can use the conclusion of the TLC article as a guide.

In a perfect world, zero percent of staff smuggle. However, the world is not perfect. How can we help mitigate this?
  • Staff should take routine searches of staff as routine.
  • Understand the motivations to smuggle and look for tell-tale signs.
  • Talk to your colleagues.
  • Check yourself. Do not test the bounds of policy limits on items that can be taken inside.
  • Refocus. Keep an eye on the mission statement when depression over betrayal rears its ugly and pervasive head.
  • Do not isolate vulnerable staff. Otherwise, they are susceptible to smuggle.
We will not always know who is about to compromise security. But understanding the motivations outlined in TLC is a start. Even so, our safety depends on keeping contraband out of our facilities. This is consistent with the role of hidden hero.

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

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