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M.I.R.R.O.R.S.: What the Hell is in that Cell?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 09/12/2016


Corrections is a profession where we relish the quiet, routine times. As a group, we do not like surprises. Yet, in the course of a long career, we can see a lot of bizarre things. The seasoned and resilient have seen plenty of eyebrow-raising events as they continue in the profession. In many cases, the learning curve is steep in the first year or two then it levels significantly. Typically, as time marches on, the shock value lessens.

If we could retain all that we learned, we would face fewer surprises. For example, the more contraband we encounter and remove from the system, the larger and more effect our repertoire will be. The more contraband tricks we can identify and thwart, the greater our chances are to keep safe staff, offenders and the public.

Here are a few basic facts and trends about contraband tricks:
  • There is nothing really new under the sun. A note written on a piece of paper certainly is not the same thing as a thumb drive. However, they serve the same purpose. Both store information.
  • Old tricks recycle. When contraband tactics are used less frequently, younger prisoners may stumble on the idea. The may even believe that they have invented a new trick. In other words, the wheel has already been invented, but there are some who rediscover it and consider that it is a new innovation.
  • There are variations on a theme. For example, contraband is often mobile. In order to move it, prisoners may employ similar means of concealment and motion. The act of moving tobacco in a book is not exactly the same as moving it under a trash receptacle. But they are variations on the same theme.
Even knowing some trends, there is the task of remembering the many different tricks. How does one do this? I find the M.I.R.R.O.R.S. technique useful for this.

M – Monitor – Watch patterns of contraband trade. Look at who trades with who, what is traded and where. Also seek patterns about times of day and times during the month that more trade occurs. You could employ a form of crime mapping to help predict some likely details of future occurrences.

I – Invent. Take things apart and find new uses for them. The more you know about an item, the more you will understand how it could be used against you.

R – Record all tricks you have seen. Create a gallery of contraband. Once the contraband is relinquished from the evidence locker, it can be locked in a display case for staff. Create a written record. Keep the logs away from prisoners, of course.

R – Review what you know from time to time. Refresh your memory.

O – Opportunities should be pondered. Think of small, seemingly innocuous items that staff throw away. Consider the opportunities for contraband and trade that an enterprising contrabandist may have from what you discard.

R – Realism is a crucial tool in the arsenal against the chaos that comes from contraband. The truth is that no matter how hard a corrections professional tries, there is no guarantee that the contraband will be found and removed from circulation. Prisoners have so much time at their disposal to concoct schemes and diversions. It is a numbers game that staff are not likely to win. This is not fatalism; it is realism. Nevertheless, victory comes for the side of safety for any bootleg removed from the system – no matter how seemingly inconsequential.

S – Store data in a central location accessible for all staff. A contraband control officer or inspector is a good gatekeeper for this information. It is wise to preserve misconduct reports and to maintain a contraband log.

Often, we see a contraband method and it plays on the edge of our memory. The phrase I’ve seen this before is apt. M.I.R.R.O.R.S. can help transform that feeling of déjà vu into a course of immediate action for safety.

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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