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Take Note: I Love You to Pieces
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/06/2017


The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: Hello, My Name is Problem", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

What does the note say?
Is it a love note?
Does it have escape plans?
Is it written in code?

Information is power. And contraband can come in the form of what seems to be a simple note passed from one prisoner to the next. However, the note that you intercept may be a matter of life or death.

Prisoners know that information is power, too. In fact, the task of relaying written information to other prisoners under the collective nose of staff is not easy. That is why offenders utilize codes, misdirection and camouflage. Whatever their motivation to relay information, it is likely that the more important the message, the more likely it will be hidden.

In "Take Note: I Love You to Pieces", the facilitator follows these steps:
  1. Read the following scenario – As an officer in the education building, you see a prisoner who leaves the classroom and goes to the restroom. The next prisoner to use the bathroom is from the library. Then the same prisoner from the classroom appears again in the restroom. You know that these prisoners are from different units and are unlikely to intermingle otherwise. You believe that the bathroom is a drop and pass location. When the restroom is empty, you don a pair of gloves and commence a search.
  2. The instructor had created a note prior to the exercise and ripped it up into a dozen pieces or do. See below for sample notes.
  3. Instruct one gloved student to retrieve the fragments of a note (or notes) in the waste paper basket in the classroom.
  4. The instructor selects a team of three and give that team a roll of clear tape.
  5. The instructor says, “Put together that puzzle and send it to the inspector.”
  6. The instructor appoints an inspector. The inspector judges the merit of the information delivered.
Some sample letters to print:

Sample 1 –

Dear Sherlock:
Elusive! Sometimes you look for something and it is not there. Just because a note is torn up and is placed in a trash receptacle does not mean that there is anything of consequence on the note. It could be a ruse. It could be a test. It could be a note written out of boredom.
While you are wasting valuable staff time and frustrating yourself reconstructing this, another message, this time an important one, is being passed to another’s hands. The crucial message that spells chaos for staff is now in the hands of a mover and shaker who will get the nefarious deed done.
So, Colombo, finish your puzzle and pat yourself on the back for finding nothing. (Where’s your crown, King Nothing?) You can look everywhere at once, but you will not see everything well. It is like you went duck hunting and shot the decoy.
Subterfuge! Misdirection! Made you look! Must a note always contain a crucial piece of information?
Love and kisses! Your nemesis, Chaos

Sample 2-

You discovered information that prisoners did not want you to find. You went the extra mile and with gloved hands pulled out this note. Sure, it was in the bathroom trash. Certainly, no one knows what sort of infection it may harbor. Yet, you diligently reconstructed this missive with tape, patience, and logic. The bad deed that was intended can now be thwarted. Because of this, staff, prisoners, and the public will be safer.

Instructors may use some advanced tactics to make the letters more challenging to reconstruct or understand.
  • Mix two letters in the same batch
  • Use different font
  • Use different ink colors
  • Remove pieces
  • Create notes that have code
  • Make realistic prisoner-speak notes
After the Inspector looks at the reassembled letters and makes a determination, ask students how this should occur in a real corrections setting:

Here are some possibilities. See if your class comes up with these:

Show the letter to the inspector;
Show the letter to staff who may know different handwriting;
Record this with time, date, and prisoners involved;
Write a misconduct report if there is good evidence;
Keep vigilant.

Bear in mind that you will not always find something significant. But when you do, it pays off.

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” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. 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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