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By the Book
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 01/29/2018

Book cover 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.

Technology marches on and seems to eliminate problems. Just look at libraries in any correctional facility. In many, thousands of law books are replaced with computers with quicker retrieval and larger capacity. General books in the library are destined to be succeeded by a collection on a tablet.

This revolution frees up so much space. To the security-minded, this eliminates so many contraband hiding spots. Safety will increase and staff will be freed up to attend other contraband hot spots. But, just like the coming of the year 2000 did not propel all of us into a bright and uniform future, an innovation will not be everywhere once it is introduced. So, there are still many hard copy books in circulation. So, contraband awareness in the library is still important in the fight to maintain safety.

Part one: What can one do with books?

Ask the class what prisoners can do with books. Make a list on the board or screen. Naturally, you will hear “read them” by one of the participants. You may hear many of the following:
  • Put many in a pillow case to lift weights
  • Throw at staff
  • Stand on a stack of books to appear larger and more intimidating
  • Stand on a stack of them to be sexually demonstrative
  • Underline certain letters on predetermined page to send message
  • Use as a transportation vessel in a contraband scheme
Part two: What are the best ways they will smuggle?

The class is asked to determine where and how prisoners would hide cigarettes in a book. The list that you compile ay have the following elements:
  • In the binding
  • In a hollowing
  • Between pages
Part three: Testing the Cliché

The hollowed book is a truism as old as books. Some treasures are hidden in personal libraries in commercially manufactured hollowed books. Prisoners, of course, have ingenious ways to hide contraband in books.

Security-minded staff recognize this and search diligently to slow the dangerous flow of illegal trade. They realize that not all hollowed out books are the same. For students to learn this, a hands-on, old school approach is warranted.

For this exercise, the instructor shall provide the following for each team of three or four:
  1. Pen
  2. Tape
  3. Two old books for each team (these can be obtained for little or no money from a thrift shop or a library book sale)
  4. Simulated or real contraband of many varieties
For item four, the sky is the limit. One could simply use a scribbled note that represents a coded message. A thumb drive could be used. Instructors could provide dollar bills, aspirin (to represent unauthorized medications), or even a pen knife.

My new favorite simulated contraband to use in this exercise comes from candy canes. Simply use three inches of the straight part of the candy cane as a cigarette. If it comes in a plastic wrap, it can remain there for the exercise.

Let students carve a niche in the pages to accommodate the candy cane cigarettes. They will likely use the pen to do so. This is to be done with the simple instruction, “Hide these ‘cigarettes’ in this book with the tools provided. Once they are done, have them report out. Focus on the successes and how well the contraband was concealed.

Give the second book to the students. Tell them:
  • They have a five-minute planning time
  • The goal is concealment
  • Demonstrate how staff quickly shake down a book
  • Demonstrate a thorough shake down
  • Tell of the principle of plenty – when there are plenty of places to look and you have little time, the search will be less thorough
  • Let them carve the pages and conceal the contraband
  • As they report out, prompt them to compare the first attempt to the second.
Because of the principle of plenty, better hidden items will likely escape detection. Ask students where the niche is best placed to hinder detection in a cursory search. A good answer is next to the binding and in the middle part of the page numbers. The niche should not be too deep, just enough to contain the payload.

Extra credit and contraband control distinction goes to the student who suggests a false front of white paper taped over the hollowed area.

Contraband control will continue to be necessary even after the passing of hard print books. Still, in consideration of our mission to protect staff, offenders, and the public, it behooves us to learn old manners of concealment. This hands-on method gives staff and students the framework to detect bootleg.

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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    A very interesting article, but I did not think that books could be used in such diverse situations. I do cheap assignment writing and use books only for scientific purposes. But recently I read another article that deals with imported literature, then we are talking about printed products, which, according to the authorities of the republic, may be related to the spread of extremist ideas.

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