Another road to ‘freedom’

If you weren’t addicted before going in, you very well could be by the time you get out of the state’s drug- and alcohol-infested prison system

By Andres Romero 07/27/2006

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Drugs in prison have always existed, but not at the same level as they do on the streets. Only those who have the funding and resources to buy and sell drugs in prison do so, and those who come in with addictions continue to use.

Sadly, there is another generation of prisoners that had never been addicted to drugs, such as heroin and crystal meth, until they came in here; younger prisoners who get caught up in the frenzy and influence of the older, institutionalized inmates.

One of the reasons for this is boredom. Another is the temptation that hits a youngster who is celled up with an addict who slams (injects heroin). I mean, how can one turn away while in small, confined cell? Besides, what do they have to lose? They’re in prison already, and getting high for many is the next best thing to being “free.”

Sometimes it catches up with those who go over their heads and are unable to pay their debts on time. And it’s expensive. A $10 bag of heroin out on the streets will cost you about $100 in here. One can pay by having someone send or wire money to the “inside connection,” or pay with canteen merchandise. But if you don’t come up with the money, you will pay a heavy price, which could be your life.

In here, you have three choices: Pay up, run to the guards for protection, or face the consequences, all the while knowing you can’t go on hiding for long.

Unfortunately, these youngsters don’t think past getting high because they figure moms will come through with the money. The majority of them are dependent on their parents to send them money and care packages, which also could be used in trade (cosmetics, food, candy, etc.).

When my nephew arrived here (Centinela State Prison), I made it a point to get him out from the cell he was in because his cellmate was using while he was in there. I didn’t want him getting any ideas or temptations. Although he did share with me that he was up one night drinking! You see, drugs are not the only problem in here.

Here, there is the manufacturing of alcohol called “pruno,” made from raw potatoes, jelly, juices, sugar, syrup (all of which can easily be obtained in the kitchen) and boiling water. Unbelievably, some prisoners actually get drunk. Every day, prison guards find gallons of this stuff in the building’s workplaces, cells and living quarters. One can actually walk around the yard and smell the contents that were poured out on the ground. And like any bar on a Saturday night, brawls break out because these youngsters can’t hold their alcohol. In fact, sometimes they have been known to cause riots.

The saddest thing, though, is watching these youngsters get released with an addiction that they didn’t come in here with. Everyone knows they’ll be back in no time. That is why so many recent parolees don’t even bother to show up at the parole office in a timely manner. They are already running from the gate because they know they are “dirty,” or will test positive for drugs.

Drugs are easily snuck in during visitation days. Mothers, wives and siblings have all been caught at one time or another bringing drugs and contraband to their loved ones. Drugs are passed from mouth to mouth (kisses) or through handshakes, then either swallowed or keistered (stuffed up the anus) by inmates, or embedded in their clothing.

After visitation is over, all inmates are then strip-searched, ordered to turn around, bend over and cough. I am in a Level III institution (maximum security), and I swear, had my wife brought me an ounce of cocaine, I would have easily gotten it in. My search was half-assed. Even the guy standing next to me wasn’t asked to open his mouth. That’s where most drugs are kept, in case inmates need to swallow them quickly.

While in fire camp, visitors often leave large amounts of drugs and alcohol outside the premises. At night fall, someone would sneak out and retrieve the contraband and get back before anyone noticed them gone.

An inmate who was my neighbor once received a care package that contained 20 rocks (of cocaine) inside a Milk Duds box (with a street value of $400, but worth more than $1,000 in here). And of course, let’s not forget that state employees and prison guards have also been caught supplying and distributing drugs to inmates.

For example, in 2004 a female guard was arrested for supplying an inmate with drugs and sexual favors in return for having her husband killed. Her home was searched by investigators, who found several pounds of marijuana. The inmate was later found in possession of a half-ounce of heroin.

Are drugs a problem in prison? They are for those who want them and get caught up in them. It was ironic when I was asked to write this because from late May to the present time, the prison population has been being warned via the cable TV information channel that a highly potent grade of heroin, laced with fentanyl (a very powerful synthetic opiate), has resulted in an increase of drug overdoses and caused two deaths!

Each year, there are prisoners who need emergency care because of their drug abuse. Some die due to it. But it is unlikely that society will ever know about the tragedies caused by drugs and alcohol that occur behind these walls and bars all the time.

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