Contraband Blues

Atlanta prison officials are really focused on eliminating contraband in this Federal Prison Camp. Officials have tried everything. They have tried locking the Camp down for long periods of time. Punishing all inmates every time a person is caught with alcohol, cell phones, cell phone chargers, cigarettes, drugs and any other illegal substances. No matter how hard they have tried to stop the flow of contraband into the camp, their efforts have been in vain.

Prison officials are not giving up. Now word is circulating that the latest initiative will be a two-pronged attack against contraband. The first prong will be to rotate inmates between the Front and Back Dorms. Here in Atlanta the Front Dorms are A through D (where I am located). They are called Front Dorms because they house the offices of the Officer In Charge of the camp and the Inmate Case Managers. Older inmates are usually housed here. I call inmates housed here the “Good Guys.” For the most part, these inmates do not cause any problems and are not involved in any wrongdoing. There are some bad apples here but not many.

Then there are the Back Dorms, Dorms E through H. These are mostly younger inmates and it’s in the Back Dorms where most of the contraband has been found. These inmates are adventurous and I call these inmates the “Bad Guys.” These are the ones who don’t want to be around us gray-haired guys. We might get in the way of their action.

The plan is to move the Bad Guys to the front dorms and the Good Guys to the back dorms. Prison officials think by moving the Bad Guys to the front they will be able to keep an eye on them better. We do have cameras around the camp. Maybe security thinks the cameras are better in the front than in the back.

Security may also feel it will be tougher for inmates to sneak out and get contraband-filled “footballs.” Officials claim these “footballs” are being thrown over the razor wire fence here. The officers believe people drive up next to the prison’s track area at night, toss the “footballs” over the fence and drive off. Inmates sneak out and get the “footballs.” These inmates distribute the contraband and they are part of the network smuggling items into the camp. Things like cigarettes, alcohol, cell phones and other items. Tossing contraband-filled “footballs” over the fences of federal prisons is not new; officers claim this has been going on for years.

The second prong of the attack on contraband involves inmate employment. A group of inmates are allowed to work prison-supported jobs outside the walls of the camp. Guards believe these inmates are helping smuggle items inside. So, in a few weeks these inmates will no longer work outside the camp. This includes Unicor employees, plumbers, carpenters, landscape employees, electricians and others. The current inmates holding these positions will be reassigned to jobs inside the prison camp. The employees replacing them will be inexperienced. The new employees will have a lot to learn. That does not seem to bother Atlanta prison officials.

The belief is that the by doing this, smuggling of items into the prison will be severely curtailed by replacing the present inmates working outside the camp. Officers have raided some of the outside work areas, and they have found alcohol and cigarettes hidden at some of them. These outside working inmates have supervisors but some of them have still been able to smuggle items into the work places. Their ultimate goal was to get the items from the work places to the prison.

I talked to an inmate who transferred from another federal prison recently. This inmate said his previous prison had a major problem with cell phones. He said it seemed like all 1,300 inmates had phones. The warden at that prison started levying a $500 fine to any inmate caught with a cell phone. That fine was applied to the inmate’s commissary account, which is the account we use to buy snacks, food, personal hygiene and other items. The account is also used to pay for computer email time and to make phone calls. The $500 is subtracted from the balances of the account. And it has to be paid. So any money sent the inmates by his friends or relatives is subtracted from the $500 fine. Any prison work-related income is also deducted from the fine. You can’t do anything involving the commissary until you have a positive balance.

Let’s say you had $100 showing in your commissary account. You get a caught with a cell phone. Five-hundred dollars is subtracted from your account. You now have a negative $400 balance. You can’t make phone calls. You can’t buy anything from the commissary and you can’t send anybody an email or read any emails people send you. You are dead in the water.

The inmate I talked to said that after a few weeks you could not find a cell phone at that prison. He said when he got there the phones were everywhere. When he left, no one wanted a cell phone. You could not find one anywhere.

It seems to me that the warden there got it. Sometimes hitting the pocketbook hurts more than lockdowns, restricting visitation, restricting the use of the prison telephones or the computers.

Here in Atlanta I predict nothing will change. This place does not currently have inspired leadership. This prison is like a ship with a broken rudder wandering aimlessly and without control. Old ideas and old ways of thinking have generated no positive results. Its starts with the warden and trickles down to the guards.

Bernard Addison is currently finishing a 46-month prison sentence at the Atlanta, GA Federal Prison Camp. He has a release date of February 1, 2016. He is serving a prison term for Conspiracy of Commit Mail Fraud

Comments can be emailed to or sent to:
Bernard Addison
FPC-Atlanta; Dorm D
PO 150160
Atlanta, GA 30315