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Prison Drug Smuggling: Over the Fence

Simply flinging drugs into prisons is a surprisingly common and successful smuggling method.


Over the fence and under staff noses
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By Seth Ferranti


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Visitors may be the main source of the illicit drugs that flow into US prisons every day, but several other methods exist. And one of them is surprisingly simple: literally throwing the drugs over the perimeter fence. With all the security measures in place, this shouldn't be happening—still, it does on a daily basis. "At FCI Gilmer [in Glenville, West Virginia] there's a cliff above a stripped-out coal mine that hovers 15 feet away from the fence in the yard," one prisoner tells The Fix. "When my homeboy got out he used to throw footballs, soccer balls and handballs from the cliff top, over the fence and into the yard for me." The ex-prisoner who threw the balls knew the routine of the trucks that patrol the perimeter well, and was able to get the job done after a clandestine hike through some neighboring woods. Beforehand, he would cut the balls open and fill them with marijuana, heroin or tobacco, before gluing or stitching them back together. He would then carefully lob them right into the recreation yard—landing them in the outfield of the softball diamond.

"I worked in recreation, so on the days the balls were supposed to be there, I would make sure I was out on the softball field early, working on the infield," says the prisoner who received the goods. "I would have all the equipment—wheelbarrow, rakes, shovels—that I needed to make it look good, and I'd stay busy, just steadily working, and act like I came upon the footballs or handballs that had apparently been left out there from the day before." After retrieving the drug-filled balls, he would cut them open in the recreation tool cage, take out the drugs and send them back to the units for sale. These specific events happened years ago—but moves just like this occur every day in prisons across the nation, with different geographical scenarios and multiple variations on the same ploy. The success rate is high enough to make it worthwhile.

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