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Prison Purgatory: The "Dry Cell"

Attempting to smuggle drugs into prison by ingesting them can land you in a "dry cell," a prisoner tells The Fix.

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Waiting to expel. Photo via

By Seth Ferranti

09/06/12

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When prisoners get busted for smuggling contraband items like illegal drugs in to prison through the visiting room, correctional officials will often put the offenders in a "dry cell". If a prisoner is suspected of ingesting a balloon filled with drugs, they will be held in a dry cell while officials attempt to retrieve the drugs—or wait for them to be "expelled"—before letting the prisoner enter the institution. "At FCI Fairton in New Jersey I was pulling little licks," one prisoner tells The Fix. "Just getting some marijuana in through the dance floor. Swallowing balloons my girl would bring. Nothing major. Just trying to get my smoke on and make a little commissary. But someone dropped a note on me and they threw me in the dry cell." A dry cell generally has no toilet or running water. Before entering, a prisoner is stripped down to his underwear and put in the cell with no mattress and only a sheet to spread on the metal bed frame—in order to prevent them from discarding or hiding the drugs. A guard is posted outside the cell and a video camera is set up to monitor the prisoner 24/7. Prisoners can remain in these conditions for 3 to 5 days or until they defecate numerous times and the balloons are either discovered or the suspected offender is cleared of wrongdoing.

"Luckily when they threw me in the dry cell I wasn't dirty. My girl brought some balloons but she left them in the car. Told me something didn't feel right. I was mad at the time but glad later when they took me out of the visiting room," the prisoner says. "Still I was stripped down to my underwear, videotaped and in the dry cell, shitting like a motherfucker, for three days so I could get out. When I had to shit they would bring a little bedpan with a small clear garbage liner in it. I had to squat down in front of the Lieutenant, the C/O and the video camera and shit. Than tie off the bag and hand it to them threw the metal slot in the door so they could examine it to make sure there were no balloons in it."

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