How to Get High in Prison Redux

By Seth Ferranti 11/19/14
Because there is always another way to get high, inside or out.

Every Bureau of Prison’s facility has a recreation department and it usually offers a hobby craft program that includes ceramics, leather craft, art, knitting, card-making classes and activities. Any prisoners enrolled in these programs are allowed to order the materials needed from an approved outside vendor to participate, craft items, and keep the materials they purchase in a secured locker in the hobby craft room. They are able to work on their projects during non-working hours when the hobby craft room is open.

Some prisoners spend all their free time in hobby craft constructing all types of things, including purses, belts, backpacks, wallets, phone or mp3 cases, scarves, sweaters, rugs, blankets, drawings, paintings, teddy bears, vases, cookie jars—anything imaginable that can be crafted, created or made. The hobby craft program is virtually a mini-Santa’s workshop, with all the prisoners crafting away like Christmas elves. 

Prisoners spend long hours perfecting and honing their abilities, enabling them to make beautiful and expertly handcrafted items. The skill they develop allows them to do their time constructively and trouble-free. When the items are completed, prisoners are allowed to send them out to their loved ones and family. But like anything in prison, the hobby craft program is open to corruption. Prisoners are notorious for manipulating anything they can for their own nefarious purposes. They will find cracks in the system to exploit.

"I used to run the ceramics program at FCI Manchester," says JD, a 40-year-old convict from West Virginia, who is doing a 17-year-sentence for cocaine and guns. "I was in charge of mixing the clay, doing the molds, pouring the clay and firing the ceramic items in the kiln. We had hundreds of molds for stuff like vases, teddy bear cookie jars, eagles, dragons, Nefertiti heads, chess pieces, all types of stuff. Dudes would sand down the clay items after we took them out of the mold to make them smooth and then paint them with all different types of paint that we were allowed to order."

“Then we cooked the items and gave them back to the dudes so they could glaze them before we cooked them again. We had mail-out days every week so everybody could send the finished items home." That was the way the program worked. It was intended to teach prisoners a craft and keep them occupied, but prisoners like JD took advantage of the situation to smuggle drugs into the institution. Any program in prison that can be exploited in this way will be. Prisoners are always looking for angles to manipulate the system to their advantage.

"Me and a couple of dudes were in charge of the whole program. This was our job and we had a recreation cop that was our boss," JD says. "We noticed that when we did mail-outs, sometimes the packages of ceramics that were sent out, came back due to bad addresses or the people moved or maybe they just didn't want the gifts from the prisoner who sent them. For whatever reason, a lot of stuff came back," JD states.

"Our boss would summon us, tell us to get a cart and we would go down to the prison mailroom to pick up the boxes that the post office returned to sender." The mailroom at the prison would open the returned packages—full of sometimes broken ceramics or other hobby craft items and inspect them for contraband. But since a lot of packages full of ceramics and other items were coming back, it became routine and the mailroom staff started to perform their job duties nonchalantly.

"We noticed the slackness in the system, like sometimes they would call us down there and then open the boxes right there in front of us before they passed them back to our boss. We figured we could take advantage of the slackness," JD says. "We sent some teddy bear cookie jars out on a dummy-run to a bad address on purpose to see what would happen when they came back. We glued the heads on so the cookie jars couldn't be opened and mailroom staff couldn't look inside the cookie jars. We wanted to see what the mailroom would do or if they would even notice or say anything to our boss."

To the prisoners benefit, the mailroom staff just opened the boxes, saw the ceramic items inside, with all the paper around them as padding and processed the box back into the institution to the recreation cop, who left it in the prisoners charge to take care of. Once the dummy-runs were successful, JD and his cohorts (that helped him run hobby craft) knew they were good to go.

"We sent some teddy bears out with the heads not glued on to our people and told them on a visit what to do," JD says. "When they got the teddy bears they put a quarter pound of weed wrapped up in Saran Wrap, with Bounce dryer sheets to kill the smell in them, and glued the heads on tight. When they had everything ready, we sent out another teddy bear to a dummy address they had access to. They retrieved the box, opened it from the bottom, took out the teddy bear and inserted the one with the quarter pound of weed in it, re-taped the bottom of the box and marked return to sender, person doesn't live here anymore."

When the postman came back the next day he got the box and sent it back the way it came, marked returned to sender. When the box came back to the prison, JD and his coworkers went on their weekly trip down to the mailroom to retrieve the returned boxes with their boss. Unbeknownst to any of the prison staffers, the box with the teddy bears full of weed, was one that was processed back into the prison. Their scheme was a success. Perpetrated right under the noses of prison officials, who were employed to make sure things of that nature didn’t occur.

"When we got the box back, we were psyched that we pulled off the move," JD says. "We broke the teddy bears open, got the weed out and stashed it in one of the molds in the kiln room. We waited a couple of days to make sure everything was cool then we broke it down and started taking it back to the units and selling it. You know we smoked a lot of the weed too. Everybody on the yard was happy and stoned. That was a good lick."

“We kept doing it periodically for the next three years and never got busted. It worked like a charm and the prison staff never knew where the weed was coming from. Because you know dudes on the yard stayed getting dirties. Only three of us knew the move and we never told anyone what we were doing." With all the weed on the compound, prison officials were probably under the impression that some of their staff was bringing the weed in. But that was far from the truth and JD and his cohorts wanted it to stay that way, even feeding rumors to the prison population that they had a cop bringing the weed into them.

But as prisoners transferred to other federal prisons the move spread as they bragged on how they did it at FCI Manchester. Slowly, other prisoners caught on and decided to replicate the move at different institutions all over the United States. Nowadays, it is a well-known move among prisoners who are using it nationwide to get in illegal contraband and drugs— cell phones, tobacco and marijuana are the three most popular.

It’s a simple fact that prisoners will corrupt and manipulate any program that is in place to suit their purposes. It doesn't matter what safeguards prison officials come up with because prisoners have nothing but time and ingenuity to invent different ways to beat any system prison officials have in place. Most prisoners pride themselves on figuring out ways to beat the system. This is just the nature of the beast.

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about being sober after 21 years in prisonHe also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.