How Cell Phones Make Prison Drug Dealing Easy

By Seth Ferranti 01/11/13

Cell phones, which retail at up to $1,500 behind bars, are a crucial means of making sure the yard is "blessed," prisoners tell The Fix.

A prison gang just needs a single phone to
make things happen.
Photo via

Despite a lack of resources and an isolated consumer base, US correctional facilities host a thriving drugs market. But the limitations and monitoring imposed on the use of prison phones are an obstacle. "You can't set up nothing on the regular prison phones because they are monitored," one prisoner tells The Fix. "They record everything and when you are trying to make a move, you don't want no one eavesdropping on your conversations so that they can make a bust or put the brakes on." The solution isn't hard to imagine: "With cell phones it is easy. No one is listening and you can talk freely. Once you got a cell phone, anything is possible."

Of course, cell phones retail at a premium behind bars: Prisoners will pay up to $1,500 for one. But they're not that difficult to find. "If you have money you can get a phone easy; you can get an iPhone with Internet access or whatever," the prisoner says. "Me and my homies got one. We use it to make moves." A lot of the gangs inside share a single cell phone for both personal and business use—everything from coordinating drug deals to checking their Facebook accounts. "It's kinda like a community phone," the prisoner says. "We move it around a lot. It's better for someone to be holding it at all times instead of stashing it. Like I might have it for a night, then my homeboy in another block and then another is never in one place for long." Lesser gang members will more typically be left holding the phone, for the leaders to use as and when they need it. 

"We coordinate with our people outside to set up deals and bring drugs in," the prisoner continues. "We even call prisoners at other prisons. It's all about communications. If my homie's girl is coming to see him, we make the call to get the drugs delivered pronto, and boom, on the VI he makes it happen and the yard is blessed. Without the jack we can't make shit happen. Even if one of the homies gets busted with the phone, they can only give him three to six more months. So it's worth it to us. The money we make pays for the jack, lets us help our families and makes us prison-rich so that we can do our bids in style." The flow of phones into prisons is constant: As soon as the prison authorities find one, another is already being smuggled in.

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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.